The Stylistics are an American, Philadelphia soul group that achieved their greatest chart success in the 1970s. They formed in 1968, with a lineup of singers Russell Thompkins Jr., Herb Murrell, Airrion Love, James Smith, and James Dunn. All of their US hits were ballads characterized by the falsetto of Russell Thompkins Jr. and the production of Thom Bell. During the early 1970s, the group had twelve consecutive R&B top ten hits, including “Stop, Look, Listen“, “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“. Murrell brought Eban Brown in to replace Russell Thompkins Jr. in 2000.
The Stylistics were created from two Philadelphia groups, The Percussions, and The Monarchs. Russell Thompkins Jr., James Smith, and Airrion Love came from the Monarchs, and James Dunn and Herb Murrell came from the Percussions. In 1970, the group recorded “You’re a Big Girl Now”, a song their road manager Marty Bryant co-wrote with Robert Douglas, a member of their backing band Slim and the Boys, and the single became a regional hit for Sebring Records. Producer Bill Perry spent $400 to record the song in the Virtue Studios in Philadelphia. The larger Avco Records soon signed the Stylistics, and the single eventually climbed to No. 7 on the US Billboard R&B chart in early 1971.
After signing to Avco, the record label approached producer Thom Bell, who had already produced a catalog of hits for The Delfonics, to work with the group. The Stylistics auditioned for Bell, but he was initially unimpressed. He ultimately agreed to produce the group because he believed in the potential of lead singer Russell Thompkins, Jr.‘s distinctive, nasal high tenor and falsetto voice. Avco gave Bell complete creative control over the Stylistics and he proceeded to focus the group’s sound exclusively around Thompkins’s voice. On most of the group hits, Bell would have Thompkins sing virtually solo.
The first song recorded with Bell and his collaborator, lyricist Linda Creed, was “Stop, Look, Listen“.
Their hits from this period — distilled from three albums — included “Betcha by Golly, Wow” (the U.S. No. 3), “I’m Stone in Love with You“, “Break Up to Make Up” (the U.S. No. 5), “You Make Me Feel Brand New” featuring Thompkins singing a lead vocal duet with Airrion Love, “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)”, “You Are Everything“, and the Top 20 pop chart hit “Rockin’ Roll Baby” (the U.S. No. 14). “You Make Me Feel Brand New” was the group’s biggest U.S. hit, holding at No. 2 for two weeks in 1974, and was one of the group’s five U.S. gold singles.
The Stylistics also found a path on to adult contemporary airwaves, 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. Every single that Bell produced for the Stylistics was a Top Ten R&B hit, and several — “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” — were also Top Ten pop chart hits. The group also enjoyed commercial success with hits with this material throughout Europe.
Thom Bell stopped working with the Stylistics in 1974, and the split proved commercially difficult for the group in the U.S. They struggled to find the right material, although their partnership with label owners Hugo & Luigi as producers and arranger Van McCoy started well with “Let’s Put It All Together” (No. 18 pop, No. 8 R&B) and “Heavy Fallin’ Out” (No. 4 R&B, No. 41 pop). Later singles were notably less successful, but as U.S. success began to wane, their popularity in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, increased. Indeed, the lighter ‘pop’ sound fashioned by McCoy and Hugo & Luigi gave the group a UK No. 1 in 1975 with “Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)“. Further successes with “Sing Baby Sing”, “Na Na Is The Saddest Word”, “Funky Weekend” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” consolidated the group’s European popularity. They are one of the few U.S. acts to have two chart-topping greatest hits albums in the UK.
The Stylistics switched record labels during this period as Avco Records transitioned into H&L Records in 1976. Notwithstanding this, the band began to struggle with increasingly weak material, and although the singles and albums came out as before, by 1978 chart success had vanished. A move to Mercury in 1978 for two albums produced by Teddy Randazzo failed to produce any major success. Russell Thompkins Jr. wrote (in the sleevenotes for the re-issue of the 1976 album, Fabulous) that the group began to feel that the music they were recording was becoming dated, and not in keeping with the popular disco sound of the late 1970s.
In 1980 the group reunited with Thom Bell and signed with Philadelphia International Records subsidiary TSOP Records. They released the single “Hurry Up This Way Again” that year which brought them back into the R&B Top 20 (peaking at No. 18). Both James Dunn and James Smith departed due to conflicts over the direction of the group. Dunn left before the recording of the album Hurry Up This Way Again (1980) and Smith after the recording of Closer Than Close in 1981. The group continued, recruiting new member Raymond Johnson. But Johnson departed in 1985, leaving the group a trio. Love, Murrell, and Thompkins continued to tour until 2000 when Russell Thompkins, Jr. left the group.
Murrell asked Eban Brown (formerly of The Delfonics; The Manhattans and Ray, Goodman and Brown) to replace Russell as Lead Singer back in 2000. The same year, tenor singer Van Fields who also sang with a cappella group called A Perfect Blend joined The Stylistics too. In 2011, Fields departed from the group due to creative differences and was replaced by Jason Sharp. The group, prior to Fields’ departure, was featured live on the DVD The Stylistics Live at the Convocation Center (2006), as well as with other artists of the 1970s on the DVD, 70s Soul Jam. They recorded their latest album, That Same Way, in 2008.
In 2006 their hit single “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 successful and featured Takuya Kimura of the pop group SMAP. They were also featured guests on SMAP’s television show, SMAP×SMAP, to promote the ‘Moving Rubber’ product.
In October 2009, they featured on the UK BBC One television program, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.
Their song “People Make the World Go Round” was used by Spike Lee in the soundtrack for his 1994 film, Crooklyn, as performed by Marc Dorsey.
In January 2018, Eban Brown announced his departure to concentrate on his solo career. Since then, Eban has performed solo in many venues around the world, including Wembley Arena and Liverpool Echo Arena in the UK, and the GrandWest Grand Arena in Cape Town, South Africa. He was initially replaced by Michael Muse, formerly of Rare Essence for a few months, then was replaced by former Temptation Barrington “Bo” Henderson.
Barrington “Bo” Henderson
The Stylistics were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.