A common thread that runs through the philosophy of The Secret Garden is the desire to maintain a genuine link between the smooth jazz of today and the smooth soul of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s 90’s and today. Principle vehicle for that is the occasional Smooth Soul Survivor feature and recent recording activity by two of the greats from smooth jazz and pop respectively has identified yet another candidate for this Smooth Soul Survivor label. In case new readers are unsure what it takes for a recording to be classed by Secret Garden as a Smooth Soul Survivor, it must be a much-loved smooth jazz track which has its origins deep in soul music. The intention is to encourage you to get out there and search the racks of your favourite record store for these items of buried treasure.
It is Richard Elliot and Simply Red whom are this time turning the spotlight onto the great 1974 hit from the Stylistics, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’.
Along with the (Detroit) Spinners and the O’Jays, the Stylistics were the leading Philly soul group produced by the legendary Thom Bell. During the early '70s, the band had 12 straight top ten US hits, including ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New.’ The Stylistics were perhaps one of the smoothest and sweetest soul groups of their era. All of their hits were ballads, graced by the magic tones of Russell Thompkins Jr. and the lush production of Bell that added up to make the Stylistics one of the most successful soul groups of the first half of the '70s.
The Stylistics formed in 1968, from the remnants of the defunct Philadelphia soul groups The Monarchs and The Percussions. Thompkins, James Smith and Airrion Love hailed from The Monarchs while James Dunn and Herbie Murrell came from The Percussions. After working initially with Sebring Records they were then signed to the larger Avco Records with whom they enjoyed their first top ten single in 1971.
Once with Avco, the Stylistics began working with producer/songwriter Thom Bell who had already created hits for The Delfonics. The Stylistics became Bell’s pet project and with lyricist Linda Creed he crafted a series of hit singles that included ‘You Are Everything,’ ‘Betcha by Golly, Wow,’ ‘I'm Stone in Love With You,’ ‘Break Up to Make Up,’ and, of course, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’.
Following ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ in the spring of 1974, the Stylistics broke away from Thom Bell and began working with Van McCoy who helped move the group towards a softer, easy listening style. In 1976, they left Avco and signed with H&L. The group's American record sales declined, yet ironically it was in Europe where they remained popular with the 1975 hits ‘Sing Baby Sing’, ‘Na Na Is the Saddest Word’ and ‘Can't Give You Anything’. ‘Can't Help Falling in Love’ followed a year later. The Stylistics continued to tour and record throughout the latter half of the '70s, as their popularity steadily declined. In 1980, Dunn left the group because of poor health, and Smith followed him later that year. The remaining Stylistics, bolstered by the by then growing retro circuit, continued performing as a trio into the '90s.
‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ has been a hugely covered track. Philly compilations and reggae renditions, the ridiculous of Mantovani and James Last to the sublime of Roberta Flack, this tune has been done every which way. Truly notables come the 1995 Reachin Back from Regina Belle, a real Secret garden favorite, and from smooth jazz guitarist Norman Brown on his 1999 Celebration. Soul and jazz cross over artist Norman Connors features it on his 1978 release This Is You Life and Babyface with a style that can only be called urban smooth includes it on his 2001 Love Songs.
A real blast from a shaky past comes from The 5th Dimension and their version of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ from their 1995 album In The House that was critically hammered for being a cabaret characture but certainly one of the better versions can be found from Everette Harp on the 1994 CD Common Ground. This release from smooth jazz saxophonist Harp, who employs a style not dissimilar to Dave Koz and Warren Hill, has Marcus Miller on bass and executive production from George Duke. It’s a nice piece of work.
Into 2003 and Simply Red have made the track a single lifted from their album Home. This is another record that has come in for some criticism for being bland and is seen by some as being yet another marker along the road of Simply Red decline. Fortunately we can end on a high note with the 2003 CD Ricochet from the excellent Richard Elliot. Of the current crop of smooth jazz saxophone superstars perhaps Elliot is the most distinctive. Indeed it would not be overstating the case to say that Elliot can be heard coming a mile away. Certainly, his version of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’, has his own very individual style written all over it and really elevates the track to the status of true Smooth Soul Survivor.
Watch this space for more great Smooth Soul Survivors, alternatively, if you have a favourite that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com.Posted by Denis Poole at December 24, 2003 2:44 PM