Are New Kids on the Block the only chart-topping act that spawned from revenge?
When New Edition left Maurice Starr’s employ (and for good reason; they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have if they didn’t), the producer vowed to create a white group that would ultimately become even more popular. He was right (even if it took several years to make his dream a reality). Donnie, Jordan, Danny, Jon and Joey ruled the pop world from the summer of ’88 through the fall of ’90, and although the fallout was relatively fast, their fans never forgot those glory years. This has resulted in an almost decade-long renaissance in which the fivesome regularly sells out tours performing their classic material along with a smattering of new jams.
NKOTB took their fair amount of shit from critics, and to some extent, it was warranted. Although more successful than New Edition ever was, their material was inferior, as was their performance ability. Which is not to say the group didn’t have some talent. Jordan Knight’s vocal acuity was apparent from the start, and Donnie Wahlberg showcased some production chops, and is possibly most notable as the first white pop star that was heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. They spun off a slew of hit singles, made one excellent album (1994’s Face The Music, released when no one gave a shit), and hey…no one lasts three decades without at least a couple of good songs, right?
1. Step By Step (from Step By Step, 1990)
1990’s most important singles came from hip-hop, R&B, or New York’s underground club culture (“Vogue”, “Groove is in the Heart”), so it was up to NKOTB to provide the most pure pop pleasure of the year. Relentlessly catchy, featuring some of Starr’s best production level, “Step By Step” justifiably spent a month at the top of the pop charts and was certified Platinum. It was also, by leaps and bounds, the best song on the album of the same name.
2. (You Got It) The Right Stuff (Remix) (from the 7″ single, 1989)
Not that the album version of “Right Stuff” is bad, but this smart single remix adds a more contemporary flavor and bounce to the group’s first uptempo hit.
3. Keep On Smilin’ (from the “Free Willy” original soundtrack, 1993)
Buried on the soundtrack to the children’s movie “Free Willy”, this Narada Michael Walden-produced number features lead vocals from all the Kids except Jon Knight, takes the fellas into slightly more adult territory with lyrics about drinking and sex, and stays true to its title by being an upbeat, summery gem.
4. If You Go Away (non-album single, 1992)
5. Please Don’t Go Girl (from Hangin’ Tough, 1988)
6. Keepin’ My Fingers Crossed (from Face The Music, 1994)
7. Never Let You Go (from Face The Music)
One of Teddy Riley’s strongest efforts, “Never Let You Go” would’ve been a huge R&B hit if it was recorded by his group BLACKstreet or…well, just about any other R&B group. The New Kids had wack juice all over them by the time this song hit the streets, though. Too bad; aside from a buzz-killing Wahlberg trying to make like Barry White towards the song’s conclusion, “Never Let You Go” is primo slow jam material.
8. My Favorite Girl (from Hangin’ Tough)
9. Summertime (from The Block, 2008)
Despite the fact that 2008’s The Block was a bit too heavy on Auto-Tune (a trend that hasn’t disappeared, but has become less blatant in recent years). However, “Summertime”, the song that launched their comeback after a 14-year absence, deftly balanced modern-day pop smarts and nostalgia. And the Kids don’t sound like cyborgs.
10. Girls (from Face The Music)
11. Games (The Kids Get Hard Mix) (from No More Games-The Remix Album, 1991)
Credit Donnie Wahlberg for realizing that the bubble was well on its way to bursting. Songs like the remix of this Step By Step album track tried valiantly to stem the tide. This version was authentically hip-hop heavy, from Wahlberg’s mid-track rap, to the slick breakdancing moves featured in the video. A point-proving performance on the 1991 American Music Awards (featuring Flavor Flav! And a pre-J. Lo Jennifer Lopez!) shut some of the doubters up, but didn’t restore the New Kids to their former glory on the pop charts.
12. Single (featuring Ne-Yo) (from The Block)
To this day, I wonder how Ne-Yo got convinced to hand this song (featured in a solo version on his Year Of The Gentleman LP) over to the New Kids. I have to say, though, this version is actually superior to the one with Ne-Yo alone. It also speaks to Ne-Yo’s underrated craftsmanship as a songwriter that he’s able to pull off the “single” (not attached)/”single” (song) play on words that the song rests on.
13. Baby, I Believe In You (from Step By Step)
14. Mrs. Right (from Face The Music)
15. What’cha Gonna Do (About It?) (from Hangin’ Tough)
16. Click Click Click (from The Block)
Some mighty seductive latter-day NKOTB, and a connection to the group’s heyday. “Click” was co-written by Hakim Abdulsamad, frontman for NKOTB contemporaries The Boys.
17. I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) (from Hangin’ Tough)
18. Jealous (Blue) (from 10, 2013)
19. Hold On (from Hangin’ Tough)
20. Never Gonna Fall In Love Again (from Step By Step)
Danny Wood got the album closers on Hangin’ Tough, Step By Step, and Face The Music (as well as both Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch albums–as a producer), and the three NKOTB songs (including 1994’s “I’ll Be Waitin'”, not included on this list) are all solid. This despite the fact that Danny’s singing ability was a bit…questionable. Still, mediocre singers find material that works for him. And these songs do.