Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Schoolhouse Light R&B

Back in 1970, on their album Portrait, the Fifth Dimension recorded a song called "The Declaration," which was nothing more than the Declaration of Independence set to music. As you'll recall from your sophomore year of high school, the Declaration of Independence doesn't scan or rhyme or do any of the things that normal, successful song lyrics do. So the song ends up as just a meandering little essay, with the Fifth Dimension adding their special blend of sassafras and moonshine.

Actually, "The Declaration" is technically part of a medley with "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "People Got to Be Free," but each song is presented in full, so that the whole thing runs 10:12. "A Change Is Gonna Come" is credited to Sam Cooke; "People Got to Be Free" is credited to those rascals Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati. "The Declaration" is credited to Rene DeKnight, a longtime jazz pianist who later served as the Fifth Dimension's music director, and Julianne R. Johnson, about whom I could find nothing. That was apparently her only songwriting credit, and although there's a Julianne R. Johnson credited with some vocals on a Dandy Warhols album, I have no way of knowing if it's the same person. I kind of doubt it.

Anyway, isn't there a songwriter we're missing here? One Thos. Jefferson, of the same Virginia that spawned Missy Elliot and Timbaland? He would seem to have written the lyrics for "The Declaration." "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)" is officially credited to the Book of Ecclesiastes, although we don't really know who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes, which means, I think, that a Trad. would have sufficed. But we definitely know who wrote the Declaration of Independence, at least the first draft, and poor old Jefferson doesn't even get a Trad.

The Declaration has long since fallen into the public domain, so the Jefferson family (or the Hemings family) isn't due any royalties from the Portrait album or the single - "The Declaration" was issued as the B-side to the medley of the other two songs it's affixed to on the album. But it would be nice to throw some propers at Jefferson and change the album credits. Let's get right on this, Marilyn McCoo.


  1. wow. this is quite a find, Mr. Nawrocki.

    they should have done the Bill of Rights as a medley with "Wedding Bell Blues."

  2. It's actually not all that obscure. The full medley is included on the 1997 double-CD set Up, Up and Away: The Definitive Collection. Then again, who besides me is going to be listening to Fifth Dimension box sets?