The Stylistics

  • R&B/Soul vocal group formed in 1968 from Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The original members were Russell Thompkins Jr. (lead vocals), Airrion Love, Herb Murrell, James Dunn and James Smith.
  • All five original members were part of two different high school vocal groups – Thompkins, Smith and Love were members of the Monarchs while Murrell and Dunn were members of the Percussions. They competed in a talent show, with the Monarchs winning the contest. The military draft and graduation ended the groups – several members from each group moved on, and the remaining members joined forces and became the Stylistics, guided by a school English teacher. They performed locally for a couple of years, and a local record company executive suggested that they record in a studio.
  • In 1970, they recorded You’re A Big Girl Now and the single was released locally. It became a #1 hit in Philadelphia, leading to a record contract with a national company. Producer Thom Bell was brought in to produce their first album, and Bell developed their sound, emphasizing Thompkins’ tenor and falsetto voice. The self-titled The Stylistics album was released in 1971. You’re A Big Girl Now was released nationally, peaking at #7 on the R&B chart. The next four singles from the album all reached the top ten of the R&B chart, and two songs – You Are Everything and Betcha By Golly, Wow – reached #9 and #3 on the Hot 100 chart respectively.
  • Bell produced the groups next two albums – 1972’s Round 2 and 1973’s Rockin’ Roll Baby. They included four more top ten R&B hits, with I’m Stone In Love With You reaching #10 on the Hot 100 and Break Up To Make Up peaking at #5 (I own this one as a 45 rpm single). Bell’s final contribution to the Stylistics was the single You Make Me Feel Brand New. The song was their biggest hit, peaking at #2 on the Hot 100, #2 in the UK and it was in the top ten in several other countries.
  • Bell parted ways with the group in 1974, but You Make Me Feel Brand New was included in the 1974 album Let’s Put It All Together. The remainder of the album was produced by record executives Hugo & Luigi, with arrangements influenced by Van McCoy – this led to a change in the group’s style to a softer pop music sound. The title track to the album reached #8 on the R&B chart. Three more albums were released in 1974 and 1975, and the group’s success in the U.S. began to wane, though their popularity in Europe increased. They enjoyed three top five hits in the UK, including Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love), which reached #1 in the UK. Their Best of the Stylistics album in 1975 and Best Of…Volume II album in 1976 both topped the UK albums chart.
  • They continued to release new music during the remainder of the 70s, but by then, the Philly soul sound had lost its lustre compared to disco music. Seven albums released from 1976 to 1979 failed to generate much interest. Bell reunited with the group in 1980 for their album Hurry Up This Way Again, and the title track managed to reach #18 on the R&B chart. Dunn left the group that year for health reasons, and Smith followed soon after. They continued to release music and perform as a trio until 2000, when Thompkins left the group. Eban Brown replaced Thompkins, and tenor singer Van Fields joined, increasing the group to a quartet. There were various lineups over the years after that, with Love and Murrell still performing now as the last original members.
  • In 2004, Thompkins launched his own group, named Russell Thompkins & the New Stylistics – they continue to occasionally perform today. In 2023, Rolling Stone included Thompkins on their list of the Greatest Singers of All Time, at #142.
  • The Stylistics were one of the top Philly Soul groups of the 70s. They were popular enough to get an appearance on Saturday Night Live in season one, and they performed twice on Soul Train, four times on The Midnight Special, and once on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert – three of the big concert TV shows of the 70s. Love that smooth soul sound! Here they are on Soul Train, performing You Make Me Feel Brand New – unique for the group in that it features both Love and Thompkins with alternating lead vocals.

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