Philly soul was known for its funk influences and lush instrumentation, and few groups exemplified this style like The Stylistics.
Known for their soulful balladry, The Stylistics formed in 1968 from two Philadelphia groups, The Percussions and The Monarchs, after members from both bands were drafted. The remaining band members included Russell Thompkins Jr., James Smith and Airrion Love of The Monarchs and James Dunn and Herb Murrell of the Percussions.
The musicians were young, just graduating high school, and were encouraged by their English teacher to merge together and continue under a new name.
Click on the player above to hear “5 on 5: The Stylistics” and get a feel for The Stylistics’ Philly soul sound with these five essential tracks:
The Progressive Underground’s 5 on 5: The Stylistics
1. “You’re a Big Girl”
In 1970, the Stylistics released “You’re a Big Girl Now,” written by Marty Bryant and Robert Douglas. The single became a hit regionally for Sebring Records and caught the attention of Avco Records. The Stylistics signed with Avco Records, who re-released the track. The song landed a spot on the Billboard R&B chart at #7. After signing to the label, acclaimed producer Thom Bell was recruited to work with the group.
2. “Betcha By Golly Wow”
Featuring newly added lush orchestral and soulful sound introduced by Thom Bell, The Stylistics released “Betcha By Golly Wow.” This song kicked off one of the most notable runs of hits in 1970s in soul music. Their balladry sound would serve as a precursor to the “Quiet Storm” style of sound that would take over urban and soul sound.
3. “You Make Me Feel Brand New”
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” featured a rare duet performance of Airrion Love and Russel Thompkins Jr. After the release of this song, Thom Bell stopped working with the band because of a financial fallout with Avco Records. The Stylistics signed with H & L Records and then Mercury Records, finding musical success in Europe and the UK for a period of time.
4. “Hurry Up This Way Again”
In 1980, The Stylistics found their way back home and reunited with Thom Bell. They signed with Philadelphia International Records and released the magical, “Hurry Up This Way Again”. This release brought the band back to the top of the R&B charts.
5. “People Make the World Go Round”
“People Make the World Go Round” was one of the Stylistics most popular tunes, still well-known over 50 years later today. The band diverged from their usual romantic ballads, instead addressing societal issues around them.
The Stylistics represent the pinnacle of the Philly Soul sound, with an ultra-romantic style mixed with top-notch songwriting, lending a big hand in shaping 70s soul that would inspire generations.