Deep Cuts: The Stylistics, "People Make The World Go Round" (1971)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Some time back, I allowed that the music of Hall & Oates was a guilty pleasure of mine. My affinity for their much of their body of work is really a derivative of my appreciation of that Philly Soul sound from the early and mid-seventies. The primary architect of this sound was producer, arranger and composer Thom Bell (along with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff).

Bell’s claim to fame was a type of soul that carried over the vocal groups from the sixties and sweetened it with horns and strings that were more lush and sultry than the soul that came before it. The textures in the sound were also more distinctive and did away with much of the heavy reverb and “wall of sound” of the prior era. The rich vocal harmonies of the groups that fronted it all were the sweet, sweet icing on the cake.

The main Philly Soul groups I dug from that time were The Spinners, The O’Jays and The Stylistics. Over the long haul, I thought that The Spinners were the best of the batch, but the Stylistics were on an absolute tear in ’71-’74, when they had twelve straight Top Ten hits. Everyone has heard of “Betcha By Golly, Wow” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Even though they were a five-voice group, it was that glass smooth falsetto of Russell Tompkins, Jr. that set the act apart from everyone else. Thompkins carried out Bell’s vision for ultra-seductive soul to perfection.

One of the boys’ most intricate and poignant tunes peaked only at #25 in 1972, but it stands out even today. “People Make The World Go Round” from their self-titled 1971 album was an artistic high point for Bell, his lyricist Linda Creed and Thompkins. Bell made Thompkins the only vocalist for this track and with his female-like falsetto combined with the heavily staccatoed lyrical lines (which Thompkins just sails right through) gives this song the same vibe as Dionne Warwick singing a Bacharach/David tune. Almost like a slowed-down “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”

Creed provides some contemporary social commentary that sound more of its time in spots but pulls the everyday tapestry all together in the timeless theme of those little things the people do that “make the world go ’round.” Yeah, it might sound a little goofy on paper, but Thompkins’ precise delivery gives it plenty of weight.

Bell did much more to bring out the song’s full potential than rely on Thompkins’ talents, though. The wind blown chimes and the grunting Wurlitzer that starts off the song tells you already this is about a serious subject. In a genius move, a marimba is employed to syncopate the beat and act as a harmony vocalist on the refrain. The breezy instrument normally associated with Latin music smooths out the cut even more. Those listening to the album version get the extended, 2-1/2 minute instrumental coda, which features some gently improvising jazz guitar and a precise flute solo. That section could fit right into a classic Creed Taylor/Don Sebesky soul-jazz recording of that same time frame.

If you’ve dismissed “People Make The World Go Round” because it might be a played of a soft rock oldies station or even—gasp!—Muzak, take a closer listen to it next time. Something that involves so much craftsmanship and was part of some of R&B’s most influential music is not lightweight stuff at all. Here’s a chance for another evaluation:

“One Track Mind” is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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