The Number Ones

The Number Ones: Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited”

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

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Peaches & Herb – “Reunited”

HIT #1: May 5, 1979

STAYED AT #1: 4 weeks

Peaches & Herb weren’t really reunited. The duo had been a pretty successful soul act in the ’60s, and then they’d disappeared for years before returning with their two biggest hits ever. But the Peaches & Herb of the late ’70s weren’t the same as the Peaches & Herb of the late ’60s. Herb was the same. Peaches was different. The Peaches on “Reunited” was Linda Greene, the third in a long line of Peacheses. Maybe “Reconstituted” just wasn’t as catchy a song title.

Herb was Herbert Feemster, a Washington, DC native who wisely took the stage name Herb Fame when he got famous. In the mid-’60s, a young Fame was working in the DC record store Waxie Maxie’s when he met Van McCoy, the producer who would later hit #1 with “The Hustle.” Based on an audition, McCoy signed Fame to Columbia and paired him up with a girl-group singer named Francine “Peaches” Barker.

That original version of Peaches & Herb had a pretty good run in the late ’60s, cranking out a series of warm, sleepy soul songs that became moderate hits. They even made it into the top 10 once, when 1967’s “Close Your Eyes” peaked at #8. (It’s a 6.) But Barker didn’t like touring, so she gave that up shortly after the duo took off, and the former Jaynetts singer Marlene Mack replaced her as the live version of Peaches. (Barker still sang on the records.) Then, in 1970, Herb decided that he was tired of touring, too. He left the music business behind completely, becoming a police officer in Washington, DC.

After six years working as a DC cop, Fame, who was getting into his late thirties, wanted to give his singing career another shot, so he got back in contact with Van McCoy. This time around, McCoy teamed him up with Linda Greene, a former model and fellow DC native. The new Peaches & Herb released a McCoy-produced album in 1976 that didn’t really go anywhere. But their fortunes changed when they moved to a new label and teamed up with the songwriting/production team of Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, the guys who’d made “I Will Survive” with Gloria Gaynor.

By that point, Perren had a long history making disco smashes with veteran R&B singers, and Peaches & Herb had a big hit out of the gate with “Shake Your Groove Thing,” a wormy dance track that Perren and Fekaris wrote and produced. (“Shake Your Groove Thing” peaked at #5. It’s a 6.) But the bigger hit that followed wasn’t disco at all. Instead, it was a warm, easy R&B ballad that became, by far, the biggest thing that Peaches & Herb would ever make.

Back in 1968, the first version of Peaches & Herb had scored a minor hit with a cover of “United,” an early Philly soul song that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff had written for the Intruders. So “Reunited” was a kind of sequel, even though Herb Fame wasn’t even singing it with the same woman. Fekaris and Perren said that they weren’t inspired by any kind of life experience when they wrote “Reunited.” They were simply trying to come up with something for one of their groups. Perhaps referring back to “United,” they came up with a soft, tender soul duet sung from the perspective of a broken-up couple who had just gotten back together.

Maybe that’s why there’s nothing urgent or intense about “Reunited.” It’s a soft, gloopy thing full of strings and glowing electric-piano notes. Linda Greene and Herb Fame sing it in a lazily satisfied sort of way, as if they’re just relaxing into one another’s presence, finding the place where they’d always belonged. The lyrics hint at past mistakes: “I can’t go cheating/ Honey, I can’t play.” But they mostly refer to relationship bliss in the most generic terms possible: “I was a fool to ever leave your side/ Me minus you is such a lonely ride/ The breakup we had has made me lonesome and sad.”

Herb Fame sings his part in a tenor so soft and lilting that it almost sounds androgynous. It’s a light and feathery Al Green type of vocal, and it hits a few lovely big notes, but there’s no real personality in it. I never get any sense that he’s had to go through hell to get back with this woman. Greene sings her sides with a bit more gospel-derived force, but she holds back, too. There’s no real chemistry in the way they sing together, so maybe it’s not that surprising that they were never a couple in real life.

The backing band on “Reunited” is the same one that Perren and Fekaris had used on “I Will Survive.” Those guys are all killers, and they do some interesting things in the “Reunited” arrangement. I like Melvin Ragin’s bluesy little guitar runs and Scott Edwards’ deep bass murmur. “Reunited” also has a hook that will stay with you all day. But the song leaves me completely cold. It hangs sleepily in the air, never pushing hard in any direction. The strings and harps do standard string-and-harp things. I can’t focus on any of it. It just drifts off.

“Reunited” would be the last real hit for Peaches & Herb. They kept recording into the early ’80s before breaking up. They would not reunite. Instead, Herb Fame went back into law enforcement, becoming a deputized court security officer in DC. He kept that job even after winning a bunch of royalty money in a 2001 lawsuit. He was still working that job a decade ago, but he’s 77 now, so I’m guessing he’s not doing it anymore. Herb still plays the occasional live show. He’s been doing that for decades, singing with a series of different women, all of whom were known as Peaches.

GRADE: 3/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s video of the reunited Faith No More opening their set at the 2009 Download Festival by covering “Reunited”:

(Faith No More’s highest-charting single, 1989’s “Epic,” peaked at #9. It’s a 10.)