Jul 092013

(Lyrics here.)

Written and produced by wunderkind songwriter Jimmy Webb in 1967 at the ludicrous age of 20, “Paper Cup,” to my mind, is one of the great lost singles of the 1960s — and it’s all the stranger that it would get lost amid a torrent of other hits by the 5th Dimension during the years 1967-72. But maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise; Webb also wrote the 5th Dimension’s first big smash, “Up, Up and Away,” which came out earlier that year, and while “Paper Cup” sounds like the same kind of bouncy, happy-happy “sunshine pop” that could be sung by Sesame Street Muppets, it really isn’t. Underneath the deceptively simple, nursery-rhyme-like structure and catchy la-las and tambourine slaps is a dark tale of alcoholism, anxiety, and alienation — basically, of drinking yourself out of society and putting a cheerfully defiant face on it as you slip away — that, to me, encapsulates all of Mad Men‘s past season. “I’m free and it’s so easy to get the things I’ve always wanted/’cause I don’t really want ’em anymore” — sounds like something Don would write if he could write songs, doesn’t it? Maybe Pete, too? Roger, even? But especially Don. In fact, I can just picture Megan hearing this song and saying, “Yep, that’s who I married, all right. Just install a shower at the bottom of his glass and he’ll have everything he needs.”

And how fitting that this group’s fizzy pop sound would epitomize the California dream as embodied by so many of this show’s character’s lately, too. (The group’s “California Soul,” from 1968, written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, no doubt enticed more than a few folks from colder climes to come on out to L.A.)

But here’s the real reason I wanted to call your attention to this video: MARILYN MCCOO’S TIGHTS, Y’ALL.

(In case you can’t see the video, Ms. McCoo is decked out in a vertically split outfit, half black with white pinstripes and half solid orange, and her tights have one black leg and one orange leg. Ladies and gentlemen, the late 1960s in musical variety form, brought to you in living, eye-bleeding color! Could Joe Namath be lurking backstage in a straw boater, waiting to belt out “Swanee”?)


  14 Responses to “The 5th Dimension’s “Paper Cup” – Mad Men Season 6 in 2 minutes and 50 seconds!”

  1. One of my all-time fave groups of the sixties/seventies. Such great vocalists, all of them.

    I especially love “Working on a Groovy Thing”…and “Loves, Lines, Angles & Rhymes” ;O)

  2. Amazing how this video contrasts with the sad sad lyrics. I couldn’t believe the rudimentary choreography– maybe they only had one camera?

    • This was probably shot as part of a variety show, judging from the applause sounds, so they were lip-synching it before a live audience with a single camera, as was common practice at the time.

  3. Up Up and Away I believe was a slogan used by TWA in their commercials circa 1968 before the Fifth Dimension released the song and it became a big hit. Mary Wells ad agency may have been responsible for the production of the ad. There was a jingle used in the commercial with music that might have been written by Jimmy Webb. The lyrics were Up Up and Away TWA set to music.

  4. I remember this song! And many others from The Fifth Dimension, like
    Stone Soul Picnic
    Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In (definitely my favorite)
    Wedding Bell Blues (My Dad’s name was Bill, so we heard that one a lot)

    In the early 70’s, The Fifth Dimension came to our local Arena to perform. My brother was at the show and he recalled seeing a pretty woman at the bar before the show, but since she didn’t have any cash, he bought her a drink — turns out it was Florence LaRue!

    It is amazing how sad the lyrics are verses it’s upbeat melody, but that was pretty common in pop songs back then!

    As a kid, I always dug how the Fifth Dimension’s costumes were never identical, but just variations on the same theme — McCoo and LaRue never matched like the girl groups, but nicely contrasted with each other, same for the guys, each bringing their personalities into their costuming — something that Janie Bryant knows all about on Mad Men!

    Thanks for this memory jogger Meowser!

    • Therese,
      Stoned Soul Picnic was written by Laura Nyro…I totally recommend checking out her stuff…she was an amazing songwriter (Stoney End for Barbra Streisand, And When I Die for BS&T, and many more).

  5. Don would like “Sweet Blindness” better especially the version with the 5th Dimension AND Frank Sinatra!

    • Sinatra’s costume in this clip is something to behold. I doubt if he ever wore anything like that again.

    • Omg. A classic. No wonder my mother loved Sinatra!. No wonder I don’t pay attention to today’s music.

    • Wow, that is tremendous! Thank you! (But yeah, Frank’s outfit…now I know what would happen if they made a tunic entirely out of five layers of aqua Saran Wrap! Ooof!)

    • OMG!!!! LOLOLOLOL! That Suit! What a scream!

  6. Wow, what a find. So bright and sparkly on the surface, and underneath so dark you can’t see the bottom. This is one of those windows into the late 1960s that together start to really communicate what that heady time must have felt like to someone of Don’s generation. Thanks, Meowser!

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