How A Lost Wallet Led To A Hit Song

The story behind the hit song “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” is better than the song itself. That’s not intended to be a hot take, but it is intended to remind us to look for silver linings, because when the world starts throwing funny twists and turns under our feet, following the path of our own curiosity can change our lives. Here’s the story:

5th Dimension were an act trying to find a hit. While doing some work in NYC, the band had talked about really wanting to see the new hit show, Hair, but couldn’t get tickets. Plus, they were only in town to play a few shows and do some recording. Life would go on. 

On a cab ride, band member Billy Davis Jr. lost his wallet. A helpful stranger found it, tracked him down at the hotel the band was staying in, and returned the wallet (this was the 1960s, no social network hunting – this is a miracle of kindness and pre-google-searching unto itself).

As a gesture of gratitude, David invited the person to see them play a show and the stranger accepted. After the concert, the stranger thanked them for such a wonderful time and offered tickets to come see his show, for which he was a producer, Hair

Sometimes the universe delivers. And sometimes, it keeps delivering.

The band went to the show, enjoyed it, and absolutely fell in love with “Aquarius.” The next day in the studio they told their producer they wanted to do something with it. The producer scratched his head and thought, “this isn’t even a song, it’s just an intro, what could we possibly…” and sometimes when lightning is striking, all you have to do is get it in the bottle.  

Bones Howe, the producer, in an act that must be described as astrological inspiration, combined a few different songs and ideas from the musical togethe. He preceded to write, arrange, and produce what would become “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” 

In 1969 it was a Billboard #1 hit. From a wish to catch a musical, to a lost wallet, to a kind gesture, to a returned favor, and a quick succession of inspirational moments, a hit was born… or, dawned upon, or came shining in, or something. 

If you pull a thread and you’re curious, keep on pulling. So what if you unravel the whole sweater. You just might be able to knit a new one (or more!) 

h/t Summer of Soul, which if you haven’t seen this yet, is mind-bending. In the same year as Woodstock, to think we had a concert series in Harlem that attracted a lineup like this and almost lost it to history – unbelievable. Do check it out. 

And, for good measure: