Song Of The Day 6/16/2014: The Stylistics - "Children of the Night"

Black Music Month/Philadelphia Week: His name is Russell Thompkins Jr., and he wasn't doing anything particularly new when he anchored every Stylistics song with committed falsetto. Smokey Robinson depended upon that high-pitched vocal range, the "cheat" of tenors; Frankie Valli and Little Anthony did too. Barry Gibb turned it into a trademark. But Thompkins' falsetto was a force of vulnerability, an instrument that reset ideas of what it meant to be a '70s guy. It wasn't wimpy. It was assertive in its sensitivity. It gave the Stylistics a whole new range of emotions to sing about, situations where that vulnerability staged compelling and fresh themes. The Stylistics' singles were among the first 45rpm soul experiences I ever had: My older sister Linda was a fan, and she brought home "I'm Stone In Love With You" on the Avco Records label, notable for its logo, which made Avco look more like a financial services firm than a record label.

The Stylistics' album Round 2 showed a promotional badge on the cover: "Includes 'Children Of The Night'," it read, presuming that the song would be what drove everyone to buy the album. It has that designation on the album thumbnails on your favorite digital music service. "Children Of the Night" was not a hit -- Round 2's chart successes included "Break Up To Make Up," "I'm Stone...," Bacharach's "You'll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)" and "You're As Right As Rain." But "Children Of the Night" is without question the album's centerpiece, as melancholic as that high-pitched voice can be, as assured of its sad reality as you were anytime you were up at 3am, after all watchable TV was over and you could imagine how you looked when you were by yourself. Somehow Russell puts it all in perspective, in your favor.

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