Wall Street losin' dough on every share
They're blamin' it on longer hair
Big men smokin' in their easy chair
On a fat cigar without a care
Lyrics from a current song addressing the recession? No, these words date back to 1971, and still resonate today. "People Make the World Go Round" represents a slice of Philadelphia soul, containing trademark strings and politically relevant lyrics a la Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Bad Luck." But the chord changes and chorus are a hybrid of R&B and Burt Bacharach, making the notes difficult to sing. Yet Russell Thompkins Jr., lead singer for The Stylistics, met these challenges deftly using his trademark falsetto. The result is a still-haunting tune that stands out for its meaningful, biting lyrics and exquisite arrangement.
Written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed, the song appeared on the Stylistics' self-titled debut album. The disc became a massive hit, thanks to tracks like "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "You Are Everything," and "Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart)," but Bell and Creed departed from these overtly romantic songs by assuming a political tone with "People Make the World Go Round." The biting words are cushioned with lovely strings, but the meaning shines through:
Trash men didn't get my trash today
Oh, why, because they want more pay
Buses on strike, wanna raise in fare
So they can help pollute the air
Labor unions and the environment are addressed poignantly in these verses, with Thompkins taking on a resigned air. He offers no solutions to these problems—he simply describes current affairs. The chorus further argues that the world's difficulties are inevitable: "But that’s what makes the world go `round/The up and down, the carousel/Changing people, they’ll go around." His voice mimics the line "up and down," fluctuating notes with the grace of a ballet dancer. Amidst this seeming resignation, one line stands out: "Go underground, young man." Is this a call to action, or a desire to escape from these issues?