Herb Fame and his various “Peaches” have graced the lighter side of disco, funk, R&B and sweet soul music since the inception of the outfit in Washington, DC, in the mid-60s. Famously known for their global hits ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’ and ‘Reunited’, and smash disco album 2 Hot!, the duo are fondly remembered for the vocal interplay between Fame and his partners – Francine “Peaches” Hurd Barker, Marlene Mack, Linda Greene, Patrice Hawthorne, Miriam Wright, the Spanish/Latin queen of soul Meritxell Negre and, most recently, Wanda Makle.
The ever-popular old-school touring act, Peaches & Herb have enjoyed Grammy Award nominations and scored hits across four decades, while their music is often featured in family-oriented movies, most notably The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel!
Heart-and-soul honeyed sounds are the order of the day here, making them inheritors of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell up-close-and-personal style, which you can hear on the Polydor compilation The Best of Peaches & Herb: 20th Century Masters.
Herbert Feemster (later known as Herb Fame) hooked up with Francine Hurd Barker on the advice of disco pioneer and friend Van “The Hustle” McCoy and enjoyed a string of local and national hits with ‘Let’s Fall In Love’, ‘Close Your Eyes’, ‘For Your Love’ and a fine cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s standard, ‘Love Is Strange’, where they stuck to the original template of dialogue and repeated phrases. Other important takes on this track are by Lonnie Donegan, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Paul McCartney’s Wings, who included it on the Wild Life album. Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Everything But The Girl also put their spin on the 50s hit.
Dubbed the Sweethearts Of Soul (though they weren’t strictly an item), Peaches & Herb dominated the circuit in the late 60s and early 70s. But legal wrangling over royalties persuaded Herb to put the project on ice until 1976, when he left his day job in the police department and called McCoy who, again, steered Herb in the right direction with a new partner, Linda Greene. That duo released seven albums.
The first, a self-titled disc for MCA, in 1977, was a spectacular return. Produced by McCoy, it featured a hot ensemble including Richard Tee, Hugh McCracken and Eric Gale. Back in the spotlight – and in demand – the 1978 album, 2 Hot!, was a smooth delight, with producer Freddie Perren and arranger Wade Marcus capturing the classic Peaches & Herb sound on ‘We’ve Got Love’, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’ and the more experimental ‘Easy As Pie’. Stellar personnel included David T Walker, Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin and James Gadson. When you see those names on the credits, you know the song is worth hearing.
The true crossover smash was ‘Reunited’, a triple-platinum blockbuster that spent a month atop the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 Singles charts and sold in excess of two million copies, hence its No.5 ranking in the end-of-year summary. It also went silver in the UK and would be memorably performed by David Hasselhoff at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Twice The Fire and Worth The Wait, mined that ecstatic funky groove and trademark R&B with smart brass, strings and synths, reaching an apotheosis with Sayin’ Something (1981) and the key numbers ‘Wear You Out’ and ‘Picking Up The Pieces’. Both tracks are perfect examples of that Peaches & Herb recipe for the boudoir.
Released in 1983, Remember spawned the title track hit, proving that the duo’s name had longevity and maintained a place in the hearts of their following. Behind the tender music, Herb’s philosophy is quite simple and refreshingly honest. “As long as I’m alive the name will stay there, the name will stay alive. I work. I believe in work. I believe if a man is capable of working… if he’s healthy enough to do it… then you do it. I don’t believe in retirement. I’ll just work until I fade away. I believe in working.”
That much is evident in the authentic sound of 2009’s Colors Of Love, where Negre revives the brand perfectly. For further discovery, check out Best Of Peaches & Herb, Reunited or the ever-reliable 20th Century Masters collection. Sweethearts of soul will love those essential, sensual grooves.