*a totally subjective list
Boyz II Men is the most commercially successful R&B group of all time. They have three of the five longest-running #1 pop singles in history. They and TLC are the only groups in their genre to have a diamond-certified album. And unlike their ’90s era contemporaries, BIIM has never fallen completely off the radar. Anyone seen Color Me Badd these days? Dru Hill? Even Jodeci (often cast as the bad-boy rivals of the goody-two-shoes image BIIM projected) hasn’t achieved a sustained level of success that Nate, Shawn and Wan (Mike McCary, the fourth member of Boyz II Men, left over a decade ago) have had. The fellas still tour the world, have a residency in Vegas, pop up on TV shows from time to time, and their albums still sell (relative to what an R&B group sells these days, which ain’t much.)
Here are my twenty favorite songs by Boyz II Men. This one’s a bit more deep cut-heavy than previous lists, which I guess is weird, because who thinks about Boyz II Men having deep cuts? Nevertheless, the music here is well-crafted and sung impeccably. And, as you’ll see if you read below, some of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s best work was funneled through Boyz II Men. Enjoy.
1. 4 Seasons of Loneliness (from Evolution, 1997)
Here’s proof of how big Boyz II Men were in their heyday. A song like “4 Seasons”-intricate harmonies, downcast lyrics, no mention of the title-still hit #1 on the pop charts, and would’ve remained there for more than a week had Princess Diana not met an untimely end, causing Elton John to break sales records with his tribute. Nevertheless, “4 Seasons” stands as BIIM’s crowning achievement. It’s simply a beautiful song, sung with technical precision AND passion-something that doesn’t happen all that often. Kudos to Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for their stunning production job on this song, as well.
2. Doin’ Just Fine (from Evolution)
Let’s just say Boyz II Men did heartbreak songs REALLY well. Folks rag on Wanya for being a bit of a whiny vocalist, but on this song’s bridge and into the final chorus, he becomes unhinged, and it not only fits perfectly within the lyrical framework, but it makes the damn song.
3. Lovely (from Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya, 2000)
BIIM’s self-titled (sort of) 2000 album has been scrubbed from digital services (if it existed there to begin with), and that’s a shame. It’s the group’s most consistent effort. “Lovely” is a straight up and down bedroom jam, complete with the kind of stuttering and mumbling you wind up replicating after a memorable session under the sheets.
4. On Bended Knee (from II, 1994)
5. End Of The Road (from the soundtrack to the motion picture Boomerang, 1992)
I originally had this song, which I loved and then got tired of (it was #1 for 13 weeks and seemed to be omnipresent for a year after. Never mind that it was popular during my senior year of high school and became one of our class’s unofficial “songs”) lower on the list. Then I listened to it, remembered why I loved it as much as I did in its heyday, and put it back up to (I think) its rightful ranking.
6. Water Runs Dry (from II)
7. Dreams (from Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya)
8. It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday (from Cooleyhighharmony, 1991)
9. Pass You By (from Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya)
10. Please Don’t Go (from Cooleyhighharmony)
11. Oh Well (from Full Circle, 2002)
After the (relative) failure of Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya (no fault of the group’s-the music was great), the Boyz moved on to Arista Records, where they put out one album, 2002’s Full Circle. They re-teamed with producer/songwriters like Babyface and the Jam/Lewis team, but the sales still weren’t there. While a step down qualitatively from its predecessor-Full Circle is still a solid record, and this melodramatic ballad (surprise-composed and produced by Jimmy and Terry) is its highlight. I would’ve loved a completely Jam & Lewis-produced Boyz II Men record. They seemed to bring out the best in one another.
12. The Birth Of Christ (from A Very Special Christmas 2, 1992)
A capella. And spine-tingling enough to make this confirmed non-believer part of the tribe for three minutes.
13. I Sit Away (from II)
Marking the songwriting/production debut of Tony (One Hit Wonder Who Deserved More Hits) Rich.
14. Motownphilly (from Cooleyhighharmony)
Embedding the video because a) Questlove! (he went to high school with BIIM) and b) Mike Bivins delivering his rap verse from the can.
15. Hey Lover (from Mr. Smith, 1995)*
16. Step On Up (from Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya)
17. Human II (Don’t Turn Your Back On Me) (from Evolution)
Yep-it’s a sequel of sorts to The Human League’s #1 smash “Human”. The concept is sort of unique (although both songs were written and produced by-here they go again-Jam & Lewis) and it actually works!
18. So Amazing (from Twenty, 2011)
After Full Circle, BIIM left the major label system. They put out a covers album, followed it up with The Remedy, an album of new material that was originally only available overseas, re-signed to a major label and released two more covers albums (the first of which became a surprise success). Almost a decade passed before a new Boyz II Men album featuring original material surfaced in the U.S., and Twenty was a solid return to form. Babyface and the Jam/Lewis team returned, but the best songs on the album were helmed by Tim & Bob, who low-key ran the table on R&B in the late ’90s-early ’00s (TLC, Sisqo, Tamia, Jon B and more). “So Amazing” and “Put Some Music On” are mellow and in the pocket mid-tempo jams featuring those signature creamy harmonies. Good to see that when paired with the right writers/producers, Boyz II Men still has the magic.
19. I Will Get There (from the soundtrack to the motion picture The Prince Of Egypt, 1998)
20. Put Some Music On (from Twenty)
*-LL Cool J featuring Boyz II Men
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