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Monday, December 8, 2008

Legendary Group: The Stylistics

The Stylistics. were formed in 1968 from the fragments of two Philadelphia groups, the Monarchs and the Percussions, by:

Russell Thompkins Jnr. (b. 21st March 1951, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.)

Airrion Love (b. 8th October 1951, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.)

James Smith (b. 16th June 1950, New York City, U.S.A.)

Herbie Murrell (b. 27th April 1949, Lane, South Carolina, U.S.A.)

and James Dunn (b. 4th February 1950, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.).


Signing to Avco Records, The Stylistics began working with producer Thom Bell, who had already produced a catalogue of hits for The Delfonics, and songwriter Linda Creed. Bell imported the sweet soul techniques he had perfected with The Delfonics, and his arrangements worked perfectly with Thompkins' falsetto. The bittersweet lyrics from Creed were a key factor in creating hugely memorable music. They had their first U.S. hit in 1971 with "You're a Big Girl Now".

Their hits — distilled from three albums — from this period included "Betcha by Golly Wow!" (U.S. #3), "I'm Stone in Love with You", "Break Up To Make Up" (U.S. #5), "You Make Me Feel Brand New" featuring a double lead with Love, "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)" and "You Are Everything". "You Make Me Feel Brand New" was the group's biggest U.S. hit, holding at #2 for two weeks in the spring of 1974, and was one of five U.S. gold singles the Stylistics collected. The Stylistics' smooth sound also found an easier path onto adult contemporary airwaves than other soul artists, and the group made Billboard magazine's Easy Listening singles chart twelve times from 1971 to 1976, with three entries ("Betcha by Golly Wow!," "You Make Me Feel Brand New," and "You'll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)") reaching the Top 10. This commercial success was not confined only to the U.S., with the band also having big hits with this material throughout Europe.

The group split with Thom Bell in 1974, and the split proved commercially devastating to the group's success in the U.S. Just as with The Delfonics, The Stylistics were to some extent a vehicle for Bell's own creativity. They struggled hard to find producers who could come up with the right material, and partnerships with Hugo & Luigi and Van McCoy were notably less successful. They left Avco for H&L Records and the Stylistics' popularity rapidly declined in the U.S. However, just as that success began to wane, their popularity in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, increased. Indeed, the lighter 'pop' sound fashioned by Van McCoy and Hugo and Luigi gave the band a UK Number one in 1975 with "I Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)". Further successes with "Na Na is the Saddest Word", "Funky Weekend" and "Can't Help Falling in Love" consolidated the band's European popularity.

Notwithstanding this, the Stylistics began to struggle with what many saw as increasingly weak material after 1976. Although the singles and albums came out as before, chart success vanished. This decline also coincided with the rise of New Wave in Europe around this time. It was also stated by Russell Thompkins Jr. (in the re-issue sleevenotes for the 1976 album Fabulous) that the band began to feel that the music they were recording was becoming increasingly dated, and not in keeping with the emerging disco sound of the late 1970s.

In 1980, James Dunn departed due to health problems, and James Smith left shortly thereafter. The group continued, recruiting new member Raymond Johnson, and releasing the album Some Things Never Change, in 1985. Johnson departed shortly afterward, leaving the group a trio. Love, Murrell, and Thompkins continued to tour until 2000, when original lead Russell Thompkins, Jr. left. Love and Murrell brought in two new members, Harold "Eban" Brown, formerly of the Delfonics, as lead (who sounds amazingly like a young Russell Thompkins), and tenor Van Fields. The present group is featured live on the DVD's "The Stylistics Live at the Convention Center" (2006), as well as along with other artists of the 1970s on the DVD "The Big Show."

In 2004, Russell Thompkins, Jr. started a new group, the New Stylistics, with the returning Raymond Johnson, James Ranton, and Jonathan Buckson. They are featured on the DVD "Old School Soul Party Live!," which was part of the PBS "My Music" series.

In 2006, their hit single "I Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)" was used as the base for a Japanese advertisement campaign by Gatsby to launch their new male hair styling product "Moving Rubber". The campaign was highly successful due in no small part to the catchy nature of the tune and that the commercial featured one of Japan's most popular celebrities Takuya Kimura of the pop group SMAP. They were also featured guests on SMAP's television show SMAPXSMAP one of the highest rated shows in Japan to promote the "Moving Rubber" product with Takuya Kimura.

Their song, "People Make the World Go Round", was used by Spike Lee in the soundtrack for his movie, Crooklyn, made in 1994.


The Stylistics (Avco 1971)
Round 2: The Stylistics (Avco 1972)
Rockin' Roll Baby (Avco 1973)
Let's Put It All Together (Avco 1974)
From The Mountain (Avco 1974)
Thank You Baby (Avco 1975)
You Are Beautiful (Avco 1975)
Fabulous (H&L 1976)
Once Upon A Juke Box (H&L 1976)
Sun And Soul (H&L 1977)
Wonder Woman (H&L 1978)
In Fashion (H&L 1978)
Black Satin (H&L 1979)
Love Spell (1979)
Live In Japan (1979)
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (1979)
Hurry Up This Way Again (TSOP/ Philadelphia International 1980)
Closer Than Close (MOP/Philadelphia International 1982)
1982 (TSOP/Philadelphia International 1982)
Some Things Never Change (Streetwise 1985)
Love Talks (1993)
Love Is Back In Style (Marathon 1996)


Visuals said...

Love these cats! My man Russel has one of the smoothest, voices for a male singer. I rank him high on the list of male sopranos right next to Harry from Bloodstone & The Dynamic Superior's Tony Williams.