I’ll let New Kids on the Block, tell it-via the liner notes to their new CD “The Block”.
Donnie Wahlberg: We were not the first, you were. My respect always.
Joey McIntyre: Like a young basketball player growing up in Boston looked to Larry Bird, so I looked to you. You are pure class. Without you, there is no us.
The gentlemen Donnie and Joey are referring to?: Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant, otherwise known as New Edition.
In all the hoopla surrounding NKOTB’s return after a fourteen-year absence, one thing that seems to have been forgotten is that the entire template their career was based on came from New Edition, quite literally. The New Kids were founded in 1984, the same year that New Edition split acrimoniously from writer/producer Maurice Starr. Burnt by the perceived desertion, Starr vowed to create a group of white youngsters and make them more popular-better-than N.E.
From a popularity standpoint, it would seem that there was no contest. From 1988-1991 or so, the New Kids were a juggernaut beyond belief-scoring 9 Top 10 pop hits, two #1 albums and sold-out tours around the globe-not to mention a ton of merchandising initiatives that ranged from baseball caps to a cartoon. However, a closer look reveals that during the same 3 year span, not only did New Edition rack up a multi-platinum album of their own, as well as 4 Top 10 R&B hits and an American Music Award, but they turned into the R&B group version of the Transformers.
Bobby Brown may be a laughing stock now, but a lot of you readers old enough to remember know that for a brief time, Bobby was the hottest male singer in the country. “Don’t Be Cruel” was 1989’s #1 album, according to Billboard magazine (“Hangin’ Tough” settled for the runner-up spot). In the same three years that NKOTB was on top of the world, Bobby scored 7 Top 10 pop singles, including two #1 hits. Four of those seven songs went #1 R&B, and he picked up a Grammy on top of all that. Auxiliary members Bell, Bivins and DeVoe racked up a multi-platinum album in “Poison”, while scoring five Top 10 R&B singles and then striking gold again with a remix album. Brown’s replacement, Johnny Gill, went multi-platinum with his own solo album (4 Top Ten R&B hits, including 3 #1s), and Tresvant, the group’s lead singer, came through with an additional three R&B top tens. So in the same time the New Kids were taking over the pop world, N.E. and their offshoots sold some 16 million albums and snagged 22 Top 10 R&B singles and 13 Top 10 pop singles. Add in their cumulative and individual success before and since, and there is no doubt that these guys are a legendary bunch. Not to mention the fact that Bivins discovered the most successful R&B act of the Nineties, Boyz II Men.
From a qualitative standpoint, you’d have to be extremely biased to even suggest that the New Kids’ recorded output is better than New Edition’s. Even aside from Brown and BBD’s groundbreaking solo success, N.E.’s seven album catalog includes one stellar album (1988’s “Heart Break”) and a couple of very good ones. Even their teen-pop stuff has aged better than “Hangin’ Tough” and “Step By Step” (well, with the exception of that terrible Fifties cover album they did). A small sampling of their classic singles: 1983’s “Candy Girl”, which knocked “Beat It” out of the #1 spot on the R&B charts. “Cool it Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man”, both bubblegum classics. “Can You Stand the Rain” is one of the most beloved slow jams of the Eighties. And the fellas still pack them in on tour and have solidified their position as one of the tightest live outfits in R&B, and one of the last of a dying breed of singing groups, outlasting just about every group that arrived in their wake. I saw them perform four or five years ago in New York and they were sharp as a tack, in strong voice and choreographed perfectly.
Unlike the New Kids, New Edition never stayed apart for long. Sporadic reunions in between solo projects eventually led to 1996’s #1 multi-platinum “Home Again” album (the only album to feature all six members), while even 2004’s lukewarm, Puff Daddy-assisted “One Love” went Gold. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year-with a rumored tour that will (possibly) feature Brown and a rumored movie on the horizon. Anyone who saw their drama-filled “Behind the Music” (which became the highest rated first-run episode of “BTM” in the network’s history), must be salivating at the thought of that film hitting the small or big screen.
Hey, I love the New Kids, you know? Their music is a constant reminder of my youth, and at it’s best, is well-crafted mindless pop. But in a lot of situations where something or someone gets successful, things that paved the way for that success get lost in the sauce. New Edition not only did it first-they did it best, and as such, are worthy of some serious props. Not only the New Kids-but a gang of groups from The Force MDs and Hi-Five to Backstreet Boys and *Nsync owe these guys a serious debt of gratitude.