required listening

CD Review

STYLISTICS  -  5 Classic Albums

Spectrum (UK) UMC 5375269 (5cd)

THE STYLISTICS... Stop Look Listen (To Your Heart); Point Of No Return; Betcha By Golly Wow; Country Living; You’re A Big Girl Now; You Are Everything; People Make The World Go Round; Ebony Eyes; If I Love You; STYLISTICS 2... I’m Stone In Love With You; If You Don’t Watch Out; You And Me; It’s Too Late; Children Of The Night; You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart); Break Up To Make Up; Peek-A-Boo; You’re As Right As Rain; Pieces; LET’S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER... Let’s Put It All Together; I Got A Letter; We Can Make It Happen Again; Keeping My Fingers Crossed; You Make Me Feel Brand New; I Got Time On My Hands; Doin’ The Streets; I Take It Out On You; Love Is The Answer (+ inst.); FROM THE MOUNTAIN... The Miracle; She Did A Number On Me; Star On A TV Show; Heavy Fallin’ Out; What’s Happenin’ Baby; Go Now; Don’t Put It Down Til You Been There; Hey Girl Come And Get It; From The Mountain; THANK YOU BABY... Thank You Baby; Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love); What Goes Around Comes Around; I’d Rather Be Hurt By You (Than Be Loved By Somebody Else); Disco Baby; Tears And Souvenirs; A Honky Tonk Café; I’m Gonna Win; Stay; Sing Baby Sing

In card sleeves, the first five Avco albums from the Stylistics - one of America’s most popular outfits in the UK - have been collected together for a welcome release from Universal’s Spectrum budget line.  The vocal lynch-pin of the group at the time was lead falsetto, Russell Thompkins Jr., somewhat of a ‘marmite’ singer for many folks.  Perhaps this is the point where he can take up the story, as told to ‘In The Basement’ in December 2009 for a feature in issue #57...  “I never thought I had a unique voice, I just knew I could really sing the songs.  I had a good range.  I would call it from a first baritone to a falsetto but I really don’t sing a very, very high natural first tenor.  When I get to my tenor aspect, I usually change it to a falsetto.  I wasn’t the best singer around but, when we had to learn other people’s songs, I was the one that knew all the words.”  And the first song to make noise was the appropriately sweet soul ballad, ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’, initially released on the small Sebring label.  Picked up by Avco who chose Thom Bell to produce the resultant (debut) album, Bell reportedly liked Thompkins’ voice but was less enamoured with the rest of the five-man outfit.  Nevertheless, ‘all or none‘ stubbornness by Thompkins won the day and the guys were settled with the label, where they would ultimately remain for a total of eight albums, then moving on to the H&L label successor for a further four.  The songwriting partnership of Thom Bell and the late Linda Creed was perfect for the Stylistics, delivering what can only be regarded as soul classics in ballad beauties like ‘Stop Look Listen’, ‘You Are Everything’, ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ and ‘Stone In Love With You’.  Album only tracks penned by the twosome were of equal merit, the most exceptional being ‘Children Of The Night‘ from ‘Stylistics 2’.  Just short of seven minutes‘ duration, it’s a haunting tale with much lyrical ambiguity and never fails to move this listener.  Sadly, a falling out between Thom Bell and Avco bosses, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore led to the bosses taking over the production reins - and most of the songwriting - from ‘Let’s Put It All Together‘ onwards but the bringing in initially of Van McCoy as arranger managed to counter much of Hugo & Luigi’s saccarine approach, for a while at least.  ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New‘ salvaged one of Bell and Creed’s best leftover works and, to be fair, the ‘Lets Put It All Together‘ title track kept the ballad flag flying high but the disco-aimed ‘Love Is The Answer‘, with an added instrumental version, struck a worrying feeling in many thus-far champions of the group.  The ‘From The Mountain’ album had been issued in the States under the ‘Heavy’ title and there would seem no obvious reason for the change.  The set did, however, signify bringing forward other members of the group with members, Airrion Love and Herb Murrell also being given lead rôles.  ‘Star On A TV Show‘ proved popular on both sides of the Atlantic but, with it’s trite lyrics, it was no match for the Bell-Creed ballad compositions.  By the time the ‘Thank You Baby‘ album was released in 1975, the magic seemed to be wearing a little thin.  The soulful quality displayed at the outset was diminished - certainly to the ears of die-hard soulies and, while the upbeat ‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)‘ was warmly received by UK pop buyers, titles like ‘A Honky Tonk Café‘ and ‘Disco Baby‘ warned of things to come.

review posted 16/8/18