The Rise and Fall of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK in the 80s and 90s
By Mark Nobes, chief editor
I'll be totally honest with you, I Never took much notice of New Kids On The Block back in the 1980s, or any other boy band for that matter. Looking back at their discography, I failed to realise just how big this group were back in the day. Between 1986 and 1990, the boys achieved huge success with three multi-platinum albums (Hangin' Tough received a Diamond certificate in Canada), nine top 10 singles in the U.S., and ten top 10 singles in the UK.
Record producer and songwriter, Maurice Starr, had already helped New Edition to become pop stars, but he broke his ties with them and was was looking for a white boy band, knowing that sales record sales would more than likely be considerably higher than for a black band.
He formed New Kids On The Block (they were initially called Nynuk) with his business partner Mary Alford, starting with 15-year-old rapper Donny Wahlberg, and then his younger brother, Mark. Wahlberg recruited his friends Danny Wood, Jordan Knight and Jamie Kelly, although both his brother and Kelly left the group in its early stages. Jordan Knight then suggested his brother, Jonathan, should join the group.
12-year-old Joey McIntyre was then recruited by Starr, although he struggled to bond with the group in the early stages, but eventually settled in.
After much rehearsing at weekends and after school, Starr managed to polish their performance enough to obtain a record deal with Columbia Records, although they asked the group to come up with a new name, as they were less than impressed with Nynuk. New Kids On The Block was derived from the title of a rap song that Wahlberg had written for the debut album. They were then marketed to a mainly black audience by Columbia.
The fresh-faced boy band on the sleeve front of their debut LP
Debut Album (1986)
Written and produced by Starr, the group's debut self-titled album was released by Columbia Records on April 1st 1986 (no joke!) and went on to achieve 3 x Platinum sales in the U.S. and Canada, and Gold in the UK. However, most of the sales came after the success of their second album Hangin' Tough, and the first two singles "Be My Girl" and "Stop It Girl" failed to chart. Indeed, this lack of success almost led to an early break-up of the band.
"Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)" was released as the third and final single from their debut album in 1989, around three years after the album's release, to help the album to get noticed by their new fan base. It reached no.8 in both the UK and U.S., and was a cover of The Delfonics hit song from 1969.
Hangin' Tough (1988)
The second album, Hangin' Tough, was New Kids On The Block's breakthrough album, and became their most successful, achieving a Diamond sales certificate in Canada, 8 x Platinum in the U.S., and 2 x Platinum in the UK.
They released the ballad "Please Don't Go Girl" as the lead single, which was a slow burner, but eventually reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the group their first chart hit in the U.S., although it did not chart in the UK.
Their real breakthrough, though, came with the release of the next single "You Got It (The Right Stuff), which was a chart-topper in the UK, and reached No.3 in the U.S. It's a song I actually despise, and I find the overly-simplistic chorus (which could probably be played by a blindfolded chimpanzee using just one finger) extremely irritating. Nonetheless, it's the simplest melodies that often work in pop, and this certainly worked for them.
"I'll Be Loving You Forever" and "Hangin' Tough" also both topped the charts in the U.S., with the final single release "Cover Girl", reaching No.2. The singles were all top 5 hits in the UK, with "Hangin' Tough" reaching No.1 - it was also a chart-topped in Ireland.
Hangin' Tough vinyl LP - the second album
1986 Be My Girl -
1986 Stop It Girl -
1988 Please Don't Go Girl -
1988 You Got It (The Right Stuff) #1
1989 I'll Be Loving You Forever #5
1989 Hangin' Tough #1
1989 Cover Girl #4
1989 Didn't I (Blow Your Mind) #8
1989 This One's For The Children #9
Chart positions shown are for the UK
Step By Step Album (1990)
On June 5th 1990, NKOTB released their third album, which topped the album charts in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand. Although the album sales were considered disappointing when compared to Hangin' Tough, it still sold by the bucketload, achieving 3x Platinum in the U.S., 7 x Platinum in Canada, and Platinum in the UK, so hardly a failure.
All three singles released from the album reached the top 10 in the UK. The lead single and title track reached No.1 in the U.S. and Canada, and No.2 in the UK.
Second single "Tonight" reached No.2 in the UK and No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No.8 in Canada.
However, this would be the last time the group would reach the top 10 in the U.S., with the final single from the album "Let's Try It Again" receiving little airplay and stalling at No.53, and only reaching No.60 in Canada. However, it performed considerably better in the UK, peaking at No.8. This was the start of a decline in sales globally.
Okay, so I've established that the lads had phenomenal success in the last few years of the 1980s and in 1990, but then what?
Lip Syncing Scandal and Split
As we all know, pop music fans are a fickle lot, and after two years out of the limelight (a colossal amount of time if you're a boy band) the majority of their fans had grown from screaming teenagers into young ladies and gents. The boys and their record company knew this, and after allegations about the group lip-syncing their live performances, a change of image was required.
You may remember the lip-synching scandal that ended the career of Milli Vanilli. Now, New Kids On The Block were facing similar allegations from their associate producer and string arranger on the album Step By Step. Gregory McPherson alleged that the American musician Maurice Starr sang vocals while the boys lip-synced to a backing track during their live shows. He filed a lawsuit against Starr for a breach of contract, but by April 1992 he had dropped it and released a statement that more or less said "they did sing on their lead vocals", even though the boys, allegedly, admitted singing to pre-recorded vocals (with Starr singing harmony) during their live shows.
What the exact truth is I do not know, but it was all very damaging to the credibility of New Kids On The Block as a live act, for a while, at least.
Renaming themselves NKOTB, a fourth album aptly named Face The Music was released on 25th January 1994. The album featured a more mature sound and received praise from many critics. Despite this, it seemed that the fans had lost interest (and possibly respect) and the album failed to replicate the phenomenal sales of the previous releases. Indeed, many would argue that it was a flop, peaking at #37 in the U.S. album charts (#36 in the UK) and achieving sales of just 27,000 in the first week of release.
However, in the UK, lead single "If You Go Away" reached No.9, and in Canada it reached No.6. Second single "Dirty Dawg" reached No.3 in Canada but failed to break into the top 10 in any other country.
No longer able to sell enough tickets to perform in the stadiums and arenas they had become accustomed to, the band now found themselves performing in more humble settings such as clubs and theatres, much to the delight of the press. It was all rather humiliating, to say the least.
Inevitably, the group split-up, with each member going their seperate ways. Donnie Wahlberg started an acting career. Joey Mcintyre, Jordan Knight and Danny Wood continued in the pop music industry, all releasing their own debut solo albums in 1999. Oldest member, Jonathan Knight, kept a very low profile, working as a real estate investor, although he did state in 2000 that he suffered from an anxiety disorder.
1990 Step By Step #2
1990 Tonight #3
1990 Let's Try It Again #8
1991 Games #14
1991 Call It What You Want #12
1991 If You Go Away #9
1994 Dirty Dawg #27
1994 Never Let You Go #42
Chart positions shown are for the UK
In 2008, New Kids On The Block reformed (using their full, original title) and in September released their first album in fourteen years, The Block, which sold an impressive 100,000 units in its first week alone. Reaching #2 on the Billboard 200, and #16 in the UK, the album featured collaborations with well-known artists including Lady gaga, The Pussycat Dolls, Ne-Yo, Akon, Teddy Riley and New Edition. Three singles were also released, Summertime, Single and Dirty Dancing.
In 2011, the five singers joined forces with Backstreet Boys to form the supergroup NKOTBSB. They released an album (also titled NKOTBSB) which featured five hit songs from each group, plus two joint recording, All In My Head and Don't Turn Out The Lights, plus a mashup.
In April 2013, the group release another album, 10, which reached #6 in the U.S. and #47 in the UK. The reviews by critics were rather mixed, and the album wasn't as successful as The Block, with sales of 48,000 in its first week.
In 2015, the group toured North America and performed at 47 concerts, grossing over $26 million.
New Kids On The Block performed live again in August and October 2016 at Coney Island, Hershey and New Orleans in the U.S. You can view a full list of events on their website.