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New Kids on the Block

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New Kids on the Block (also known as NKOTB) are an award-winning American pop group that enjoyed success in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They won two American Music Awards in 1990 for Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group and Favorite Pop/Rock Album for Hangin’ Tough.

Assembled in Boston in 1984 by producer Maurice Starr, the members consisted of brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood. The group went on to sell over 70 million albums worldwide, generated hundreds of millions of dollars in concert revenues, and paved the way for acts like Backstreet Boys, Take That and *NSYNC. After having broken up in 1994, they reunited in 2008, and are now planning a new album and an international concert tour in the fall.

In the early 1980s, Maurice Starr discovered R&B/Pop quintet (later sextet) New Edition and guided their early success. After breaking ties with them, Starr and his business partner, Mary Alford, sought to create a white counterpart act. Auditions were held around Boston, at which some five hundred teenaged boys auditioned. Among them was 15-year-old Donnie Wahlberg, who immediately impressed Starr and Alford with his dancing ability and showmanship, becoming the group’s first member. Wahlberg assisted in helping to recruit other members. Among them were his younger brother Mark, and his best friend Danny Wood. He also coaxed one-time schoolmate Jordan Knight, who sang an exceptional falsetto, into auditioning as well. Upon Knight’s passing the audition, his older brother Jonathan (also possessing a strong singing voice) was accepted into the group as well.

As the group began to take shape, Mark became disillusioned with its bubble gum direction, and opted to quit. Another one of Donnie’s neighborhood friends, Jaime Kelley, took his place. Kelley, though, would eventually be dismissed for lack of concentration and discipline. Seeking a singer to sing the high solos, Starr replaced him with 12-year-old Joey McIntyre, whom the other guys initially resented for being the one to replace their friend. With the final line-up in place Starr rehearsed the boys diligently, after school and on weekends, and eventually secured the group (which was being called Nynuk) a recording contract at Columbia Records. The label, however, demanded Starr change the name of the group. Subsequently they settled on New Kids on the Block, after a rap song that Donnie had written and arranged for their first album.

In April 1986, Columbia Records released the group’s self-titled debut album. The album, almost exclusively written and produced by Maurice Starr, featured mid ‘80’s bubblegum pop material. The first single, “Be My Girl” received minor airplay around the group’s native Boston, but failed to capture nationwide attention. The album’s second single, “Stop It Girl,” fared even worse. The New Kids went on tour around the New England states, singing wherever Starr could book them: in bars, school dances, and strip clubs. Nevertheless, Starr remained diligent and persuaded the label to allow the group to record a second album. The album, however, would later go on to be certified triple platinum by the RIAA, largely on the strength of the popularity the group attained with their next album.

After the failure of the first album, Starr had the group back in the studio for most of 1987 and 1988 recording their second album. Dissatisfied with the excessively bubblegum sound of their first album, the group wanted to have more input on their look, direction and song material. As a result, Donnie, Danny and Jordan received associate producer credit on the final product. The album’s first single was “Please Don’t Go Girl,” a ballad released in the spring of 1988. Failure seemed destined a second time when the song became another that went unnoticed by the listening public, and Columbia Records made plans to drop the New Kids from the label. At the eleventh hour, however, a radio station in Florida began playing the song. Scoring listener approval, it soon became the most requested song on their play list. When Columbia caught wind of the positive response, they decided to keep the group on its roster and put more effort into promoting the single. National attention soon followed and it eventually climbed to Number Ten on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart—becoming the group’s first hit.

New Kids on the Block’s second album, Hangin’ Touch, was released to modest fanfare in September. In the meantime, the group began making national televised appearances on such music programs as Showtime at the Apollo and Soul Train. They later landed a spot as an opening act for fellow teen-pop act Tiffany on the U.S. leg of her concert tour. Sales of Hangin’ Tough steadily increased as the group’s national attention slowly rose. At year’s end, the album’s second single “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” was released. The song was given a huge boost when MTV took notice of the group and began playing the video in regular rotation. By early 1989, it cracked the top five. The New Kids hit pay dirt with their next single, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)”, which reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart in June. The group had been scheduled to open for Tiffany once again on a second tour, but their sudden popularity caused a reversal, and she wound up opening for them (although the two acts were technically billed as “co-headliners.”)

More top five singles from Hangin’ Tough followed into the summer and fall, including the title track and “Cover Girl”. Columbia Records also released, from the groups previously overlooked debut album, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)”. The song went Top Ten on the strength of the group’s popularity and effectively jump-started the sales of that album as well. By the end of 1989, Hangin’ Tough had climbed to Number One on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and had gone eight-times platinum. They, subsequently, became the first ‘teen’ act to garner five Top Ten hits from a single album.

Meanwhile, a top ten charting holiday album, Merry, Merry Christmas, was released in the fall, spawning another Top Ten hit, “This One’s for the Children” and going double platinum in the US. The proceeds were donated to United Cerebral Palsy, the New Kids’ favorite charitable cause. Hangin’ Tough would go on to spend 132 weeks on the chart, and in January 1990 it won two American Music Awards for “Best Pop/Rock Album”, and “Best Pop/Rock Group.”

By early 1990, New Kids on the Block had become one of the most popular acts in the world. The following May, they followed up Hangin’ Tough with Step by Step, which featured slightly more than half of the songs co-written and produced by the members themselves. The first single, the title track, raced to number one on the Hot 100 Singles Chart and became their biggest selling single. It was followed up with the Top Ten “Tonight,” which extended the consecutive top ten singles chart run to an amazing nine records. The album was eventually certified triple platinum, selling close to twenty million copies worldwide.

The group performed an estimated two hundred concerts a year, with an extravagant worldwide concert tour that summer, called The Magic Summer Tour, sponsored by Coke. Their pay-per-view special was the biggest in cable-TV history to that date. During this time, the group became heavily merchandised; more than one hundred and forty products that were licensed with NKOTB trademarks. These included lunch boxes, packing trunks, sleeping bags, pillow cases, T-shirts, comic books, dolls, and even a Saturday morning cartoon in their likeness. That series was on ABC from 1990-91 (with reruns the following year on the Disney Channel). Though the group appeared in live action clips, the voices of the New Kids were done by other voice actors (two of them also did Captain Planet). A video game based on the group was set to be introduced for the NES, but was never released.

New Kids on the Block’s official fan club had a membership of over one hundred thousand names, and received thirty-thousand letters a day. Approximately one hundred thousand calls per week were dialed to 1-900-909-5KIDS, the Official NKOTB Hotline, as well. The group topped Forbes’ list of highest paid entertainers of 1990, beating out the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna. Further capitalizing on the fame, at year’s end, Columbia Records released No More Games/The Remix Album - a compilation of the group’s biggest hits remixed, the album also brought along two more released songs in “Call It What You Want” and “Games” in which videos were released also.

The group released no new material in 1991, but went overseas and continued to tour throughout Europe and Asia. That summer, Wood and Wahlberg co-wrote and produced the debut album from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - headed by Mark Wahlberg, Donnie’s brother and former New Kid. Mark’s album scored a number one hit with “Good Vibrations,” and a platinum album.

In early 1992, the group released a new stand-alone single, “If You Go Away.” The song peaked at number sixteen on the US charts. Meanwhile, as the music industry was still reeling from the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal, the group found themselves accused by a former engineer of not having sung all of the 1988 hit album Hangin’ Tough. They immediately struck back, going on a minor publicity blitz to refute the allegation, which culminated with an interview and a live performance on The Arsenio Hall Show. Although the allegation would later recanted by the accuser, it didn’t stop the group from noticing that their popularity had waned.

In 1993, after having split from Maurice Starr, the group shortened their name to the acronym NKOTB. In January 1994, their fourth studio album, Face the Music, was released. Their first studio album in close to four years, Face the Music, was a musical departure from the group’s previous efforts. Nearly all the songs were written and/or co-produced by the group. In spite of some positive critical reception, the album failed to live up to commercial expectation. The album’s final single to chart was “Dirty Dawg” (which featured a rap cameo by Nice & Smooth), peaking at number sixty-six on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single, “Never Let You Go”, failed to chart.

NKOTB went on tour to support the album, playing smaller venues such as clubs and theaters, as opposed to the arenas and stadiums they were once accustomed to. Group member Jonathan Knight departed the tour early, after experiencing increased panic attacks and anxiety. Shortly thereafter, the remaining four decided to cancel the rest of the tour, and the group disbanded altogether in June 1994.

After the group’s split, most of the group members started families and began to venture into other avenues. Jonathan Knight and Danny Wood maintained low profiles, but the other three became prominent solo performers.

In 1999, MTV attempted to reunite the group and get them to perform on that year’s VMAs. All of the members were on board for the project, except Jonathan Knight. Consequently, the performance didn’t happen.

In 2004, Aamer Haleen, host of VH1’s Bands Reunited, also attempted to coerce each of the members of New Kids on the Block to reunite for a one-night performance for the show. This time Jonathan Knight agreed. However, Joe McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, and Danny Wood all declined. While Wood and Wahlberg declined on-camera interviews, McIntyre cited that the only way he would perform with the band was if the group would make the decision to reunite permanently.

On April 3, 2008, Donnie Wahlberg told CNN that the band had reunited, and were recording an album of new material, and was planning to tour. The producer RedOne previewed several tracks for a Boston Globe interviewer later that month; some of the song titles on the new album include “Click Click Click” featuring Nasri (who is the producer, along with Hakim AbdulSamad and Adam Messinger, of the original and the NKOTB rendition), “Close to You”, “Looking Like Danger”, “Big Boy/Big Girl” featuring Lady GaGa, and “Summertime”. They’re also working on a song for the new album called “Full Service” which will feature New Edition. Some other song titles, “Two in The Morning”, “Single” and “Dirty Dancing”. The new album, The Block, will be released in September 2008.

In May 2008, the group released “Summertime”, as a downloadable single on various online digital music services. They also posted the tune on their MySpace page. The new album, according to Billboard magazine, was not expected until the fall. The song immediately turned up on several radio stations, including WXKS-FM (Kiss 108) in their home city of Boston, Massachusetts. It received 114 spins across two formats (CHR/Pop and Hot AC) in its first day. A music video for “Summertime” was shot on May 9, 2008.

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