The Stylistics is one of the most popular groups to come out of Philadelphia soul scene, along with The Delfonics, The Spinners and the O’Jays. All of those groups have been helmed by famed producer Thom Bell, who is considered one of the pioneers of Philly soul.
The Stylistics was formed in that famed Pennsylvania city, in 1968. Members of The Stylistics had been members with their respective groups. James Dunn and Herbie Murrell of the Percussions and Russell Thompkins Jr., James Smith and Airrion Love of the Monarchs joined forces to create a new act, now called The Stylistics.
The group released their first single in 1970, “You’re a Big Girl Now” which was co-written by their manager Marty Bryant. It became a regional smash, and when the Stylistics signed to a bigger label Avco Records, the single was released nationally in early 1971. It went to #7 on the R&B singles charts, while it topped off at #73 on the pop charts.
The Stylistics under producer Thom Bell
Around that time The Stylistics encountered producer Thom Bell, who had just worked with The Delfonics. Avco gave Bell the creative control over the band’s vocal and musical style, especially focusing and making the most of Thompkins Jr.’s soaring falsetto, as Bell had believed in the singer’s vocal potential. As a result, most of The Stylistics’ hits were highlighted by Thompkins Jr.’s lofty falsetto, which would form the band’s trademark sound.
Bell began to team up with late lyricist Linda Creed to create some of the Stylistics’ famous ballads. The first Bell/Creed single for the group, “Stop, Look and Listen (To Your Heart)” reached #6 on the R&B charts and #39 on the Hot 100 in 1971.
More Bell/Creed-penned Stylistics hits followed: “You Are Everything” (#9 pop, #10 R&B), “Betcha By Golly Wow” (#3 pop, #2 R&B), “People Make the World Go Round” (#25 pop, #6 R&B), “I’m Stone in Love With You” (#10 pop, #4 R&B; co-written with Anthony Bell), “Break Up to Make Up” (#5 pop, #5 R&B; co-written with Kenny Gamble), “Rockin’ Roll Baby” (#14 pop, #3 R&B), and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (#2 pop, #2 R&B).
The group during the McCoy/Hugo & Luigi era
In 1974, the Stylistics broke away from Bell and began collaborating with Van McCoy, who intended to apply a smoother, lighter and poppier approach to the group’s material. The group also started to work with a new stable of songwriters in the persons of Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore aka Hugo & Luigi. This new partnership was to become relatively less successful compared to the group’s working relationship with Bell and Creed, although their later records were increasingly becoming popular in the UK.
Some singles during the McCoy/Hugo & Luigi era included “Let’s Put It All Together,” “Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love),” “Na-Na Is The Saddest Word,” and “Funky Weekend,” all hit the UK top ten. “Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)” was The Stylistics’ only #1 hit on any charts, topping the UK singles rankings in 1975.
In 1976, The Stylistics ended their Avco contract, and signed to a new label H&L. By then their US sales had begun to drop, although they remained popular in Europe, especially in the UK.
The Stylistics in later years
In later years, The Stylistics spent time touring as part of the oldies/revivalist circuit. In 1980, Dunn left due to poor health, and was followed later that year by Smith’s own departure. Reduced to a trio consisting of Thompkins Jr., Murrell and Brown, The Stylistics continued to perform and tour until Thompkins Jr.’s departure in 2000 (Thompkins Jr. would later form his own act The New Stylistics in 2004).
The two remaining original members Murrell and Brown are still presently performing as the Stylistics, along with current co-members Harold Eban Brown and Jason Sharpe (formerly of The Delfonics and Heatwave, respectively).
In 2010 The Stylistics released their latest studio album to date, That Same Way, released on LAC Mgmt label.
The Stylistics were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.