New Kids on the Block


You would be hard-pressed to find a young girl in the late 80s who didn’t have a New Kids on the Block poster on her wall or in her locker. They weren’t the first boy band by any means, perhaps not even the most talented, but there is no denying that this group of Boston teens took the world by storm back in the day, filling the airwaves and countless concert halls with screaming fans, and paving the way for a plethora of groups that followed in their footsteps.

Following his success with New Edition, producer Maurice Starr took that model and applied it to his newest endeavor, which he called New Kids on the Block. He chose Massachusetts natives Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood, Joey McIntyre, and brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight and brought them into the recording studio. The result was their 1986 self-titled debut. Still just teens (Joey was just 13 at the time), their debut did reasonably well for NKOTB in and around their hometown of Boston, but failed to catch any sort of national attention.

Though the first album didn’t achieve the success Starr had hoped for, he stuck with the fivesome, bringing them back into the studio for 1988’s Hangin’ Tough … and hang tough they did. The ballad “Please Don’t Go Girl,” a pre-release from the album, actually bombed when it came out in the spring of 1988, with seemingly no radio station eager to play the track. Just as record execs were ready to axe the New Kids, a Florida radio station picked up the single and put it on the air. Within a short time, the song started to top their most-requested lists, helping to keep the band signed with Columbia Records. It was a smart move for the label. Invigorated by the public’s interest, Columbia extensively promoted the group and the single, which eventually climbed up to #10 on the Hot 100 chart.

Once Hangin’ Tough came out, the band landed a spot on the Tiffany tour as her opening act. Their non-stop road schedule paid off in dividends with the massive success of “You Got It (The Right Stuff).” The track boasted a dance-pop mix of rap and R&B, helping to push the album to #1 on the record charts. Two more chart-toppers from Hangin’ Tough followed, the “Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!” chanting title track and their saccharine-sweet ballad, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever).”

The band continued touring, hitting hot spots like Disneyland and Walt Disney World along the way. With the help of “Cover Girl” and their cover of the soulful “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time,” NKTOB dominated pop station playlists and found themselves in heavy rotation on MTV, thanks in great part to their hunky, clean-cut, good-boys-with-an-edge looks. At the end of 1989, the group released Merry, Merry Christmas, which went double-platinum (with all proceeds going to United Cerebral Palsy), thanks to the Top 10 hit, “This One’s for the Children.”

The accolades started to pour in, and at the start of 1990, they’d won “Best Pop/Rock Album” and “Best Pop/Rock Group” at the American Music Awards. Now, having captured the full attention of the youth market, the machine kicked into full gear with an impressive line of merchandise that included New Kids on the Block dolls which sold in the millions. After a highly successful tour of their own, the band released Step By Step, which made a quick run to #1 on the album charts. The title track was a danceable hit that became the biggest selling single of their career. “Tonight” a softer ballad, went into the Top 10, helping the album go triple platinum, selling almost 20 million copies to this day.

Meanwhile, New Kids fever spread like wildfire. Girls covered their bedroom walls with posters, wore the T-shirts, had the sheets and comforter set, and started gluing pics of the boys on the binders and taping them up in their lockers. There were even lunch boxes and sleeping bags, ensuring that their biggest fans could take a bit of their favorite band with them just about anywhere. For the youngest fans, they could start their Saturday mornings with a NKOTB cartoon that aired on ABC from 1990 to 1991. And, if you just couldn’t get enough of the Boston quintet, you could always call their recorded message hotline.

Capitalizing on the band’s success, Columbia released No More Games a remix album which featured the New Kids’ greatest hits slightly altered. Of course, public backlash began to build due to all this over-exposure, leading the band to take a hiatus from touring and recording. All of this was taking place as the music biz was licking its wounds from the Milli Vanilli scandal, and before the blink of an eye, NKOTB were accused of not having sung the entire Hanging Tough album.

They managed to quell the anger, but as the 90s progressed, their brand of pop was losing ground to the growing popularity of gangsta’ rap and grunge. The New Kids, then going by NKOTB, went back into the studio, releasing Face the Music in 1994. The track, “Keep on Smiling” was featured on the movie soundtrack for Free Willy, helping the album achieve moderate success, but continuing on just wasn’t in the cards for the group.

Later that summer, NKOTB broke up, each going their separate ways. Jordan and Joey continued on as solo artists, with Joey also appearing on both television and on Broadway. Danny became a record producer. Jonathan got into real estate. Donnie, perhaps, has had the greatest success of all on his own, first writing and producing his brother, Mark Wahlberg’s 1991 #1 hit with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, “Good Vibrations.” He has since pursued a successful career as an actor, giving critically acclaimed performances on the big and small screen.

Fans never gave up hope for a reunion but the band refused all offers for over a decade. Finally, in 2008, their loyal followers were granted their wish. The band released a pair of singles from their first studio album in fourteen years. The album, called The Block, debuted at #1 and went gold. The band embarked on an extensive world tour, followed by another in 2010 alongside fellow boy band, The Backstreet Boys. As of this writing, NKOTB is currently touring Europe and preparing for a series of engagements at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas to take place in the summer of 2014.

Boy bands come and go, and most are forgotten within a few years. New Kids on the Block, on the other hand, still have legions of rabid fans all these years later, despite the fact that even little Joey McIntyre, the youngest of the group, is now into his 40s. No matter, so are their millions of fans, and their enthusiasm for this boy band from Boston has never waned. If you count yourself among them, if you had a poster hanging on your wall, or a NKOTB lunchbox that you guarded with your life, we’d love to hear all of your memories in our comments section below.

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