Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. of the Fifth Dimension on reinterpreting Beatles songs for today

On this episode of "Everything Fab Four," Ken Womack interviews one iconic duo covering another: Lennon-McCartney

Published April 24, 2021 9:00AM (EDT)

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. (Darren Stone)
Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. (Darren Stone)

Grammy Award winners Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. joined host Kenneth Womack to talk about their new album, the British Invasion, Beatles' lyrics and more on "Everything Fab Four," a podcast co-produced by me and Womack, a music scholar who also writes about pop music for Salon, and distributed by Salon.

Married duo McCoo and Davis, former members of The Fifth Dimension (the legendary group behind such hits as "Up, Up and Away," "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Stoned Soul Picnic") are also award-winning singer-songwriters in their own right. And they recall the Beatles landing in America just as they were starting out in their own musical careers.

"We were like, 'what in the world?'" says McCoo of the Fab Four hitting the tarmac at JFK Airport in February of 1964, surrounded by scads of screaming teenagers. As for the music, Davis says as musicians themselves he and McCoo "listened to everybody's stuff," and what was "so cool" about the Beatles at that time was "they were reintroducing to the United States, music that came from the United States" — such as the blues, and "the Black artists they were tuned into" like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

As the '60s progressed, though, what became particularly remarkable about the Beatles to the couple were their lyrics. "You can take their music," McCoo explains to Womack, "and you can take it in different ways, because the lyrics are so great." And that's exactly what she and Davis have done on their new album, "Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons," which features fresh takes on the title tune but also "Ticket to Ride" (which The Fifth Dimension had covered on their second album ever, in 1967) and "The Long and Winding Road."

The couple uses their updates on these classics to convey what they believe is "a perfect message" for a lot of today's human rights issues. "You think everything is moving forward," says Davis, "and then something happens to remind us that we're right back where we started. Not exactly where we started, but so much is still going on that's been covered up, and now it's being brought out."

The video for their cover of "Blackbird" premiered here on Salon — you can read Womack's take on their interpretation and watch the video here. 

In addition to the important messages that are front and center on "Blackbird," there is also joy in such tunes as the cover of Paul McCartney and Wings' 1976 hit, "Silly Love Songs." "I like what it has to say," remarks Davis and, in paraphrasing McCartney himself, "Love…what's wrong with that?"

Listen to the entire conversation with Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. on "Everything Fab Four" and subscribe via SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle or wherever you get your podcasts.

"Everything Fab Four" is distributed by Salon. Host Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin, the bestselling book "Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles," and most recently "John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life."

By Nicole Michael

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Billy Davis Jr Everything Fab Four Interview Marilyn Mccoo Music The Beatles