Spectropop remembers

FREDDIE PERREN (1943 - 2004)

Production and songwriting on Jackson 5 hits such as "I Want You Back" and "ABC" was credited to a generic-sounding group called The Corporation. But The Corporation was made up of four people, and one of them was Englewood native Frederick "Freddie" Perren. He also co-wrote and co-produced hits such as Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", Peaches and Herb's "Reunited" and the Sylvers' "Boogie Fever".

It's no exaggeration to say that the '70s wouldn't have been the same without him, as he contributed to some of the decade's signature songs, particularly in the dance field. "He was an up-tempo guy," said his widow, Christine. "He thought all the up-tempo songs should have the heartbeat of somebody who was dancing, and he always checked his rhythms to that."

Perren lived in California from 1968 until his death, but grew up in Englewood, New Jersey. He graduated from Englewood's Dwight Morrow High School in 1961. He played in the school's marching band and orchestra, and sang in its choral ensemble, the Chansoneers. "I asked him one time, 'How do you know what music to write?'" said his sister, Florence Perren Diaz. "He said, 'I have tunes running in my head all the time.' That was so typical of him. He was interested in all kinds of music: He turned me on to opera."

He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. After graduating in 1966 with a degree in music education, he taught in the district's high schools, played keyboards for Chubby Checker and served as Jerry Butler's road conductor. He met Christine Yarian in 1967, and they married in 1970. She was a budding playwright, not a songwriter, when they met, but they ended up collaborating on many songs, including the frequently covered holiday tune, "Give Love On Christmas Day" and "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday", a No. 2 hit for Boyz II Men in 1991.

In 1968, Perren and a friend from Howard, Fonce Mizell, moved to California and met Deke Richards, who had already done some work for Motown. The three came up with a song, "I Wanna Be Free", which they thought would be good for Motown acts Gladys Knight and the Pips or Diana Ross. But the label's president, Berry Gordy, suggested some lyrical revisions, and gave the reworked song, called "I Want You Back", to his new group, the Jackson 5. It became the quintet's breakthrough hit, in 1969. Gordy, Perren once said, told the young writers, "'I think you should do a thing that has to do with a little boy who lost his girl, who's going like: Whoa, baby, give me one more chance.' We took that and ran with it." The Corporation - Perren, Mizell, Richards and Gordy - was also responsible for the Jackson 5's next two hits, "ABC" and "The Love You Save", and produced Michael Jackson's first No. 1 single as a solo artist, "Ben".

The Corporation didn't stay together long, but Perren soon established himself as a leading behind-the-scenes figure of the funk-disco era, working on hits like "Love Machine" (the Miracles, 1975), "Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel" (Tavares, 1976) and "If I Can't Have You" (Yvonne Elliman, 1978). He won a Grammy for "I Will Survive" (best disco recording, 1980), as well as one for producing two songs from the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack (album of the year, 1979). He also worked on the soundtracks of the movies "Hell Up In Harlem" (1973) and "Cooley High" (1975). Like most top producers, Freddie Perren could be a perfectionist. Herb Fame of Peaches and Herb once said of the duo's 1978 "2 Hot" album, which Perren produced, "Making that album took us a month, working 13 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes Freddie would make us do one word over and over again, 50 or 60 times, until we got the sound he wanted."

Freddie Perren died at his home in Chatsworth, California. He was 61. For 11 years, he had suffered from the consequences of a massive stroke. In addition to his wife, Christine, his survivors include his son, Derek, daughter, Amy, and sisters, Florence and Esther.

Jay Lustig - The Star-Ledger

Frederick J. (Freddie) Perren, songwriter and producer: born May 15th, 1943 - died December 16th, 2004.