Farewell to New Kids On The Block and an early era of boy bands [December 7, 1991]
Plus: Kym Sims, U2, Salt-N-Pepa and Bryan Adams
This week’s Number 9: ‘If You Go Away’ — New Kids On The Block
When you reach a certain age—say around 11 or 12—you start to go through certain changes.
Things that used to interest you might now seem, well, a little childish. Your toys start piling up under the bed. You start noticing things around you. The world seems to open up.
And, depending on your preference, you start to notice girls or boys. In a new way, a way that makes you feel something.
Of course, you don’t have anywhere near the emotional literacy to understand what those feelings are. You might call it love and start doodling little hearts with initials in the margin of your schoolbooks. Or you might call it lust and (if you’re a person with a penis) you spend your day battling spontaneous erections.
Straight boys don’t really have a lot of places into which they can pour these feelings. We’ve got sports, we’ve got fighting, we’ve got the act of being incredibly, annoyingly loud all the time.
But for the most part, being an adolescent boy means being horny all the time and not knowing what to do about it.
Girls go through the same experience, I imagine. But at least girls have a vessel into which they can pour all of their feelings: the boy band.
Boy bands had been around since the early days of rock’n’roll. The first modern, manufactured boy band was probably The Monkees, who were all picked for their good looks, rather than their musical ability.
More importantly, the Monkees codified the rule that bands should include a variety of boys, so that everyone has at least one boy they can fancy.
(Actually, The Beatles inadvertently created this rule. A big part of their brand was that you had a choice between fancying talented John, sweetheart Paul, mysterious George, or goofball Ringo.)
We saw many variations on this formula over the decades, from duos like Wham to streetgangs like Bay City Rollers. In the early 80s, American producer Maurice Starr unlocked the winning combination when he put together five kids who could sing, dance and rap, and launched them to the world as
This world-changing boy band were known as… Nynuk.
They struggled to gain traction before someone pointed out that Nynuk was dumb and unpronounceable, so they rebranded as New Kids On The Block.
NKOTB followed what is now clearly the winning template for all boybands. Five is the optimal number of members, as this allows you to have:
The tough one
The baby one
The singer-songwriter who clearly thinks it’s his band
The one who’s a really good dancer
The glorified roadie
Don’t ask me to tell you which is which. I never even learned their individual names during the late 80s, when they broke through with the excellent ‘The Right Stuff (You Got It)’ and the laughable ‘Hanging Tough’.
I hated them. I deeply despised them, and it was for personal reasons.
By 1990, I had very much started noticing girls, and I had developed an excruciatingly intense crush on one girl in my class. Being twelve and clueless, I had no idea how to nurture these feelings into, say, a conversation.
But I still thought we would get married, or kiss, or something.
But then, she got a boyfriend.
Worse, she got five boyfriends.
She became all about the NKOTB life. Everything she owned was branded with a picture of these five grown adult men, each of them trying to look street without doing anything that might alienate their white pre-teen audience.
They leered at me from her backpack, her pencil case, her notebook. I learned to hate these men. They had ruined my life forever. I would never, ever recover from this blow.
But of course, I did. Another thing you learn as you get older is that everything is fleeting, everything is transitory. What you feel today, you won’t feel tomorrow.
A year later, this girl and I had moved to the same secondary school. We were in different classes, so we didn’t see each other often. My crush had on her had faded. Or, to be more precise, it had transferred itself to a different host, some other poor girl whose initials were now in the margins of my copy books.
We actually had a conversation one lunchtime. I asked her if she had seen the NKOTB tour that had swung through Europe in late 1991.
She wrinkled her nose and said no, she was more into Nirvana now.
‘If You Go Away’ was their last foray into the UK Top 10. It fared less well in the States, and effectively marked the end of the NKOTB era in pop.
But this was far from the end of the boy band era. Take That, a band in the NKOTB mold, had their first Top 40 single a few weeks ago and they would soon usher in a new era of boy bands.
And of course, NKOTB would reform in the 2000s and continue recording and touring. The lure of nostalgia is powerful. People will do anything to feel once more the way they felt when they were twelve.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 7(↑ from 22): ‘Too Blind to See It’ — Kym Sims
We were spoiled in the 90s. Cute little bops like this seemed to drop every week, and we would enjoy them for a few days until the next one landed. We thought they were our birthright! Now, we have to sit around and wait months for Doja Cat to do something.
Kym Sims never had another hit, although she did write CeCe Penniston’s 1992 single ‘Keep On Walking’. She had a tough life afterwards with severe alcohol dependency issues, but she’s sober now and still touring.
Number 13 (New Entry): ‘Mysterious Ways’ — U2
We covered this a couple of weeks back. It’s the track that most effectively finds a balance between U2’s classic stadium rock and the lofty aspirations of Achtung Baby.
Number 15 (↑ from 17): ‘You Showed Me’ — Salt-N-Pepa
‘You Showed Me’ is a lazy, sexy track from the 60s, written by The Byrds and released by The Turtles. I know it from the 90s version released by The Lightning Seeds, and I suspect it’s the same for many people.
Naturally, the Salt-N-Pepa version is the best, because Salt-N-Pepa have never done the second-best version of anything.
Number 20 (↑ from 33): ‘The Bare Necessities Megamix’ — UK Mixmasters
Okay, so obviously this is terrible and Gary Wilmot should really be ashamed of himself. Have some integrity, man.
But the one good thing about this track is that it is, I think, the end of the Megamix phenomenon, in which a producer mixes a bunch of different tracks together against a backbeat. This trend started in the late 70s with acts like Stars On 45 and reached a nadir with people like Jive Bunny.
This is not art. This is not even the stuff you buy in the gallery gift shop. This is a kind of cultural byproduct, a toxic sludge that should be sealed in barrels and dumped in the Marianas trench. We, as a society, need to be more ashamed of this stuff.
Number 39 (New Entry): ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ — REM
REM released around a million singles off ‘Out Of Time’ in 1991, but they still weren’t done.
‘End of the World’ had reached the dizzy heights of Number 87 on its initial release in 1987, but this re-release finally brought the public’s attention to this absolute bop, which is essentially an indie ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’.
Album of the Week
Waking Up The Neighbors — Bryan Adams
Album releases tend to grind to a halt around this time of year, so I’m going to put this section on hiatus until January.
Before we go, let’s take a quick look at Waking Up The Neighbors, home to ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’, the song that took up four months of my life in 1991 and again in 2021.
It’s funny how that track barely fits on this record. You’ll find it tucked away like an afterthought near the end, just before an uptempo blues-rock track called ‘If You Wanna Leave (Can I Come Too)?’
This latter track is probably more indicative of where Bryan was in 1991. This guy was not cut out to be a balladeer. He is a dad rocker through and through. Most of the songs on this record sound best when you’re bald and chubby and playing air guitar. Trust me.
Our final issue of the year concludes with Freddie Mercury’s posthumous return to the top of the charts.