New Kids On The Block – “Hangin’ Tough” – were they rough?

America’s favourite boy band comes of age!

by Christopher Smith

Ahh, New Kids On The Block…who remembers them? We screamed, we bought, we loved, we…forgot them. How could we? The year is 1984 and top producer Maurice Starr (the man behind New Edition) and his business partner Mary Alford wanted to create a new boy band for the mid-80’s and recruited dancer and rapper Donnie Wahlberg (born 1969) and then aged 15 to help them out. Through Donnie came his 13 year old younger brother Mark, Danny Wood (b.1969), Jon Knight (b.1968), his younger brother Jordan (b.1970) and Jamie Kelly (b.1970). No sooner had the group taken shape, Mark Wahlberg decided to return to his studies and Starr was not entirely convinced by Kelly, so he replaced him with the 12 year old Joey McIntyre.

Originally the group were to of been called ‘NYnuk’ and were soon signed to Columbia Records, but the label were not overly impressed with the name and after some ‘deep thinking’, decided upon New Kids On The Block (NKOTB), which was also the title of a rap song Donnie Wahlberg had written for his audition! Recording began for their first album and in March 1986, “Be My Girl” was the group’s first commercial release. It didn’t chart. Undeterred, Starr pushed onwards with the release of their self-titled debut album the following month. This too flopped. A second single “Stop It Girl” was issued, but this too did nothing. Things were not looking good and Starr’s reputation was on the line. The album was not a lasting failure. Once the group had established itself, “New Kids On The Block” would sell over three million copies Stateside and a few million more globally.

The boys spent most of 1987 and 1988 in the studio ‘perfecting’ their second album and this time Starr wanted chart and world success. “Please Don’t Go Girl” was a departure for the group when released in April 1988 as the lead single and, hoorah, it charted! No.10 in fact in America. The album titled “Hangin’ Tough” followed that September and although it was initially slow off the mark, over the next twelve months, it found its feet and its audience. Eight million in fact in The States! A second single followed in November, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, which did even better. No.3 in The US, selling over 700,000 copies.

With the group now established, the hits came thick and fast. “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” topped the chart in April 1989 and that was followed by the title track of the album that Summer to the top. A fifth single “Cover Girl” sealed the five teenagers incredible run when it made No.2 in the early Autumn and that contributed to the albums mega chart and sales success. What was needed now was global recognition! That would come in October with “You Got It” released as the first single. It would top the UK and Australian singles chart and make the top ten across Europe and Asia. “Hangin’ Tough” was not too far behind it and it too topped the UK singles chart and found similar top ten success throughout the rest of the world.

The album would sell a further six million copies internationally and the singles “”I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and “Cover Girl” were classified huge smash hits in practically every territory they were released. While the rest of the world was catching up, America got an unexpected Christmas present that festive season, “Merry, Merry Christmas”! The group released the single “This One’s For The Children” which gave them their seventh consecutive top ten hit in eighteen months while the album would sell more than two million copies, crowning 1989 as the year of New Kids On The Block!

The “Hangin’ Tough” era in all lasted two years with the initial success in The States in the Spring of 1988 through to international success into the early months of 1990. By then, the group were already recording its follow up scheduled for release that Summer. The album was titled “Step By Step” and the title track was released as the lead single in May, topping the US singles chart and reaching the top five across the rest of the world, including a No.2 placing in the UK. The album would repeat the success of its predecessor in gaining the top spot in multiple countries and selling over six million copies.

Two further big hits were achieved with “Tonight” (US No.7, UK No.3) and “Let’s Try It Again” (UK No.8) before the end of the year. And as if that wasn’t enough, another album was released that November “No More Games (The Remix Album)”, which featured the singles “Games”, “Call It What You Want” and “Baby I Believe In You”. Whilst none of them made a dent in the US charts, they were sizable hits across much of the rest of the world and the album went on to sell over 500,000 copies in America and a further 600,000 copies globally.

By the end of 1991, the boys were taking no breaks, having toured the world throughout most of 1990 and into 1991, they returned with a brand new track “If You Go Away”, which perhaps spelled the beginning of the end in the sparkle for the group. This can be attributed to the change in name to just “NKOTB”. The track reached No.16 in the US and No.9 in the UK and was less well thought of elsewhere. At the same time the boys released a greatest hits collection “H.I.T.S.” which did nothing Stateside and only sold a handful of copies elsewhere.

A succession of lawsuits dominated the band over the next two years and in 1993 they split from Maurice Starr. In early 1994 the new “NKOTB” released “Dirty Dawg”, their first new material for nearly three years. The song was not well received, peaking at a lowly No.66 in The States and No.27 in the UK. It fared slightly better in parts of Europe and in Australia. It was the first release from a long awaited fourth studio album “Face The Music”, which would also meet with the same response from their now diminishing fanbase. One more single was lifted from the album, “Never Let You Go”, but this sank without trace. Soon after, the band split.

The boys themselves refused to leave the stage, with Jordan releasing three solo albums, Joey releasing five, Danny beating that with six and Donnie pursuing an acting career! But in April 2008, New Kids fans across the world rejoiced at the news that all five members has reformed and were recording new material for the first time in fifteen years. The single “Summertime” put them back in the charts and was followed by the album “The Block”, which in reaching No.2 in America and No.16 in the UK, gave them their most successful recording since the beginning of the 1990’s. Three further singles were lifted from the album and the ‘boys’ spent the next seven months touring across America, Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands and finally the UK.

Five years later they released their tenth album in total “10”, which featured the singles “Remix” and “The Whisper”. The album reached the top ten in The States and charted across Europe, Japan and in Australia. An EP, “Thankful”, came in 2017 and in early 2019, New Kids On The Block released a brand new track “Boys In The Band”, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the success of the “Hangin’ Tough” album. The video includes appearances from many 80’s US singing stars including Debbie Gibson, with whom they have been touring with across America as part of the Mixtape Tour that has also included Tiffany, Salt’N’Pepa and Naughty By Nature.

It seems we still can’t get enough of those once young lads who continue to prove they’ve still got the right stuff!

New Kids On The Block 2019

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Written by aylshamchris

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