The history of the Boston boy band began in 1978 at Roxbury’s Orchard Park Projects, where pre-teens Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Bobby Brown founded a group that would eventually be dubbed New Edition by choreographer Brooke Payne. In 1981, the group – which then added Ralph Tresvant to Orchard Park as vocalists – caught the attention and ear of so-called impresario and electro producer Maurice Starr at a talent show. Starr was a Florida native who ended up in Boston as a teenager, renamed himself Larry Johnson on a whim, and released a few solo albums.
The boys sang songs from the Jackson 5 and came in second, but Starr was convinced they had the je ne sais quoi that would send them to the top of the charts. Dorchester’s Ronnie DeVoe was added to the mix, and Starr guided the band through the making of their first single and debut album. The style? “80s black chewing gum music,” Starr told The Globe in 1990, a genre that combined the alluring harmonies and percolating beats of young hitmakers of the previous decade such as the Jackson 5s and the Osmonds with the sounds of synth that had popped up in clubs.
It worked like clockwork. New Edition’s “Candy Girl”, released in 1983, reached the top of Billboard’s R&B singles charts and delighted young listeners around the world. But Starr was fired from his guru post later that year, following disputes over the distribution of royalties from the hit record between him and his five counts – and their families.
Starr returned to the drawing board. “I wanted to take the kind of sound that drove black girls crazy and present it to white girls, which is a much bigger market,” Starr told The Globe in 1990. “I wanted a new white edition. I wanted the Osmonds. With soul. In 1984, he teamed up with Mary Alford and started the cast for the group which, in its early days, would be called Nynuk. Donnie Wahlberg was the first member of the group, and he was soon joined by Danny Wood , Jonathan and Jordan Knight, and, finally, Joey McIntyre.
Five seems like a magic number for boy groups. “The Beatles only took four, but not everyone is lucky enough to be The Beatles,” Starr told the Orlando Sentinel in 2007. “Unless you’re Elvis Presley, you have. need five. “
The group – eventually renamed New Kids on the Block – cut their teeth in front of a black audience, first signing to the urban division of CBS Records and covering the Philadelphia soul legends the Delfonics “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) ”when they debuted in 1986. In 1988,“ Please Don’t Go Girl ”, a ballad written by Starr that echoes“ Didn’t I ”in its gentle vibration and emphasizing the vocal range by McIntyre, became the Kids’ first pop hit, and she paved the way for the world domination that would ensue on multiple albums, tours, reunions and even cruises.
Starr and the New Kids went their separate ways in the early ’90s. But his vision of the boy band ideal still resonates nearly four decades after his discovery of New Edition. Acts like 2000s hit boy group ‘N Sync and current K-pop sensation BTS draw heavily on hip-hop and R&B, releasing raps and collaborating with hip-hop stars. peak. And even those super-massive boy groups that are more geared towards Magic-106-ready pop, like the towering Backstreet Boys, charming One Direction, and posh Take That, are taking off from their launch pads as quintets.
“Boston has always been important to us,” New Kids’ Joey McIntyre said in 2017. “I mean, we wore our hearts on our sleeve, we wore where we came from on our sleeves. All of our fans knew, like we would say, we would do it “Boston style.” Other boy band members, budding or in the “man band” phase, play their own way in the same way.
Maura Johnston can be reached at [email protected]