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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hangin' Tough

I'll be perfectly honest with all of you.  This blog post is dedicated to the ladies of the audience today.  In particular, those ladies who might be between the ages of, oh, 31 and 46.  I imagine that most of you between those ages would probably appreciate this SUNDAY JUKEBOX entry more than anyone.

And the reason why I decided to include an age bracket in this blog entry today is because this song happened to become a #1 hit exactly twenty-five years ago this week.  So, that would be during a time in which you would have been between the ages of 6-21.  But, I'm only really guessing here.  Perhaps some of you might remember listening to these guys while you were sipping a bottle in your playpen, and others might remember listening to them as you entered your golden years wondering who those nice boys on the radio were. 

All I know is that when these guys were on the top of the charts, I was just entering the third grade.  And, if my third grade classroom was any indication, I guess you could say that all the girls in my class had fallen under their spell in a big way. 

When my third grade year began in September 1989, I think that most of the girls in my classroom had at least one piece of memorabilia that had the faces of the boys that called themselves "The New Kids on the Block".  Some of them opted to showcase their love of the band by wearing a concert T-shirt with all five members on the front of it.  Some carried their New Kids on the Block pencil sharpeners and New Kids on the Block pencils inside of their New Kids on the Block pencil cases.  And, I'm sure that if our school allowed walkmans and ghetto blasters to be played in the hallway, we'd hear most of the girls at my school listening to the band on cassette tapes and compact discs.

Mind you, it wasn't just the third grade that NKOTB fever struck.  With the exception of the kindergarten aged kids (who were immersed in the song stylings of Raffi, or Eric Nagler), you'd be hard pressed to find one classroom that didn't have at least one major New Kids on the Block fan.

I still remember this one girl at my school who was in my third grade class.  I think her name was Lisa, or something like that.  I do know it started with an "L".  Anyway, I would classify her as being one of the biggest fans of the New Kids on the Block ever.  She had every accessory, and she had every single album (which granted, back in 1989, amounted to two), and she could often be found singing along to some of the band's singles both outside of class, and inside of class - which often got her into trouble in class by the teacher.  But hey, I suppose you couldn't fault her for it.  She did have a genuine love for the band, and she wanted to show her affection for them.

They certainly weren't the first boy band to exist, but they were far from being the last.  In fact, some might say that the band came around at the perfect time, as there really was nothing else like them at the time they struck it big.

Particularly with today's featured Sunday Jukebox track, which became the band's second #1 single.

ARTIST:  New Kids on the Block
SONG:  Hangin' Tough
ALBUM:  Hangin' Tough
DATE RELEASED:  July 3, 1989

Actually, "Hangin' Tough" could be a great way to describe the New Kids on the Block in general, for they've managed to stick together as a band off and on for the past twenty-eight years.  And despite some controversy, some solo efforts, and a dry spell that lasted nearly a decade and a half, the band seems to be gaining a new appreciation from a younger set of fans.

So, who are the New Kids on the Block?  Well, here they are as they appeared back in 1988 - the year that they released their sophomore disc "Hangin' Tough".

From left to right, we have Donnie Wahlberg, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Jonathan Knight, and Danny Wood.  And how they came to be known as the New Kids on the Block is an interesting story that takes place in the band's hometown of Boston, Massachusetts.

The year was 1984, and Maurice Starr had just severed ties with the R&B group that he helped create - a little band that called themselves "New Edition" - and he and his business partner Mary Alford were looking to repeat the same success.  The idea was to create another band similar to New Edition, only instead of using African-American singers, they would use Caucasian.

The first member recruited to the band was Donnie, who at fifteen had mad rapping skills and the ability to put on an energetic show.  And Donnie also managed to recruit at least three other members - brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight (Donnie and Jordan were once classmates), as well as Danny Wood (who happened to be a childhood friend of Donnie's younger brother), who was also considered a candidate for the new band.

You may have heard of him.  A guy by the name of Mark Wahlberg.  He's a big-time movie actor now, but he almost became a New Kid!  But before the band could start recording, Mark decided not to stick with the band after all.  Of course, interestingly enough, Mark would briefly transform himself into Marky Mark, who along with his Funky Bunch would score a #1 hit in 1991 with "Good Vibrations".

But with Mark's departure came the search for a new fifth member.  It seemed as though the New Kids on the Block had found their fifth in Jamie Kelly, but Kelly was soon let go because the death of his father caused him to lose concentration and he lacked the motivation to stick with it.  It was then decided that the fifth member was to be considerably younger than the other members of the group, as Maurice Starr had felt that a member with a voice like Michael Jackson during the Jackson 5 era would be exactly what the band needed, so as a result, twelve year old Joey McIntyre made up the fifth and final member of the band - a move which Donnie, Jordan, Jonathan, and Danny disliked because they felt that Joey was brought on to replace their good friend. 

Luckily for Joey, the other four members soon got over it, and welcomed him into the fold with open arms just before the group released their 1986 self-titled album.  Unfortunately, the album was a failure on the charts, but Starr refused to give up on the band.  And the New Kids weren't about to give up on their dream of making it big on the pop charts that easily.

(And, I suppose that the group made a wise decision in calling themselves the New Kids on the Block.  Their original band name was "Nynuk"!)

The group returned to the recording studio in 1987 to record their second album - and this time they were doing it their own way.  Of course, Maurice Starr did ultimately have the final say, but the guys did input their own personal style to the songs and their general look - enough to warrant giving three of the five New Kids (Donnie, Jordan, and Danny) associate production credits.  When the first single from the album "Please Don't Go Girl" was released in the spring of 1988, it once again didn't seem to make much of an impression, and it appeared as though the New Kids on the Block were going to be dropped from Columbia Records roster.

But then it happened.  A little radio station in Florida started playing the record, and within a few weeks, it became the most requested song on their playlist.  This was enough for Columbia Records to not only keep the band on their roster, but the company took a chance and filmed a professional music video to promote the single.  That gamble paid off.  "Please Don't Go Girl" became the band's first Top 10 hit.

Two more singles from "Hangin' Tough" followed.  The danceable "You Got It (The Right Stuff)", and the ballad "I'll Be Loving You Forever" (which became the group's first #1 hit). 

The title track (which you've heard up above) was the group's fourth single, and in addition to topping the charts in the United States, it also peaked at #1 in both Ireland and the UK.  In fact, in the United Kingdom, "Hangin' Tough" was the first #1 hit of the 1990s!

The single was also prominently featured in the 1989 film "The Wizard", and was even covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks for their 1991 album "The Chipmunks Rock the House"!  Don't believe me?  Click HERE to listen to it!

And, I suppose that the song title (and album title for that matter) would be the best way to describe the New Kids on the Block, for they managed to endure quite a lot of things and yet still have found a way to stay relevant in the music world.

It's no secret that between 1988 and 1991, the New Kids on the Block were one of the most popular acts of that era.  They sold more than 80 million records worldwide, won a couple of American Music Awards in 1990, was nominated for a Grammy Award that same year, and saw their first nine singles reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts.  But right around mid-1991, the band's popularity began to fade amidst allegations that the band had lip-synched their live performances, and that other performers (namely Maurice Starr) had actually sang their vocals instead.  Keep in mind that these allegations were coming out right around the time that Milli Vanilli experienced their fall from grace after admitting exactly that they had not sang one note on their debut album. 

Of course, the band completely denied the allegations brought forth by Gregory McPherson, and issued a lawsuit against him in February 1992 - immediately after the band interrupted an Australian tour to fly back to Los Angeles to appear on "The Arsenio Hall Show" to prove that, yes, they could actually sing - though they did admit that Maurice Starr did sing on the disc via backing vocals.  But that hardly matched the level of scandal brought forth by Milli Vanilli.  And McPherson, who must have felt as if he had egg on his face, later recanted his allegations.

However, the damage had been done.  Their concerts were no longer must-see events, album sales dropped, and pop music was being phased out for the grunge movement of the early 1990s.  This prompted the band to split up following the release of their 1994 album "Face the Music".

That break up would last thirteen years. 

I imagine many people were absolutely gobsmacked by the news in late 2007 that the band had secretly gotten back together after thirteen years to record a brand new album of original songs.  And, I imagine that people were even more shocked that their first single in thirteen years actually cracked the Top 40!

ARTIST:  New Kids on the Block
SONG:  Summertime
ALBUM:  The Block
DATE RELEASED:  May 13, 2008

Okay, here's a confession.  I actually don't mind this song at all!

And in 2011, the band made history once more by joining forces with the Backstreet Boys and forming a supergroup known as NKOTBSB.  The two groups actually toured together during 2011 and 2012!  And, I suppose that the mix-up proved very successful as Jordan Knight and Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys just released an album together two weeks ago under the group name "Nick & Knight".

Interestingly enough, many of the members of the New Kids had successes in their own right.  Donnie Wahlberg made a successful transition from singing to acting and has filmed several movies and television shows - currently appearing on CBS' "Blue Bloods".  Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre have released solo albums which had moderate success, and Joey even appeared as a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars".  Danny Wood still performs on occasion, but now spends his time being a sales executive for Halcyon.  And Jonathan Knight has mostly stayed away from the entertainment business and went into real estate, and revealed that he was openly gay and had been living that way for over two decades.

But, you know - for a band to start off on top, hit rock bottom, and slowly climb their way back into relevancy - that's the very definition of "Hangin' Tough", I'd say.

And on October 9, 2014, the band will soon have a permanent reminder of their fame and success - that's when they will get their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

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