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Uploaded on Oct 25, 2007
The early 70's AM radio days of my childhood were verily filled with the sounds of sweet Philly soul. In the first few years when I had a radio glued to my ear -- roundabout 1972 to 1974 -- there was hardly an edition of the Top 10 that didn't include something fine from Philly, or at least something influenced by those sounds. One of the groups that rest securely in my memory is the Stylistics. 'You Are Everything' and 'You Make Me Feel Brand New' were both HUGE records, crossing over as major pop hits, led by the trademark falsetto of Russell Thompkins Jr. Ironically enough, I was oblivious to today's selection (which was a Top 40 hit) until I heard it on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's 'Crooklyn', and promptly fell in love with it. Written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed 'People Make the World Go Round' -- which appeared on the Stylistics debut LP in 1972 -- is a classic of socially conscious soul, with a twist. The songs lyrics point fingers at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, taking shots at labor unions (trash collectors and bus drivers in particular) and moving on to attack Wall Street and cigar chomping moguls who blame their troubles on hippies. The chorus:
But that's what makes the world go `round The up and down, the carousel Changing people, they'll go around Go underground, young man People make the world go `round
..seems to take a kind of resigned, "it takes all kinds" tack, but then drops in the surprising suggestion to "Go underground, young man". While the vast majority of those caught up in the idealistic movements of the 60's had given up dabbling in serious pursuits, moving from dilettante activism to get lost in a sea of new agery, or throwing away all the trappings of the Aquarian Age to assimilate entirely into suburbia, there were those, no longer willing to settle for non-violent protest, turned to setting bombs and robbing armored cars. Though an initial reading of the lyrics suggests a tone of resignation, that one line of the chorus points in another direction entirely, giving the song a sharp edge that stands in stark contrast to the musical background. The arrangement by Thom Bell sounds like the product of a summit meeting between Burt Bacharach and Norman Whitfield. The opening of the record, with blowing wind and tinkling wind chimes, is suddenly interrupted by deep, resonant electric piano chords and sweeping strings. The hiss of a hi-hat trades off with marimba as Thompkins begins the verse, all of it accented with a horn chart that sounds as if it were lifted from a late 60's Bacharach session. It really is a singularly unusual record, both for the times, and for the Stylistics discography. If the song is new to you, I hope you dig it. If you already know it, I hope you dig hearing it again.