First Choice were an American all-female vocal trio in 1971. They were a group with a lot of genre ranges to offer, including soul (especially Philly soul), R&B, pop, and disco. Speaking of disco, First Choice scored a lot of dance/disco hits such as “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” “Smarty Pants,” “First Choice Theme/Ain’t He Bad/Are You Ready For Me?,” “Gotta Get Away (From You Baby),” “The Player,” “Let No Man Put Asunder” and their most prominent single “Doctor Love.” They disbanded in 1984.
First Choice’s early career
First Choice was an American all-girl vocal music trio formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1971. The lineup changed over the course of their existence, with girls Annette Guest (b. 1954), Debbie Martin, Joyce Jones (b. 1949), Rochelle Fleming (b. 1950), and Ursula Herring having been with the band one time or another.
Founding members Fleming, Jones and Guest first got together as the Debonettes (some source otherwise say “Debronettes”) and they gigged mostly on local venues in Philadelphia. Radio disc jockey Georgie Woods got to know the girls, and introduced them musician and producer Norman Harris.
It was Harris who co-wrote and produced First Choice’s debut single “This is the House Where Love Died,” released on Scepter Records in 1972. The single received some airplay in Philadelphia but failed to break nationally.
The group’s stint at Philly Groove; first big hit with “Armed and Extremely Dangerous”
Harris and another songwriter Allan Felder co-wrote a potential hit for First Choice, called “Armed and Extremely Dangerous.” In 1973 The song was later recorded and released on Philly Groove label, owned by Stan Watson. “Armed and Extremely Dangerous” went on to become First Choice’s first solid hit, entering on the Hot 100’s top 40 singles chart and peaking there at #28. It also almost made it to the top 10 R&B (at #11), and became a big hit as well in the United Kingdom (#16).
The hit single was also the title track of First Choice’s debut album, which entered the Billboard 200 (peaking there at #184) and R&B album chart (peak position at #55).
First Choice’s tight rhythm section team consisted of their prodcer Harris (who also played guitar), Ron Baker (bass) and Earl Young (drums). They were also part of the renowned studio musicians MFSB of Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label.
First Choice went on to enjoy other charting singles on Philly Groove, such as “Smarty Pants” (#56 pop, #25 R&B, #9 UK), “Newsy Neighbors” (#97 pop, #35 R&B), “The Player (Part 1)” (#71 pop, #7 R&B) and a few others. As First Choice had embraced disco and dance music, they scored many more dance hits as evidenced by their first dance top 10 single “First Choice Theme”/”Ain’t He Bad”/”Are You Ready for Me?” (at #7) in 1976. Their second album The Player(1974) did well on both pop (at #143) and R&B (at #36) albums charts.
Warner Bros. Records
After Philly Groove, First Choice moved to Warner Bros. label, where they first charted with “Gotta Get Away (From You Baby)” which became a Top 20 dance chart hit. They released their only album on Warner, So Let Us Entertain You, which peaked at #53 on the R&B albums chart in 1976. In 1977, Jones left the group and Ursula Herring came to take her place.
The group’s move to Gold Mind label, and yet another hit with “Doctor Love”
First Choice producer Harris formed Gold Mind label, where the girls became one of its first artists. Another label Salsoul Records specialized in disco and dance music, and became Gold Mind’s distributor. First Choice’s first single on Gold Mind was the very catchy song titled “Doctor Love,” written by Harris, Felder and another songwriter Ron Tyson. When it was released in 1977, it just missed the Top 40 pop chart (at #41) but it was yet another top 10 dance hit (at #8). “Doctor Love” also peaked at #23 on the R&B singles chart.
“Doctor Love”‘s album Delusions(1977) became their and highest-charting album, peaking at #103 on the Billboard 200. Curiously though, it never charted on the R&B album rankings. Delusions was also regarded as First Choice’s best effort ever in their career; it featured Fleming as one of the most distinctive and lead singers during that era — whether she sang soul, disco, or pop.
Later career; First Choice’s influence on today’s dance music
Gold Mind released their next album Hold Your Horses (1979), whose title track became one of the sought-after disco classics. That same year, Herring left the group and was replaced by Ursula Herring.
Another First Choice track “Let No Man Put Asunder” also became a disco classic; it especially became a dancefloor hit in the UK. (In 1999, singer Mary J. Blige also covered “Let No Man Put Asunder” on her album Mary).
Following Salsoul’s shift of its present business to the growing home video market, First Choice disbanded in 1984. But three years later Fleming re-formed the group with newer members (which included her cousin Laconya Fleming) while she continued her solo career throughout the 1990s.
First Choice may now be far from the peak years, but they’ve grown to be influential especially in house and techno music. Many of their tracks have been sampled by house and techno artists.