Note for Note

Although The Temptations and New Edition set the stage for Boyz II Men, the fact of the matter is this: Nathan, Michael, Shawn and Wanya rank supreme as the best-selling R&B group of all time. Over two decades after they hit the scene, the Boyz are still a force to be reckoned with. Their most recent album debuted in the top twenty, the fellas still pack ’em in on tour, and the upcoming “Package” tour with New Kids on the Block and 98 Degrees will allow them to recapture the massive crossover audience they had in the mid ’90s, and may possibly set the stage for a full-blown return to the pop spotlight.

The fellas formed at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts-the same school that spawned members of The Roots, as well as neo-soul chanteuse Amel Larrieux. Looking for their big break, they headed backstage at a show and ran into New Edition’s Michael Bivins. After singing the NE classic “Can You Stand the Rain,” Bivins agreed to become the group’s manager. They also took the name of a beloved New Edition album cut. The rest…is history.

BIIM ruled the R&B roost for most of the Nineties. Three of the top 4 longest-running #1 singles in history belong to them. They are on a short list of R&B groups to have an album sell diamond (10 million copies) in the U.S. They’ve got a passel of American Music Awards, Grammys and Soul Train Awards. And now, they get the note for note treatment from Popblerd. What a feather in their career cap, yeah?

Join Big Money, Kevin and GG as they take you from the Boyz humble beginnings right down to the end of the road. Get your bow ties, baseball caps and shorts, and let’s go back to the Alex Vanderpool Era.

Cooleyhighharmony (1991)

 We’re bypassing the original Cooleyhighharmony and jumping to the reissued 1993 version that added the No. 1 hit “End of the Road”, including the Spanish version (“Al Final Del Camino”) of “End of the Road”, “In the Still of the Nite (I’ll Remember)” and a few remixes of songs from the original Cooleyhighharmony album.

Cooleyhighharmony introduced us to the quartet from Philadelphia that met in high school, performed in school talent shows and eventually snuck backstage to sing for Michael Bivins at a concert. The rest is history.

 They were young, they harmonized, they sang songs you can relate to and they were reminiscent of the days when Motown ruled the airwaves.

 Most of their first album featured slow jams that talked about what ended up becoming the Boyz’s mantra – hurting hearts and “I’m sorry baby” pleas – and the album featured three tracks from the original that ended up becoming hits.

 The grunting and groaning love-making ballad “Uhh Ahh”, infamous for the opening countdown and the introduction to what will become a go-to for the quartet, Mike “Bass” McCrary’s sensual speaking over the chorus, the a cappella rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and the one song that when you mention Boyz II Men to casual fans, they’ll answer “ABC, BBD”, the Boyz’s first single “Motownphilly”.

 Twenty years later, on a rainy day we can still put on “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and enjoy the quartet’s harmonies. Twenty years later, on a sunny day we can still put on “Motownphilly” and sing-along to the quartet’s upbeat harmonies.

 The reissued version featured a bunch of forgettable remixes of “Motownphilly”, the radio version of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”, which added strings to the mix, “Uhh Ahh” the sequel (the version the Boyz presently perform in concerts), and a remix of “Sympin'”, featured on the White Men Can’t Jump soundtrack and the one remix that is actually better than the original. It also features a remake of “In the Still of the Nite (I’ll Remember)” for the miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream.

 What made this album a must-buy was the inclusion of “End of the Road”, arguably one of the better ballads of all-time. The song has always been one of my favorites (never dropping lower than No. 3 on my personal hits chart) and though I could never relate to the lyrical content (I’m sorry, she’s out with another fella and you don’t care?! I’m not going to welcome her back so quickly!) for me it doesn’t get any better than the last 30 seconds of the song when they drop the background music and close it out a cappella. Boyz II Men at their best!

 Originally from the Boomerang soundtrack, “End of the Road” was the first time the Boyz had worked with song-writing guru Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The single broke records, a then-record 13 straight weeks at No. 1, and catapulted the quartet to stardom becoming a lead-in to what became a hugely successful sophomore album.

 GRADE: A- (KJ)

Christmas Interpretations (1993)

Every artist, especially after a successful debut album, has to take advantage of said-success and throw out an immediate Christmas / holiday album. The Boyz were no different putting together an album of mostly original songs penned by the Boyz themselves, and co-produced with then Motown label-mate Brian McKnight (who also sings along in the one single released from the album, “Let It Snow”).

Their rendition of “Silent Night” is still one of my all-time favorite versions of the song, and stands out in an album filled with mostly solemn tunes about being alone for the holidays (“You’re Not Alone”) or falling in love on Christmas (“Who Would Have Thought”). As I’ve matured and continued to listen to the album every Christmas I’ve realized a few hidden not-quite-gems that I prefer. In “Share Love”, “Why Christmas” and “A Joyous Song” they sing about the spirit of Christmas and in my recently self-proclaimed favorite song on the album, “Do They Know”, they ask and answer the question, “Do They Know what Christmas is actually about?”

 Overall the CD isn’t as smooth as I prefer. The lyrical content of the CD isn’t bad but it’s hard to throw it on during the Christmas season and rock around the tree with it.

 GRADE: B- (KJ)

II (1994)

DISCLAIMER: I’m going to be totally honest with you. This review will probably be a little biased. This is my all-time favorite album. Yes, my answer to the “You’re trapped on an island with one album” question.

 We all know the impact the Babyface written “I’ll Make Love to You” had. It spent 14 weeks at No. 1, tying Whitney Houston’s “I’ll Always Love You” and was knocked out by II‘s second single, “On Bended Knee” (only Elvis, the Beatles and most recently the Black Eyed Peas have accomplished that feat). It won a Grammy for best R&B song. It aided in the making of numerous babies.

 “On Bended Knee” spent six weeks at No. 1, “Water Runs Dry”, another Babyface produced song peaked at No. 2, and “Thank You” reached No. 21 helping the album sell over 12 million copies in 1995.

 But why would I chose this as my No. 1 album? Already a Boyz II Men fan from their first album, II came at a time when I was learning about the word “love”. I was just starting my senior year in high school. I had just been introduced to the world of “girlfriends” (Yes, I was a slow starter) and I would eventually be introduced to the feeling of heartbreak. I could listen to the lyrics and actually relate. When my heart was broken I held my pillow tight listening to “On Bended Knee” pleading with her to come back to me … she never did. Fine, I’ll throw on the angry “U Know”  to combat the  hurt heart.

 When I was going through a tough time in my early 20s “I Sit Away” became my theme song. Written by one of my other favorite artists of all-time,Tony Rich, the song explains what I was feeling at that time, “If you could’ve seen in my heart you’d have seen loneliness and if you could know what I’m afraid of you’d be frightened.”

Right next to Princess Leia’s gold bikini, “50 Candles” has become a fantasy of mine. Just 50 candles guiding you throughout the night. Give it a listen, you’ll have goose bumps too!

 I adore the strings of “Water Runs Dry”, dig the chill vibe of “Vibin'”, the fun “Thank You” and – sorry Beatle diehards – even the a cappella rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday”. Give it to me all day, every day and I’ll be OK with that.

 Grade: A+ (KJ)

The Remix Collection (1995)

Remix albums are a way for labels to gouge fans that serves two purposes. One, it keeps “new” product in the marketplace while an artist is between albums. Second, it extends the money train a little bit-these albums don’t cost nearly as much to produce as regular studio albums. So, it was no surprise that Motown issued a remix album on BIIM at the height of their success, just in time for the Christmas shopping season of 1995. What Motown might not have banked on, though, is that the Boyz themselves didn’t want the album to come out, and it set the stage for some pretty frosty artist/label relations over the next couple years. The album was hastily withdrawn not long after its release, but sold a million copies nonetheless.

As far as content, The Remix Collection was pretty barren. None of the remixes improved on the original versions, but none of them totally sucked, either. “Vibin’,” is interesting, if only for the fact that most of the heavy lifting is done by rappers Treach, Craig Mack, Method Man and Busta Rhymes. It was designed to be a male version of Brandy’s smash “I Wanna Be Down” remix, which featured Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and Yo-Yo. Speaking of Miss Norwood, the remixed version of her “Brokenhearted” (which features her then-boyfriend Wanya) appears as purchase bait here, as does LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover.” Oh-and there’s one new track-the bumpin’ (if inessential) “I Remember.” How much disposable income did we have in the Clinton-era that we didn’t have a problem spending 12 bucks on something as middling as this?

Grade: C (Big Money)

Evolution (1997)

This album is looked at as a bit of a failure, and the start of Boyz II Men’s decline as a successful pop act. Yet, it still sold over two million albums and first single “4 Seasons Of Loneliness” did eventually reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

After coming out of the gate with two tremendously successful albums, the laws of diminishing returns caught up with them. Part of the reason was simply that no matter what their album title suggested, this album was very much an extension of II, instead of something brand new. Their sound didn’t evolve much, though they did bring Puff Daddy, hit maker of 1997, on board to helm a couple of their non-ballads including, “Can’t Let Her Go”.

What’s funny to me is that back then, critics would say that Boyz II Men needed to have more variation. They were always tremendous with ballads, but they needed to speed things up, get in the clubs. Yet, their first single ever, and maybe their second or third most famous song of all, “Motownphilly,” is an uptempo track, or as Biv called it, “Hip hop doo wop.”

If they decided to go solely uptempo, they’d have fallen flat on their faces. Music of 1997 had become more jiggy and rather than completely change who they were, they tried to blend in, and it didn’t work. The first half of the album is really good. “Doin’ Just Fine” is possibly Shawn Stockman’s best work. While “A Song For Mama” is sappy, it did find an audience thanks to the movie Soul Food. They also provide a tremendous cover of “Can You Stand The Rain”, which was the same song that they performed for Michael Bivins before he signed them.

The uptempo and midtempo tracks on the second half of the album are hit or miss. The fellas are all in great voice, but songs like “Come On”, “Baby C’Mon” (yes, those two song titles followed each other on the album), and “All Night Long” are B-side work. However, the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced Human II (Don’t Turn Your Back On Me) is excellent and an underrated BIIM jam.

Grade: B- (GG)

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will start as Boyz II Men exits the ’90s, and continues on to the present.

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