The Stylistics, were one of the best-known Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, soul groups of the 1970s. They formed in 1968, when members of two Philadelphia soul joined forces after the bands dissolved. Russell Thompkins, Jr., James Smith, and Airrion Love hailed from The Monarchs; James Dunn and Herbie Murrell were from The Percussions.
In 1970, the group met local producer and owner of Sebring Records, Bill Perry, who had them record, “You’re a Big Girl Now,” a song their road manager, Marty Bryant, co-wrote with Robert Douglas, a member of their back-up band, Slim & the Boys. The single became a regional hit for Sebring Records. Different in style from the lavish productions they would be known for, it made a sizable regional impression, but Perry didn’t have the money to get it noticed nationally.
However, when approached, the Avco label, knowing a hit when it heard one, bought the record for $10,000 (all of which Perry supposedly pocketed) and turned it into a top-ten, R&B hit in 1971. Avco producer, Thom Bell, developed the group, crafting several ballads, most written by Linda Creed, a white female, in the style he’d already perfected with The Delfonics of “La La Means I Love You” fame.
The Stylistic’s first album yielded no less than three hit singles, including “Stop, Look and Listen (To Your Heart),” their next R&B smash, and their crossover to pop, “Betcha By Golly, Wow.”
“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.
The group split with Thom Bell in 1974, and the split proved commercially devastating to the group’s success in the U.S. 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 their 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 #1 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. In the re-issue sleeve notes for the 1976 album, [Fabulous]), Russell Thompkins, Jr. stated 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.
In 1985 they released the album, [Some Things Never Change.] Johnson departed shortly afterward, leaving the group a trio. Love, Murrell, and Thompkins continued to tour until 2000, when original lead vocalist, Russell Thompkins, Jr. left. Love and Murrell brought in two new members, Harold “Eban” Brown, formerly of the Delfonics, as lead (and who sounds amazingly like a young Russell Thompkins), and tenor, Van Fields. The present group is featured live on the DVD, [The Stylistics Live at the Convention Center] (2006), as well as 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, and the new James Ranton, and Jonathan Buckson. They are featured on the DVD, [Old School Soul Party Live!,] which was part of PBS’, [My Music] series.
USES IN POP CULTURE: 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.”
Their song, “People Make the World Go Round”, was used by Spike Lee in the soundtrack for his movie, Crooklyn, made in 1994.