Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Herbs is another group that’s been important to New Zealand music, and for a long time. They’ve also done some of my favourite songs.
Herbs has been around in one form or another since 1979, though it was in the 1980s that they became popular. Since then, there have been numerous changes in band members, but the group still performs in New Zealand and Australia.
Herbs are considered pioneers of the Pacific reggae sound, paving the way for many acts, including Fat Freddy’s Drop. An important thing to know about them is that the name is pronounced with the “h”, not like the American “erbs”. Second, there’s no “the” in front of their name.
The video above is the 1995 version of their first single, “French Letter”, which is a protest song. The original version was on the Light of the Pacific album (1982) and protested French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, and reached Number 11 on the NZ singles chart.
In 1995, they released the special single version and video to protest renewed French nuclear tests (which was also addressed by DLT and Che Fu in “Chains”). This is the version I know best, since I arrived in New Zealand in 1995. This version reached Number 9 on the NZ chart.
Their biggest hit was with Dave Dobbyn on “Slice of Heaven”, below, which was part of the soundtrack for the movie, Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale (1986). The song was billed as being “Dave Dobbyn with Herbs”, and he specifically wanted them as part of the song. There was so little time to record that the video featured their live performance, not a recreation. This was one of several successful collaborations the band had. “Slice of Heaven” reached Number One for eight weeks in New Zealand and for four weeks in Australia. It’s also sometimes called New Zealand’s other, other National Anthem (unofficially, of course).
“Sensitive to a Smile” was originally intended for release in 1986, but was delayed due to the success of “Slice of Heaven”. It reached Number 9 on the singles chart, and the album it was from, also called Sensitive to a Smile, reached Number 10 in New Zealand. The video was directed by Once Were Warriors director Lee Tamahori and was shot in Ruatoria to give support to Rastafarian protests in the area. I came to know it mostly when it was used as music in a TV ad urging people to train to be teachers.
The second-highest charted single Herbs were part of was also a collaboration, "See What Love Can Do" (below), by Annie Crummer with Herbs. It was on her 1992 album, Language. The song reached Number 3 on the NZ singles chart.
Two of the songs I’ve included have been theirs, the other two them on other people’s songs. Part of that’s because I like these songs (full disclosure…), but also because there just aren’t that many videos of Herbs songs (most are audio-only). Nevertheless, they were successful: Out of 15 singles released, nine were Top 20 singles, including six Top Ten singles. Four of their eight albums were Top 20. And that's not bad at all.