Harford County's 4 P.M. makes clean climb up music charts ON A POSITIVE NOTE


For the members of 4 P.M. (For Positive Music), the "positive" in their name is not just a gimmick.

In a popular music landscape crowded with sexually explicit lyrics, the four men from Harford County want to make songs about love, not making love.

"It's in our hearts to try to be positive," says Reney "Ray" Pena. "We feel that as artists, we have a responsibility to all the kids," who like their music.

The success of their remake of the classic hit single "Sukiyaki" is proof that their commitment to wholesomeness is paying off. The single entered the Top 10 of Billboard magazine's Hot 100 Singles in January. It went as high as No. 8 and is currently No. 15 on the chart.

The single went gold two weeks ago, which means it has sold 500,000 copies in the United States.

Their album, "Now's The Time," on Next Plateau/London Records, has sold almost 300,000 copies nationally.

The success is sweet for Mr. Pena, his brother Roberto "Bobby" Pena Jr., Martiz "Marty" Ware, and Larry McFarland, who resisted pressure from record companies to conform.

"They weren't looking for a clean-cut group," Mr. Pena remembers. "The sex was selling. We didn't want to compromise our morals to do that."

So they performed original a cappella songs at area office parties and weddings, while trying to shop their music to record companies in New York.

They finally found an agent and a company that could live with their stance against suggestive lyrics and released the catchy "Sukiyaki" last summer.

They have spent much of January and February on promotional tours of Japan, Canada and the United States.

They will soon begin rehearsing for a concert tour of colleges and smaller venues in North America to begin in May. Tour dates and locations are not set yet, manager John Ferri Jr. says. But for a few days at least, they can hang out where many people still don't know who they are -- their hometowns.

Mr. Ware and Mr. McFarland, both 27, grew up together in Havre de Grace, and Ray and Bobby Pena, ages 26 and 32, moved to the area eight years ago.

They say a few children have started to recognize them locally, but mostly they go unnoticed. It probably doesn't hurt that their lifestyles haven't changed much. Mr. McFarland has had the same girlfriend for 11 years and drives a 1984 Ford Mustang with 150,000 miles on it. Mr. Ware, married with three children, lives with his parents because he still can't afford to buy a home. Ray and Bobby Pena are also married and have school-age children.

Ray Pena, who has a few flecks of silver at his temples, drives a station wagon. So much for the twentysomething mystique their agent was trying to create.

But with their friendly, unassuming personalities, who needs mystique?

Though their album cover pictures them in fedoras, slacks, and button-down vests with pocket watches on chains, on a recent afternoon at MacGregor's in Havre de Grace, the members of 4 P.M. looked more comfortable in their own jeans, cotton shirts, and Skechers boots (bought at the local Merry-Go-Round clearance sale).

One waitress didn't believe them when the group recognized their next single, "Lay Down Your Love" playing on the sound system. But Holly Arist, 18, of Bel Air, was still flushed and grinning moments after posing for a picture with the foursome.

"I've heard them on the radio," she said. "I love their music . . . how to-the-heart their music is."

They say they only have to look as far as their families for motivation to keep their music wholesome.

"If something's not good enough for your children, then it shouldn't be good enough for you," Mr. Pena explains.

On an album dubbed a "lovers' groove," several songs celebrate the permanent commitment of marriage and one is about the love of a father for his child.

Bobby Ware wrote the a cappella ballad, "Father and Child," after receiving a Christmas card from his oldest daughter, Natasia. "The song originally was in the form of my writing her back, and it was in the form of a poem," he said.

They also find inspiration in God.

"It's difficult to do anything that's good and pure and wholesome, without being inspired," said Ray Pena, who was raised in a Pentecostal church. "And I think all things that are good and pure are inspired by God."

They say they hope to include some gospel songs they've written on future albums.

But most of all, they want to keep making positive music.

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