Smooth Soul Survivor - "Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart)"

Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)"
[Song written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed]

Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)"
[Song written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed]

StylisticsOn many fronts ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)' checks all the right boxes of what a great Smooth Soul Survivor should be.  It was composed by the song writing powerhouse of Thom Bell and Linda Creed and in 1971 provided instant success for the then up and coming Stylistics.  In fact the track was the opening number of the bands self titled Amherst debut that blasted them to international stardom and laid the platform for twelve consecutive top ten hits.  Created from the leftovers of two defunct Philadelphia groups, The Percussions and The Monarchs, the Stylistics were regarded by many as the smoothest and sweetest soul group of their era.  All of their hits, graced by the soaring falsetto of Russell Thompkins, Jr. were ballads and owed much to Bell's graceful production skills.  His writing partnership with Creed delivered the bulk of the tracks for the bands three Amherst releases and cemented the duo's position as the preeminent songwriting partnership of its time.

In fact Linda Creed's career was launched in 1970 when Dusty Springfield recorded her composition ‘Free Girl'.  That same year she teamed with Bell who at that time was working as a staff writer, producer and arranger at Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International Records.  As well as the phenomenal success the pair enjoyed with the Stylistics they were also responsible for hits from the Spinners that included ‘Ghetto Child', and the 1976 blockbuster ‘The Rubberband Man'.  Creed also worked with fellow Philadelphia native Phyllis Hyman on many of her songs, the most notable of which being the smash hit ‘Old Friend'.  She died of cancer in 1986 and today her name is immortalized by the breast cancer research foundation which bares her name.

Around the same time, and 600 miles away in Detroit, Motown Records looked to their two most successful artists to record an album of duets.  The result, ‘Diana & Marvin' included their own interpretation of ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)' that unusually was recorded in separate studios and which was released as a single in the UK only.  It attained number 25 in the UK singles chart in 1973.  In 2001 this Ross - Gaye version appeared on the soundtrack of the motion picture ‘Bridget Jones's Diary' while a year later it was sampled for the tune ‘Mesmerize' by Ja Rule, featuring Ashanti, which can be found on his 2002 CD ‘The Last Temptation'.  Finally, in 2003, Michael McDonald and Toni Braxton reworked the Ross - Gaye take for McDonald's second album of Motown covers, ‘Motown II'.

After 1976 the Stylistics began to struggle with what many saw as increasingly weak material but in terms of covers ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)' was already on a roll.  Indeed as far back as 1972 Kool And The Gang had included it on their recording ‘Music Is The Message' and only a year later it could be found both on the Johnny Mathis long player ‘I'm Coming Home' and ‘I Call It Trouble' from Barbara Ackin.

In 1981 jazz diva Patti Austin featured the track on her excellent album ‘Every Home Should Have One' and Angela Bofill did the very same for her critically acclaimed CD ‘Something About You'.  The song matched to perfection the reputation Bofill had as a consummate interpreter of sophisticate soul ballads and, although ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)' can also be found on the underrated Bill McGee's 2006 project ‘Chase The Sunset', it is Will Downing who has perhaps come closest to fulfilling the songs seductive potential.  An integral part of Downing's 1998 project ‘Pleasures Of The Night' it is blessed by spine tingling sax from the always magnificent Gerald Albright yet eleven more years were to elapse before another contemporary jazz saxophonist rediscovered the magic of this timeless tune.  Very much the center piece of Boney James impressive ‘Send One Your Love' the wait proved to be totally worthwhile and delivered into the bargain a run-away radio hit.  Even at this early stage it seems certain to be one of the top covers of 2009.

Thirty eight years old and still sounding as fresh as ever ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)' is a true Smooth Soul Survivor.

Denis Poole. March 2009. See other Smooth Soul Survivors

 

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