THE STYLISTICS-ROUND 2.

THE STYLISTICS-ROUND 2.

Just under year since The Stylistics released their debut album The Stylistics in November 1972, which was certified gold, and featured five top ten US R&B singles, The Stylistics released their sophomore album Round 2 in October 1973 on Avco Records. Like The Stylistics, it was produced by Thom Bell, who cowrote seven tracks, six of them with his songwriting partner Linda Creed. For The Stylistics, meeting Thom Bell would transform their career. With Thom Bell producing their albums, critical acclaim and commercial success would come The Stylistics’ way. Indeed Round 2 resulted in three gold discs for The Stylistics. It seemed The Stylistics could do no wrong as they entered Round 2 of their career.

For Round 2, ten tracks were chosen. They were a mixture of three cover versions and seven new songs. This included covers of It’s Too Late, made famous by Carole King, who cowrote the song with Toni Stern. There were covers of Gregory Guess’ Peek-A-Boo and Bacharach and David’s You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart). Five of the new songs were penned by the successful songwriting team of Thom Bell and Linda Creed, who cowrote the other track Break Up To Make Up With Kenneth Gamble. Linda Creed and Thom Bell also cowrote I’m Stone In Love WIth You with Tony Bell. Just like The Stylistics’ debut album, recording took place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios. Accompanying The Stylistics, were many of Philadelphia International Records’ now legendary house-band M.F.S.B. who provided the backdrop for The Stylistics’ vocals.

The five Stylistics lead singer Russell Tompkins Jr, James Dunn, Herb Murrell, James Smith, James Smith and Airrion Love were joined by some of M.F.S.B, who which included some of Philadelphia’s best musicians. This included a rhythm section of Baker, Harris, Young. Guitarists included Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Tony Bell Roland Chambers.They were joined by Thom Bell on piano and harpsichord, percussionist Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington on congas, plus a full horn, woodwind and string section which included violinist Don Renaldo. Adding backing vocals were legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Thom Bell arranged and produced Round 2, and once the album was finished, it which was released in October 1972.

On the release of Round 2 in October 1972, it reached number thirty-three and number three in the US R&B Charts. History had repeated itself, with Round 2 being certified gold in the US. Chosen as the lead single was I’m Stone In Love WIth You, which became a Stylistics classic. Not only did it reach number ten in the US Billboard 100, number four in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the UK, but sold over a million copies worldwide. This meant gold disc number three for The Stylistics. Break Up To Make Up was the second single, reaching number five in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts, but number thirty-four in the UK. Having sold over a million copies worldwide, The Stylistics received their fourth gold disco. You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) was released as a single in 1973, reaching number twenty-three in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. Peek-A-Boo was the final single released in 1973, reaching just number thirty-five in the UK. Round 2 was The Stylistics’ most successful album so far, and proved to be their most successful album ever. You’ll realize why, when I tell you about the music on Round 2.

Opening Round 2 is the million-selling I’m Stone In Love WIth You, penned by Thom and Anthony Bell with Linda Creed. Just a subtle sprinkling of Vince Montana Jr’s vibes joins, a piano, Larry Washington’s congas and an understated, thoughtful Baker, Harris Young rhythm section and gently rasping horns. They provide the perfect backdrop for Russell’s tender, heartfelt and beautiful falsetto. It’s inspired, encouraging the other Stylistics to greater heights of soulfulness and beauty.Taking their lead from Russell, they add gentle, soaring harmonies. Then the lushest of strings, Norman Harris’ sparse, jazzy guitar, bursts of rasping horns and percussion  join the arrangement. Thom Bell ensures everything falls perfectly and seamlessly into place, playing its part in not just a Stylistics classic, but a Philly Soul classic.

If You Don’t Watch Out was the first Thom Bell and Linda Creed composition on Round 2. Just the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section with hi-hats a hissing join percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and guitars. Having set the scene for Russell’s vocal, his vocal is impassioned, delivered with emotion. Swirling, punchy harmonies are joined by dancing strings, braying horns and Baker, Harris, Young, who provide the track’s heartbeat. Together, The Stylistics and M.F.S.B. ensure the song swings along to a soulful high.

You and Me sees stabs of piano, a powerful Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and frenzied, swirling strings accompany Russell’s powerful, punchy. His vocal is filled with sincerity, while punchy harmonies, searing guitar licks courtesy of Bobby “Electronic” Eli join Ron Baker’s moody bass. Add to that choppy, stabs of piano and urgent, swirling strings. They provide the perfect backdrop for The Stylistics, one that allows them to showcase their vocal prowess. The interplay between Russell’s lead and the harmonies drives to each to greater heights of emotion and urgency. This results in a track bristling with raw emotion and energy.

By the time The Stylistics covered Carole King’s It’s Too Late, it was becoming a popular song to cover. Billy Paul had covered the sing on his 1972 classic album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. A moody backdrop of growling horns, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and percussion combine with a searing guitar and broody bass. The Stylistic reading of the lyrics in pensive, filled with heartache, hurt and regret. Russell’s vocal brings meaning and emotion to the lyrics, while Ron Baker’s broody bass and grizzled horns reflects his pain. Vibes and percussion are ever-present, joining swirling cinematic string and rueful harmonies, as a familiar song is reinvented, with new meaning and extra emotion added.

Children of the Night was another Thom Bell and Linda Creed cowrote and closed Side One of Round 2. Against a backdrop of children playing, keyboards, wah-wah guitars and Larry Washington’s congas combine with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. Russell’s vocal is pensive, thoughtful and tinged with sadness. As strings cascade and an atmospheric backdrop unfolds. Guitars reverberate while percussion and strings add to the emotion in Russell’s vocal. A combination of a masterful, emotive backdrop complete with cinematic strings and Russell’s thoughtful, impassioned reading of the lyrics make this one of the most moving songs on Round 2. In many ways, it’s the perfect way to close Side One.

Side Two of Round 2 opens with a cover of Bacharach and David’s You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart). Like It’s Too Late, this is another oft-covered track. Just bursts of melancholy horns, percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine. They signal the arrival of Russell’s vocal Magnus Opus. It’s filled with insecurity, hurt and disbelief. As it floats above the arrangement, horns bray, strings sweep and swirl and harmonies soar. Norman Harris adds his chiming guitar, while percussion is ever-present. The longer the song progresses, the disbelief and hurt in Russell’s voice grows. It becomes a mini-soap opera, with Russell the central character, laying bare his soul for all to hear.

Break Up To Make Up was the second million-selling single on Round 2, written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed with Kenneth Gamble. The tempo slows, with just braying horns, a slow, thoughtful Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes combining. Then comes Russell’s vocal, filled with emotion, confusion and sadness. Subtle harmonies accompany his vocal, while Ron Baker’s helps bass provides the track’s pensive heartbeat. Strings add to the emotion and sadness, while percussion, vibes and rasping horns provide a heartbreakingly sad backdrop for Russell’s heartbroken vocal. Given how emotive, yet beautiful a song this is, it’s no wonder it sold a million copies.

A roll of Earl Young’s drums joins quivering strings, percussion and guitars as Peek-A-Boo unfolds. Russell’s tender, heartfelt vocal is filled with hope and happiness. Harmonies sweep in, while Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat. Horns with Thom Bell’s signature punctuate the arrangement, as strings cascade, reflecting the hope in Russell’s joyous voice. 

Just Thom Bell’s piano opens the arrangement, before strings quiver and You’re As Right As Rain reveals its secrets. When Russell’s heartfelt, tender vocal enters, VInce Montana Jr sprinkles vibes, while the Sweethearts of Sigma join the other Stylistics in adding cooing harmonies. Swathes of the lushest strings, percussion and vibes complete the understated, subtle and beautiful backdrop for one of Russell’s inspired and impassioned vocals on Round 2.

Closing Round 2 is Pieces, the fifth Thom Bell and Linda Creed composition. Just Earl Young’s hissing hi-hats and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s searing guitar combine before horns growl, strings urgently swirl and Baker, Harris, Young powerfully drive the arrangement along. Russell’s vocal is a mixture of power and passion, with  the Sweethearts of Sigma joining The Stylistics to add cooing, punchy harmonies. A choppy, driving arrangement takes shape, with urgent strings reflecting the energy and emotion to in Russell’s vocal. This allows Round 2 of The Stylistics’ career to end on an urgent, emotive and dramatic high.

By the time most groups release their sophomore album, they’re happy just to be making  a commercial breakthrough. Not The Stylistics. They’d started their career with The Stylistics, which was sold one-million and was certified gold. When Round 2 was released, The Stylistics received their second gold disc. Then things got even better. Much better. Stone In Love WIth You sold over a million copies worldwide, resulting in gold disc number three for The Stylistics. Break Up To Make Up then made it four gold discs in two years. Thom Bell and The Stylistics proved to be a dream team. Here were ten songs, where heartache and hurt and deception sat along happiness, hope and joy. Love songs and songs filled with social comment filled the two sides of Round 2. This meant The Stylistics had released two classic albums in just under a year. 

The partnership of Thom Bell and The Stylistics, resulted in The Stylistics becoming one of the most successful purveyors of what became known as the Philly Sound. Sadly, this successful partnership lasted just three albums. Following their third album, Rockin’ and Roll Baby, Thom Bell was replaced as producer by Hugo and Luigi, two former Brill Building veterans. After that, only 1974s Let’s Put It All Together matched the success of The Stylistics’ Thom Bell produced albums. However, The Stylistics’ remained popular in the UK right through to 1975s You Are Beautiful. For many people though, The Stylistics’ Thom Bell produced albums are their three best albums, including 1972s Round 2.

Indeed, Round 2 is The Stylistics at their very best. The combination of Russell Tompkins Jr’s lead singer and harmonies from James Dunn, Herb Murrell, James Smith, James Smith and Airrion Love and you’d have thought things couldn’t get any better. It could and did. M.F.S.B. provided the musical backdrop for The Stylistics, while the Sweethearts of Sigma adding harmonies. The result was a musical dream team, Philly made, that saw The Stylistics become one of the giants of the Philly Sound. They joined Thom Bell’s other protegies The Delfonics and The The Detroit Spinners, plus Gamble and Huff’s trio of The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and Billy Paul. What makes this even more remarkable is that The Stylistics were had only entered Round 2 of their career. Their third album, Rockin’ and Roll Baby, would be the last with Thom Bell. However, the partnership between Thom Bell and The Stylistics resulted in the best albums of The Stylistics long and illustrious career, including their sophomore album Round 2. Standout Tracks: Stone In Love WIth You, Break Up To Make Up, You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) and Break Up To Make Up.

THE STYLISTICS-ROUND 2.

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