From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "People Make The World Go Round" - The Stylistics – 6:15
The Stylistics were one of the best-known Philadelphia soul groups of the 1970s. They formed in 1968, and comprised lead Russell Thompkins, Jr., Herbie Murrell, Airrion Love (second lead on "You Make Me Feel Brand New"), James Smith, and James Dunn.
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.
Eban Brown is featured on Nas' 2008 album Untitled on a track called 'You Can't Stop Us Now'.
- Russell Thompkins Jr - born 21 March 1951, Philadelphia (1968-2000)
- James Dunn - born 4 February 1950, Philadelphia (1968-80)
- Herbie Murrell - born 27 April 1947, Lane, South Carolina (1968-present)
- James Smith - born 16 June 1950, New York (1968-80)
- Airrion Love - born 8 August 1949, Philadelphia (1968-present)
- Raymond Johnson (1980-86)
- Harold Eban Brown - born 14 June 1972, Newark, New Jersey (2000-present)
- Van Fields (2000-present)
The Stylistics' catalog of hits has been mined frequently by other artists in recent years. Notable examples include:
- "Betcha by Golly, Wow!" was covered by Prince, Sugababes, Phyllis Hyman and Aaron Neville.
- "I'm Stone In Love With You" and "Stop, Look (Listen To Your Heart)" were covered by Johnny Mathis on the Thom Bell produced album, I'm Coming Home.
- Both "You Are Everything" and "Stop, Look (Listen To Your Heart)" were also recorded by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, and featured on the album release Diana & Marvin. "You Are Everything" has also been covered by Michael McDonald, Daryl Hall & John Oates and Vanessa L. Williams. The most notable cover of "Stop, Look & Listen" was the one by New Birth.
- "You Make Me Feel Brand New" was covered by Boyz II Men, Jimmy Castor, Roberta Flack and Simply Red; and sampled by Jamiroquai in 1999's Canned Heat.
- "I Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)" was covered by Thomas Anders.
- Mary J. Blige also used the chief line from the chorus of "You Are Everything" ("You are everything, and everything is you") in her 1997 hit "Everything."
- In 2006, Letoya Luckett used a similar sample to the background track of "You Are Everything," for the music to her hit single "Torn."
- Their hit song "You're a Big Girl Now" was sampled by rapper Ghostface Killah for the song "Big Girl" on his album Fishscale.
- Their song "Hurry Up This Way Again" was covered by Phyllis Hyman on her 1998 posthumous album Forever With You and sampled by rapper Jay Z for the song "Politics as Usual" on his 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt.
- Producer 9th Wonder sampled the group's song "One Night Affair" for Little Brother's 2005 hit "Lovin' It".
- In 2002, Zero 7 mixed "People Make the World Go Around" into their album Another Late Night: Zero 7.
- In 2006, Madlib briefly sampled "You're As Right as Rain" in the introduction of the track "Snake Charmer (Heads Up)" on his album Beat Konducta, Vol 1-2.
Some of the Stylistics' hits were themselves cover versions, including "You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)" (a 1964 hit for Dionne Warwick) and "Can't Help Falling In Love."