The story of The Stylistics has some similarities with that of The Delfonics. Both groups were among the finest purveyors of the Philly Sound and both were produced by Thom Bell. However, when Thom stopped working with each group, their music never had the same depth or quality. Even though The Stylistics found success in Europe and the UK, their music wasn’t neither as successful commercially in the US, nor was the material of the quality they recorded with Thom Bell. After working with a series of producers including Van McCoy, things came full circle in 1980, when The Stylistics were reunited with Thom Bell at Philadelphia International Records. It was a very different group Thom encountered in 1980, from the one he’d last worked with six years earlier in 1974. James Dun and James Smith had both left the group, after disagreements regarding the group’s direction. A new member had been recruited, Raymond Johnson, for what would be their next album Hurry Up This Way Again.

Since The Stylistics split with Thom Bell, they’d found success hard to come by in the US. Gone were the gold discs of the Thom Bell era, with the five albums the preceded Hurry Up This Way Again all failing to enter the US Billboard 200. Apart from 1976s Once Upon A Juke Box and 1978s In Fashion, none of the five previous albums had even entered the US R&B Charts. Even then they’d only reached number forty-three and forty-five in the US R&B Charts respectively. However, that was all about to change when Hurry Up This Way Again was released, and their career received a boost from the collected creative minds at Philadelphia International Records.

However, a year previously, The Stylistics career seemed to have come to an abrupt halt. As 1979 started, The Stylistics were without a recording contract. Their career needed a boost, their problem was that who would help give their career this boost? It was around this time that The Stylistics encountered Gamble and Huff. Although back then, Philadelphia International Records had many great artists, there was still room at the label for one of the greatest vocal groups of the seventies. By June 1979, The Stylistics had signed a recording contract with Philadelphia International, who they’d record three albums for. These were 1980s Hurry Up This Way Again, Closer Than Close released in 1981 and 1982s 1982. Of this trio of underrated albums, Hurry Up This Way Again was the most successful, giving the group their highest chart placing in the US BIllboard 200 since 1976.

Recording of Hurry Up This Way Again, took some time, with some of Philadelphia International’s most experienced, creative people working on the project. Pre-production was a lengthy affair, with a number of writers, arrangers and producers working with The Stylistics. Dexter Wansel played an important part in pre-production and would write, arrange and produce tracks on the album. Also involved with the album were Cynthia Biggs, Dexter Wansel’s songwriting partner, arranger John R Faith, who arranged four tracks on the album and John Usry Jr. Between them, and with James Ingram, Sherman Marshall and Joseph B Jefferson the project was completed and would be released in September 1980. However, the fans were in for a surprise when the album was released. The album had a slightly harder sound, and instead of the traditional strings used on previous Philadelphia International albums, synthesized strings were used on some tracks. Would these changes affect sales of the Hurry Up This Way Again?

Hurry Up This Way Again release was preceded by the release of the title track as a single. It fared well, reaching number eighteen in the US R&B Charts, where it spent twenty-weeks. This was the group’s highest chart placing since 1976s You Are Beautiful. Two weeks later, the album Hurry Up This Way Again was released. Again this proved more popular, giving the group their highest US R&B Chart placing since 1975s You Are Beautiful, reaching number eleven. The album also gave the group their highest US Billboard 200 chart placing since 1976s Fabulous, reaching number 127. Although this was a long way from the heights The Stylistics scaled in the early seventies, this was a vast improvement in their recent fortunes. Two further singles were released from Hurry Up This Way Again, with And I’ll See You No More reaching number seventy in the US R&B Charts, while Driving Me Wild failed to chart. All things considered, the hoped for upturn in the group’s fortunes had been achieved. A top twenty US R&B single and album was a return to form for The Stylistics. Sadly, since then, Hurry Up This Way Again has become a somewhat forgotten and underrated album in both The Stylistics and Philadelphia International back catalogue. However, although it isn’t of the quality of their early Thom Bell produced albums, it still features some quality music.

Hurry Up This Way Again opens with the title track Driving Me Wild which straight away signals a different sound to the “vintage” Stylistics sound. There’s a slight electronic sound to the introduction courtesy of the rhythm section. Swathes of strings sweep in, joined by rasping horns and guitars, before giving way to the falsetto vocal of Russell Thomkins Jr’s sweet, falsetto vocal. Behind him, Raymond Johnson, Airrion Love and Herb Murrell sing tight backing vocals, while the quick arrangement sweeps along. By now, the “new” Stylistics sound is revealing itself, and doesn’t disappoint. Even with the slightly electronic sound from Dexter Wansel’s synths, the swirling strings, chiming guitars and bursts of rasping horns combine well, with Russell’s faster, emotive vocal, resulting in a track that’s catchy and laden with subtle hooks. 

After such a strong opening track, things look good for The Stylistics “comeback” album, with Russell Thomkins Jr and Raymond Johnson co-writing And I’ll See You No More, a tale of a relationship between a bewitching woman and man ending, because of the way she treats him and makes him feel and behave. Arranged by John Usry Jr with Dexter Wansel and Russell Thomkins Jr producing the track, it’s a  slow sad track. A synth combines with the rhythm section and guitars before Russell’s vocal enters, full of sadness and regret, while the rest of the group contribute subtle and gentle backing vocals. The arrangement has an understated but slightly dramatic sound, with lush strings sweeping in adding to the sense of sadness, while the synth plays a central role to the sound. The synth has a slightly dated sound, but doesn’t really detract from the track’s beauty. What makes the track is the heartache and regret in Russell’s vocal, and John Usry Jr’s slow, dramatic arrangement.

The tempo increases on Found A Love You Couldn’t Handle, to 127 disco heaven, the tempo all disco tracks were back in the seventies. Written by James and Billy Ingram with Sherman Marshall, it has a lovely, lush sounding sweeping arrangement that could only be on a Philadelphia International track. One of the difference is there isn’t a synth in sight, with a swirling strings, bursts of rasping horns, rhythm section and chiming guitars giving way to Russell’s soft falsetto vocal. As the drama builds, the rest of the group sing backing vocals, while the arrangement gets even better. It’s almost vintage Philly Soul with flourishes of piano joining the strings and rhythm section in driving the track along. By the end of another hugely catchy, almost infectious sounding track, with one of the best arrangements on the album, you can’t help but wonder why the track wasn’t released as a single. After all, surely a track that sounds so good, might have given The Stylistics a hit single.

The final track on side one of Hurry Up This Way Again is Maybe It’s Love This Time. It’s another slow, smoochy track, with the lead vocal changing hands as The Stylistics wonder whether this time, it’s love. It has a beautiful slow arrangement, with the lushest of slow strings, combining with keyboards, chiming, shimmering guitars and the rhythm section. When Russell takes over the lead vocal, he gives a heartfelt rendition of the lyrics, while strings sweep along, combining with occasional flourish of harp and brief bursts of horns. The result is a gorgeous track, one full of hope and optimism, yet tinged with sadness and regret that love’s passed by before.

Side two of Hurry Up This Way Again opens with the track that gave The Stylistics their biggest US R&B hit single since 1975 reaching number eighteen, the title track Hurry Up This Way Again. After a lengthy introduction where the rhythm section, keyboards and guitars combine, with short bursts of drama as the arrangement meanders along, slowly revealing itself, a thoughtful, sad vocal enters. The vocal grows in power, drama and emotion, at the long, lonely nights spent alone while his lover is with her husband. As the track progresses, the use of synths becomes noticeable. Although they don’t sound quite as dated as some albums of this time, they sound of their day. Their addition means it’s possible to tell the song’s musical DNA, accurately placing it at circa 1979-1980. However, although it would be a better track without them, it doesn’t hugely detract from the heartache, drama and emotion in Russell’s vocal on this almost epic track, lasting nearly six minutes. 

Whereas Dexter Wansel arranged and produced the previous track, Jack R Faith arranges It Started Out, while Douglas Brown, Terry Price and Darnell Jordon produced the track. They chose not to use synths, instead relying on “traditional”, some might say “real” instruments. This results in a much better track, with a fantastic lengthy keyboard solo during the swirling arrangement. When this mid-tempo track opens, the arrangement builds and builds, as the track opens. Once the track starts to reveal itself with the rhythm section, guitars, keyboards and percussion accompanying the vocal which changes hands several times. The contrast in styles works well, from a thoughtful, gentle style to Russell’s slightly dramatic, soaring vocal. Behind them, strings quiver constantly, while bursts of rasping horns enter, but leave quickly, as the track builds and builds, a combination of drama and emotion revealing itself. Overall, it’s a much better track, one of the album’s highlights, thanks to the contrasting vocal styles and Jack R Faith’s excellent arrangement.

I Have You, You Have Me sees John R Faith arranging the track, with Cynthia Biggs and Dexter Wansel taking over in the producer’s chair. This means a return of Dexter’s synths. Thankfully, they aren’t overused, with Dexter paying heed to the less is more motto. Jack’s arrangement is perfect for this slow, emotive and quite beautiful track. As the track opens, we hear a burst of synth as the rhythm section and horns combine dramatically, giving way to Russell’s tender vocal. While the rhythm section, guitars and seabass combine synth’s augment the sound, while lush, shivering, strings sweep in, adding to the sadness of the lyrics about how a couple may lack materially, but they’ve got each other. Russell delivers the lyrics with a tenderness, while the arrangement grows in drama, with the rest of the group contributing backing vocals. Of all the tracks on the album Dexter Wansel arranged or produced, this is the best of them. He plays his part in making this a beautiful sounding track, albeit one that would’ve sounded better without the synths. However, they neither detract from the tenderness of the vocal nor the beauty of the slow arrangement.

Hurry Up This Way Again closes with Is There Something On Your Mind sees the Douglas Brown, Terry Price and Darnell Jordon partnership producing the track, while Jack R Faith is entrusted with arranging the track. Neither the arranger nor producers disappoint, helping The Stylistics to produce one of the album’s highlights. As often seems to happen, an artist or group leave one of the best track until last. This is the case here, with Russell producing one of his most emotional and beautiful vocals, while the rest of the group contribute some equally beautiful backing vocals sung against a stunning arrangement. When the track opens, with short bursts of distant horns, there’s a Thom Bell feel and sound immediately noticeable. The arrangement is slow, with a combination of the lushest strings, chiming guitars and rhythm section combining with keyboards, while female backing vocalists augment the sound. When all this is combined with the emotion, drama and beauty of the vocal the result is a fantastic track, which allows The Stylistics to finish their return to the Philadelphia fold on a beautiful high.

After a prolonged lull in their career in America, Hurry Up This Way Again proved to be a welcome return to form for The Stylistics. Although the music on the album wasn’t as good as their early Thom Bell produced albums, there are a number of great songs on the album. The reason for this is simple. Once The Stylistics had been signed to Philadelphia International, all the songwriters, arrangers and producers at the label asked to do their very best for the label’s newest signing. This is why so many of the label’s heavyweight, creative talents featured on the album. Of the many people who played their part there were Jack R Faith is one of the unsung heroes of the album. His arrangements are among the best on the album, especially on It Started Out, I Have You, You Have Me and Is There Something On Your Mind. He had a wealth of experience, having worked on a number of other albums for Philadelphia International. Along with Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs, Douglas Brown, Terry Price and Darnell Jordon, Jack R. Faith and everyone else who either played, arranged or produced tracks on this album, all played their part in trying to resurrect The Stylistics career. The new look Stylistics played their part, producing some beautiful vocals throughout the album. Russell Russell Thomkins Jr vocals rolled back the years, his falsetto vocal variously full of emotion and joy, and sometimes, sadness and regret. New member Raymond Johnson fitted in well, sounding as if he’d been a member of The Stylistics for many years. The result was a relatively successful album, albeit one that failed to hit the heights of their earlier albums. It saw an upturn in their career in America, albeit one that they failed to sustain. Their next album 1981s Closer Than Close only reached number 210 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts, while 1982 their next album failed to chart. However, like Hurry Up This Way, both albums are vastly underrated and feature some wonderful music, from one of the finest vocal groups Philadelphia has produced, The Stylistics. Standout Tracks: Found A Love You Couldn’t Handle, Maybe It’s Love This Time, It Started Out and Is There Something On Your Mind.



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