March 25, 1967: The Who & Cream Make U.S. Debut

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Murray the K’s “Music in the Fifth Dimension”

It was billed as “Music in the Fifth Dimension” and the advertisement promised “9 Big Days! Continuous Performances Morning ’Til Night.” Beginning March 25, 1967, young rock fans would be treated to live music from some of the biggest names in the biz. Mitch Ryder! Wilson Pickett! Smokey Robinson and the Miracles!

And then, billed under those three and advertised as coming “Direct from England,” The Cream and The Who.

Neither band had played in the United States before.

Lower down on the bill were the Blues Project and the Hardly-Worthit Players (a comedic musical act that had fashioned a hit from a version of “Wild Thing” sung in a faux Bobby Kennedy voice) and others. There would also be “Future Guest Stars”: Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, the Blues Magoos and the Young Rascals, each playing just one of the nine days.

The host of the multi-day extravaganza was Murray the K, the self-declared “Fifth Beatle” and one of the most beloved disc jockeys in New York. Murray Kaufman—his real name—had only recently left WINS, the AM radio station where his fast-talking jive had made him a star in his own right, for WOR-FM, the first commercial New York station to play the new “underground” rock music as its regular fare. There, Murray could leave behind the “submarine race watching” shtick and his “Ah-bey! Koowa-zowa-zowa” chant and speak in his normal voice. In place of top 40 hits, he could play whatever hip new tunes suited him. Bands like “the” Cream, whose debut album featured improvisations on top of blues-based rock tunes, and the Who, whose anthem “My Generation” was some of the loudest, most aggressive rock ever made, were fair game now.

Cream performing at the RKO 58th Street Theater in 1967

The shows—as many as five per day—took place at the long-defunct RKO 58th Street Theater, at 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. The event was modeled after the shows Murray had put on for years at the Brooklyn Fox Theater, a stream of hitmakers offering their two or three biggest numbers and then vacating the stage for the next act. One of those concerts, in 1964, had featured most of the top Motown acts of the day plus England’s Searchers and Dusty Springfield. The shows were fast-paced, designed to please the teens for a while and then get them out the door so a new batch could move in.

By the time “Music in the Fifth Dimension” was being mounted, much had changed in the music world, but the rock concert as we know it now was still in its infancy. In San Francisco, promoter Bill Graham had been running the Fillmore Auditorium for a couple of years, bringing in the hippest of new bands plus soul and jazz acts, usually three per night, who would perform complete sets of an hour or more. But in New York that was still a rarity, unless one frequented the clubs, where a band’s role was still seen as little more than an excuse to get drinkers to stay inside the room and cozy up to the bar.

Related: An eyewitness remembers the Murray the K show in ’67

By the time Murray the K launched his latest package show, as they were called, the concept was already an anachronism. Bands like the Who and Cream didn’t play two or three tunes and leave the stage—they were used to giving audiences a full show. The same went for the Blues Project, the New York quintet that had held forth at hip downtown venues like the Café au Go Go. They, like the visiting Brits, were the reason you went to the venue, not a sideshow. They were to be listened to, danced to, even studied if you were seriously into music.

Murray The K (in cap) with The Who backstage at the RKO Theater

But hey, a paycheck was a paycheck, and this was a high-profile gig, playing for Murray. The acts eagerly signed on.

But if the DJ expected things to run smoothly, as in the past, he was in for a big surprise.

His first headache was Smokey Robinson. Although the soul star had appeared at previous Murray bashes, he was a no-show at the ’67 affair. Reportedly (and, perhaps, understandably), he was upset at being billed below Mitch Ryder, the blue-eyed soul singer whose manic hits with the Detroit Wheels—no longer with him by this time—were truly sensational. There was no doubt that Ryder would put on a great show, but he was no Smokey Robinson. Smokey argued with Kaufman, walked out the door and never returned.

Whether all of the “future guest stars” materialized when they were supposed to also remains in question. The fans sat through good but relatively inconsequential acts like Mandala, Jim and Jean and the Chicago Loop while they waited for the top-billed artists.

When the main attractions did turn up, they gave it their all. The Who finished each mini-set with “My Generation” and the instrument smashing display that was already becoming their trademark.

“It was the craziest three weeks of our life,” The Who’s Roger Daltrey told radio legend Dennis Elsas in 2018. “I think Murray the K was hoping to do five shows a day. We ended up doing four, I think, and the first one was at 11 o’clock in the morning.”

As for their instruments, “we’d spend the next two hours, gluing guitars back together because even us—with the nonchalant attitude to money that we had in those days—couldn’t afford a guitar three times a day.”

Cream showed the New York kids what improvisation within the context of rock could be. The Blues Project, five virtuosos, also left audiences breathless.

From what many of the performers have since said though, the real shows were taking place backstage.

The lobby of the RKO 58th Street Theater

“Because the Who were so insane, and their show was so wild, none of the musicians would room with them,” remembered Bill Minkin, a member of the Hardly-Worthit Players at the time. “But we were thrown in with them. Keith Moon…we were just comedian friends from the beginning. It was like love at first sight. He would do bits like getting dressed up as an Indian one day. He had feathers on and war paint. I did a whole John Wayne movie with him. Everybody would come into our dressing room, because we would do more material backstage than we would ever do in the front on stage. We would do a lot of improvisational stuff. And there in your audience would be Eric Clapton.”

Murray the K, the self-proclaimed “Fifth Beatle,” in 1964, with the other four

“I remember the Who’s dressing room becoming a swimming pool,” Jack Bruce told this writer shortly before the Cream bassist passed away. “Oh God, yeah. I’ll never forget that. I remember mostly they had security to keep the bands in.”

“That was an amazing week for me,” remembers Al Kooper, who played the shows as a member of the Blues Project. “My son was born during that show. I took my first inadvertent acid trip during that show. I met the Who and Cream and Mitch Ryder and Pickett. Amazing show. Buddy Miles was playing with Wilson Pickett on that show; that’s where Mike Bloomfield discovered him [Bloomfield then nicked the drummer for the band he was forming, the Electric Flag]. Murray ripped us off though. [Cream’s] Ginger Baker chopped his dressing room door down with an ax. We bought tons of eggs and flour for the last show.”

“Music in the Fifth Dimension” would not only be the last in this format presented by Murray the K, but effectively put an end to the rock ’n’ roll package show, until promoters like Richard Nader returned to it for the oldies revival concerts that began in the early ’70s. In 1968 Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East, where he presented the Who often. Cream never played there but they did play several times at the San Francisco venues.

Murray the K was booted from WOR when the station changed its format and although he stayed in radio into the mid-’70s, moving from station to station, his status diminished and he eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 1982 at age 60.

No film footage exists from the “Music in the Fifth Dimension” shows, but here’s Cream later in 1967…

And, that same year, The Who

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Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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