Sunday, July 26, 2009

Peaches & Herb Reunited At #1

The team of Peaches & Herb scored two U.S. top five hits during the first six months of 1979, the first a rousing disco-dance floor anthem, the second a soulful, romantic ballad. It was testament to both the longevity and versatility of singer Herb Fame, who by the late 70s, had already racked up over a dozen Hot 100 hits, alongside three varieties of Peaches. Though the ‘role’ of Peaches changed a number of times over several decades, singer Herb Fame remained a constant throughout.

Back in 1965, Herb Feemster, soon to be Herb Fame, was working in a record store in his home city of Washingston D.C. Herb had been in love with music from an early age, and aside from being surrounded day in day out by the alluring scent of vinyl, he had already developed his vocal gift over many years, with church choirs and neighbourhood singing groups. One January day, Herb was working at the store when prolific songwriter and producer Van McCoy dropped by. McCoy had already been the creative force behind a number of hits, and hit artists, as well as recording as a solo artist. But the purpose of his visit that particular day, was to arrange for some in-store promotion for an up and coming vocal group he was working with, called the Sweet Things. McCoy was always on the look out for new vocal talent, and a conversation (and presumably some impromptu singing) with the producer, led Herb to being auditioned and signed as a solo act with Date Records.

One of the members of The Sweet Things was Francine Hurd Barker, better known to family and friends as ‘Peaches’. Like Herb, Francine ‘Peaches’ Barker had grown up singing in local Washington D.C. groups, and by her teens was fronting a vocal group called the Keynotes. After high school, Peaches fronted her own group, the Darlettes, who had also signed with Date Records. Following a name change to the Sweet Things, the group released several low key singles on the label, which brings us to the point at which the career paths of Herb ‘Fame’ Feemster and Francine ‘Peaches’ Hurd Barker intersected. During 1966, both Herb Fame, and the Sweet Things were in New York recording new material with producer Van McCoy. With individual recording sessions in the can, McCoy found he was ahead of schedule. Studio time was ludicrously expensive in those days, so rather than let go to waste, he used the left over time to record some tracks by Herb and Francine, as a duo. You could say he produced some amazing leftovers using Herb and Peaches - hmmm…too much?

The resulting material was, as comic character Kenny Banya might say, “Gold Jerry! Gold!’. Two of the songs laid down by the newly dubbed Peaches & Herb, were released as a single, but the A-side ‘We’re In This Thing Together’ didn’t attract much airplay. However, the B-side, ‘Let’s Fall In Love’, started being played by a local St. Louis radio station, KATZ, and by December 1966 had broken Peaches & Herb on the U.S. Hot 100. ‘Let’s Fall In Love’ already boasted considerable chart pedigree, having been an American #1 in 1934 for Eddie Duchin, and Peaches & Herb’s updated version delivered a US#21 (#11-R&B) hit in early ‘67. It was the beginning of a golden run on the charts for the newly formed duo Peaches & Herb. Next cab of the rank, was another cover song, ‘Close My Eyes’, penned by legendary R&B songsmith Chuck Willis, and originally a US#5 on the R&B charts for The Five Keys, during 1965. ‘Close Your Eyes’ didn’t blink twice on its way to #8 on the U.S. Hot 100 during mid ‘67. Over the course of 1967, Peaches & Herb notched up a further three U.S. top forty hits, ‘For Your Love’ (#20), a pristine cover of ‘Love Is Strange’ (#13), and ‘Two Little Kids’ (#31), all of which built on the duos burgeoning profile, that had earned them the tag ‘Sweethearts of Soul’.

1967 also saw Peaches & Herb release two albums of material, ‘Let’s Fall In Love’ (US#30), and ‘For Your Love’ (US#135), which featured all of the duo’s hits to date. With a string of top forty hits, the demands on Peaches & Herb were understandably intense, both for promotional appearances and touring commitments, and the hectic schedule led to Francine ‘Peaches’ Barker quitting the duo (for the first time), during 1968. The Peaches & Herb brand was simply too lucrative to let slip, so the decision was made to recruit a new female vocalist for touring purposes, with Marlene Mack stepping seamlessly into the role of Peaches. Francine Barker retained the role of Peaches in the recording studio. The old Intruder’s hit, ‘The Ten Commandments Of Love’ (US#55), was the duo’s first foray into the charts during 1968, and the follow up single ‘United’ (US#46/#11-R&B) reaffirmed a united front for Peaches & Herb (both versions). But over the ensuing twelve months, the crop of hit singles began to decline for the duo, with only ‘When He Touches Me (Nothing Else Matters)’ managing to find a place inside the top fifty (US#49).

By 1970, Francine Barker had left altogether to get married. Herb Fame, now without his regular studio partner, and with little prospect of regaining the commercial momentum of a year or two previous, took the decision to cut ties with the music business. During July of 1970, Herb took on a gig of a different kind, with the Washington D.C. police department. For a time during the mid 70s, both Herb Fame and Francine Barker released a handful of singles via their own Washington based BS label, but it would take the intervention of Van McCoy to once more kick start the Peaches & Herb brand. Though a noble profession law enforcement may be, what with the handcuffs and the high speed car chases, it didn’t feed Herb Fame’s creative soul in quite the same way as making music. At Van McCoy’s suggestion, Herb rekindled the Peaches & Herb flame with an all new Peaches. Former model Linda Greene became the new face and voice for Peaches, and during 1977 the duo released their first album of new material in seven years, with a self titled effort released on MCA, and produced by McCoy (who was arguably at the peak of his music producing powers at that time). Though the ‘Peaches & Herb’ album failed to spawn any hits, it was a solid dress rehearsal for what would prove to be the main event in Peaches & Herb’s career.

Back in 1965, Herb Fame was working just a short distance away from an old college friend, Freddie Perren, who was at that time serving behind the counter of Sabin’s record store. Perren too had gone on to a music career of considerable note, as a keyboardist, songwriter, and producer. He had been a key component of the production team known as the Corporation, who had been a driving force behind the early hits of the Jackson 5. By the late 70s, Perren was running his own record label called MVP Productions, and signed the newly resurgent Peaches & Herb to the label’s impressive playing roster (Yvonne Elliman, Gloria Gaynor, the Miracles, the Sylvers - see previous post). Backed by the distribution muscle of Polydor Records, Peaches & Herb released the album ‘2 Hot!’ in late ‘78. The lead out single, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’, tapped into the coursing vein of disco, and soon shook its groove all the way to #5 on the U.S. charts during early ‘79 (OZ#13/UK#26).

A decade earlier, the original studio line-up of Peaches & Herb had scored a top fifty hit with the single ‘United’. Though Herb Fame and Linda Greene represented a new combination, it seemed appropriate for the reunited Peaches & Herb team to notch up their first chart topper with a song called, ‘Reunited’. The sugar-laden ballad was a polar opposite to the dance-floor hit ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’, but despite the dominance of disco (particularly in the U.S.), there was still room for a song of pure quality. The Perren produced ‘Reunited’ proved to be just that, and following its March ‘79 debut inside the U.S. Hot 100, the song soared to the apex of the charts in May. A four week stay at the U.S. summit coincided with ‘Reunited’s rise up both British (#4) and Australian (#8) charts. The song’s phenomenal popularity also acted as a spur behind platinum sales for the album ‘2 Hot!’ (US#2/OZ#50), and earned Peaches & Herb a star slot on Bob Hope’s famed television special from China. The album yielded a minor follow up with ‘We’ve Got Love’ (US#44), later in ‘79.

Before year’s end, Peaches & Herb had recorded a follow up album, ‘Twice The Fire’ (US#31), which only managed to inspire a lukewarm response. The lead out single ‘Roller-Skatin’ Mate (Part 1)’ (US#66) encapsulated everything that would soon be considered as dated about the disco boom. However, there was one more hit left in the Peaches & Herb cupboard, in the form of ‘I Pledge My Love’, a remake of the old Johnny Ace hit from 1955. ‘I Pledge My Love’ pledged itself to the U.S. top twenty early in 1980 (#19), whilst it struck a major chord in New Zealand (#1/OZ#73). Peaches & Herb’s follow up album, ‘Worth The Wait’ (US#120), proved to be a contradiction in terms, and 1981’s ‘Sayin’ Something!’ (US#168) was greeted with muted enthusiasm. The Herb Fame and Linda Greene model of Peaches & Herb had one final tilt at the charts via the 1983 Columbia release ‘Remember’, the title track of which served as a low key addendum to the duo’s latest phase of operations (US#35-R&B). Soon after, the Fame/Greene partnership was dissolved, and the Peaches & Herb name was once more (temporarily) retired.

Herb Fame returned fulltime to his job as a police officer, but by 1990 he’d found a new ‘Peaches’ in the form of Patrice Hawthorne. The duo toured occasionally, with Herb retaining his day job with the police department. Hawthorne eventually went on to become bandleader of her own orchestra. Meanwhile, Herb (and Greene) finally triumphed during 2001 in a long protracted legal dispute over unpaid royalties from the lucrative Polydor years. The outcome enabled Herb to finally retire his badge, and devote himself fulltime to Peaches & Herb. Sadly, the original ‘Peaches’, Francine Barker, passed away in 2005, but to this day the name of Peaches & Herb still perform, with Herb Fame now accompanied by his fifth ‘Peaches’, and the duo have just released a new album, ‘Colors Of Love’.

No comments: