Talk about underrated! The list of artists who have done covers of their material reads like a who’s who. Don’t believe it, just watch: Prince, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, Babyface, Boys II Men, Simply Red, Rod Stewart, Phyllis Hyman. Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige have even come to the fold by sampling their music.
For the most part, the bulk of the credit would go to the songwriters/producers. Then there’s the case of the songs by this group. With the various names and talents who have recorded their material, all roads lead back to the originals. You can’t separate the group from the songs and, quite honestly, any other interpretations paled in comparisons. That distinction belongs to a group from the City of Brotherly Love. The demise of two of the city’s fledging groups, The Percussions and The Monarchs, brought the talents of James Dunn and Herbie Murrell together with the talents of Russell Thompkins Jr., James Smith and Airrion Love from their respective groups, and The Stylistics were born.
Things begin to take shape in 1970, when their first swig of success, a song entitled “You’re a Big Girl Now,” enabled them to showcase their talents to a national audience. A larger label, Avco Records, propelled the group to a top-10 single, eventually climbing to No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in early 1971. Love, original member of the group, shared, “That record put us on a path. We didn’t know how far it would take us, but we were on our way.”
That path led them to a dynamic team of producers/songwriters, Thomas Bell and Linda Creed. The partnership came out the gate swinging with “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” and an eventual run of 12 consecutive U.S. R&B Top-10 hits, including titles such as “You Are Everything,” their version of a previously released tune “Keep Growing Strong,” re-titled as “Betcha by Golly, Wow” and “Break Up to Make Up.”
Of the collaborative efforts, Love said, “Everywhere across the world people can relate to feelings. That’s before the melody, harmony and lyrics start to blend. That’s how some of our records are so big in countries where people barely speak English. There’s a way to say ‘I love you’ that crosses all lines of humanities and they [Bell and Creed] understood that.”
He continued, “At dinner once I asked, ‘What did you go through in life for you to able to put these words together?’”
Although he didn’t get an answer to the question, he was informed that he’d be singing co-lead on a song that Creed was working on: “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” The song would come to be the biggest hit of their career. To confine their music to chart positions is a reduction of their impact. The group has made history—literally.
At a recent visit to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Love experienced a humbling moment. “To get to see and learn about what we went through as a people is a very emotional experience,” he said. “Then I get to the fourth floor and come across an exhibit that reads ‘Frankie Beverly and Maze, Janet Jackson and The Stylistics.’ It’s one thing to be part of music history, and I’d be proud of that. But to be part of something that’ll be here long after I’m gone is such an honor.”
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, radio stations and stages will be ablaze with Stylistics material, and we get to experience it in the flesh as The Stylistics headline the 70s Soul Jam Valentine’s Concert featuring The Dramatics, The Delfonics, The Manhattans and Blue Magic Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Beacon Theatre, with shows at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“I remember the last time I was at the Beacon,” Love concluded. “I was walking past the theater and I overheard a woman tell her friend, ‘The Stylistics? Wow, they still alive?’ That’s why we love New York, and it’s a place where we still get a little nervous to play. We know that we have to be at our best and give a little more.”
Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.