Following our nice two week stay in Chicago, it’s time to get on board the Love Train and head east for Philadelphia. There we encounter one of the most successful vocal groups that the city has ever produced, the Stylistics.
It’s that beautiful falsetto lead that the Stylistics are rightly famous for. It was provided by Russell Thompkins, Jr. Thompkins was part of a group called the Monarchs along with James Smith and Airrion Love. When the Monarchs folded, the three singers got together with James Dunn and Herbie Murrell who had been members of another defunct group, the Percussions. In 1968 the Stylistics were born.
The group produced one regional hit for Sebring Records, 1970’s “You’re A Big Girl Now,” before signing with Avco Records which pushed the single all the way to #7. It was at Avco that the Stylistics encountered the legendary producer/songwriter Thom Bell, who had previously worked with the Delfonics. The Stylistics worked with Bell and lyricist Linda Creed to create a string of indelible hits, all of which made the Top Ten on the R&B chart, and several, including “You Are Everything,” “Betcha By Golly Wow,” “I’m Stone In Love With You,” “Break Up To Make Up,” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” became Top Ten pop hits.
The first of the big hits that Bell produced for the Stylistics was “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)”. The single was released in 1971 and became a template for what was to follow. Bell’s lush production, Creed’s wistful lyrics, and Thompkins’ soaring falsetto added up to a Top 40 single for the Stylistics. It was a combination that would rule the charts for several years in the early ’70s.
Sadly the collaboration between the Stylistics and Bell was short lived. After all of those hits, the group parted ways with the producer in 1974. Things got more difficult for the group at that point. They began to work with producers Hugo & Luigi and arranger Van McCoy. That collaboration began well enough with the Top 20 hit “Let’s Put It All Together,” and the follow up “Heavy Fallin’ Out” which was a #4 R&B hit. The singles that followed didn’t do as well however, and the popularity of the Stylistics in the US was clearly waning.
The group had some success in Europe which included two greatest hits albums which topped the charts in the UK. There were some label changes, but nothing the Stylistics did seemed able to revive their career. By 1978 it seemed that their time on the charts had ended, but two years later the Stylistics signed with Philadelphia International Records subsidiary TSOP Records and reunited with Bell. Despite the fact original members Dunn and Smith had left the group by then, the single “Hurry Up This Way Again” did well, reaching #18 on the R&B chart. The reunion with Bell put a nice cap on the Stylistics story, although a couple of the original members continue to tour to this day. In 2000 Thompkins left and formed his own group called the New Stylistics
The saddest part of the Stylistics story involves Linda Creed. Despite the fact that she had been diagnosed with cancer at age 26, she continued to write hit songs including the Whitney Houston smash “The Greatest Love of All,” and “The Rubberband Man” by the Spinners. Creed finally succumbed to cancer in 1986. She was only 37 years-old. In 1992 Creed was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.