I’m going to confess now: if anybody asks me what was the first gig I ever went to I always say Soul II Soul. Actually it was New Kids on the Block. Soul II Soul was the second, infinitely hipper and far kinder on my ears gig I went to a year or so later, but who needs to know that? Apart from you now, obviously. I say I went to a New Kids on the Block concert; I was definitely there but I can’t actually say I heard any of it. What I did hear, however, was the sound of around 4,500 teenage girls screaming for 2 hours. Actually, I only really saw four fifths of the concert as well; Danny (the one nobody fancied) had thoughtlessly broken his ankle sometime before and didn’t bother turning up. In terms of value for money I think it was a bit of a swizz quite frankly. In order to claw some credibility back here it’s only fair to mention that I didn’t even want to see the New Kids (I’ll be experimenting with what to call them throughout this article) live anyway. I did when I booked the ticket, clearly; when I was an impressionable recently-turned-thirteen-year-old and they’d only just appeared on the British pop scene, but they publicised the event so far in advance that by the time the date came round I was fourteen, and my musical tastes had moved on as far as Bros. I’m not embarrassed about liking them; ripped jeans and bottle tops on shoes?
They were COOL. So let’s recap; my friend and I queued for what seemed like hours at the venue, for a band we were no longer interested in, surrounded by girls who looked like they were going to faint if somebody even said the names ‘Jordan’, ‘Jonathan’, ‘Joey’, ‘Donnie’ or ‘Danny’ near them. We amused ourselves by shouting out ‘Matt’ or ‘Luke’ excitedly at every official looking car that drove past. If looks could kill… The five aforementioned ‘Kids’ hailed from Boston (they still hail from there by the way, they’re not dead), Massachusetts and were formed in 1984 by Maurice Starr, the man who discovered New Edition. He also created another boyband, Perfect Gentlemen, but as you won’t have heard of them we’ll move straight on. When Starr held his auditions for the Blocks he was impressed by Donnie Wahlberg. Only fifteen, he could dance, sing and rap and had charisma; he became the first member of the new boy band. Donnie introduced Starr to his best friend Danny ‘Oh, my ankle hurts, I’ll have to let everybody down’ Wood and his own brother Mark (aka ‘Marky Mark Wahlberg’) as well as Jordan Knight, who Donnie once attended school with. The final member was Jonathan Knight, Jordan’s elder brother. The first line-up was complete. It didn’t last long. Mark quit before the group even got into the recording studio, with yet another friend of Donnie’s, Jamie Kelly, stepping into Mark’s not-as-muscly-right-then-as-he-would-be-later space. Jamie didn’t make the final cut either; he was asked to leave after his dad’s death apparently affected his dedication to the band (really?) and Starr recruited a then 12 year old Joey McIntyre to take the numbers back up to five. They started rehearsing around their school hours and later Columbia Records offered them a contract, under their then name of Nynuk. I only have a dubious website to go on for an explanation of this, but it may have been a play on the film ‘Nanook of the North.’ It may not have been of course, so don’t go relying on that in a pub quiz. Thankfully the boys soon changed it to a moniker that was slightly more memorable, thanks to a rap of the same name that Donnie and Starr wrote for the first album, and New Kids on the Block was born. In 1986 their debut album, the imaginatively titled New Kids on the Block, was released, and neither this nor the two singles released from it did very much to help the guys in their quest to be stars. They decided that they wanted to step away from that sort of cheesy pop (really? All their stuff sounds pretty similar to me…) and so with their second attempt they challenged Starr to let them have much more say on their sound as well as their styling. The next single to be released, Please Don’t Go Girl, passed by without a fanfare in spring 1988, and Columbia were on the verge of letting the Kids go before a Florida radio station added it to their playlist. Before long it was their most requested song and the label decided to hang on to their signings for a little while longer. Throwing a bit more marketing behind the group worked, and Please Don’t Go Girl wound up reaching number 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles Chart. Hangin’ Tough, the second album, was released in September 1988 and whilst it still didn’t shoot the band to stardom immediately, the combination of television appearances, touring with baggy-jumpered teen pop sensation Tiffany and follow-up single You Got It (The Right Stuff) regularly featuring on MTV meant that the Blocks’ popularity grew steadily. You Got It reached the top five in early 1989, and the next one, I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) landed the number one spot in June the same year. Suddenly Tiffany was opening for them. Singles Hangin’ Tough and Cover Girl also climbed into the top five later in 1989 and by the end of the year the album was number one on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart, not to mention that it had gone eight-times platinum. It eventually spent 132 weeks on the chart and won two American Music Awards. At the same time New Kids released another album - Merry, Merry Christmas – which went double platinum and from which all the proceeds went to charity United Cerebral Palsy. Their documentary Hangin’ Tough, which showcased their four hits and a live concert, won a Grammy nomination and became one of the best-selling music videos ever. New Kid mania exploded in 1990; the album Step by Step arrived in May and this time the band had co-written and produced over 50 per cent of the tracks. Single Step by Step reached number one, and the follow up, Tonight, took the band’s number of consecutive singles entering the top ten to nine. Hits in the UK and Japan reinforced their global popularity and if that wasn’t enough, this album went triple platinum – nearly 20 million copies were sold across the world. If you wanted more than just the songs you could buy merchandise. A lot of merchandise. Lunchboxes, badges, t-shirts, dolls, trading cards and more started churning out of the New Kids’ machine, totting up around 400 million dollars’ worth of sales. Their fan club also had over 200,000 members. (I didn’t buy anything or join the fan club, in case you were wondering.) 1991 saw Donnie, Danny, Jordan, Jon and Joey rocketing to the top of the Forbes’ highest paid entertainers’ list – this was above massive stars such as Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Columbia seized on the moment to release No More Games/The Remix Album, which saw their biggest hits – er, remixed – as well as including two new singles, Call It What You Want and Games, which reached number 12 and 14 respectively in the UK. No other new material came out that year as the Kids were touring extensively in Asia and Europe. Fame can be a short-lived affair (as Joe Dolce, Robin Beck and that duo who did the theme tune for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will tell you), and 1992 saw New Kids begin to slide down the fickle slope of popularity. An accusation of lip-syncing and a defamation lawsuit, a more vocal backlash from their critics and a drop in sales led to their separation from Maurice Starr, a change of name to the initials NKOTB (yep – that’s a winning idea boys. Catchy) and a fourth album release in 1994. Face the Music (look, by the time this came out I was in sixth form college – of course I’ve never heard of it…) was nearly all conceived by the band themselves and went down well with many reviewers, but still didn’t sell particularly well. The tour to support the album featured much smaller venues than before; their days of selling out stadiums were over. And just like that, the band were over too. Jon had been experiencing anxiety and panic attacks since the beginning of his pop career, and around this time they started getting worse; to the effect that Jon felt his only option was to leave the group. The rest of the Kids called it a day shortly afterwards. An attempt by MTV to reunite the in 1999 was unsuccessful due to Jon’s reluctance to join in; a 2004 try by the host of Bands Reunited, a VH1 project, got Jon on board but this time Joey, Donnie and Wood decided not to be part of it. Blockettes all over the world probably cried. (I don’t know if that was actually what their fans were called but it seems likely.) But hang on, what’s this? In 2008 all five of the boys were back and so was their original name! Singles Summertime and Single (confusing) and album The Block (cos they’re the new kids on it, see? Even though by then they should realistically have been called Old Kids or Grown Up Men on the Block I would have thought) were released and a world tour began in Canada and the US, with Lady Gaga amongst their support acts. In 2009 the slightly strange New Kids on the Block annual themed cruises began sailing - no time to go into detail here, but that in itself sounds WEIRD. For US boy band fans, the news in 2010 that Old/New Kids on the Block would be touring with R&B harmony maestros Backstreet Boys as NKOTBSB (which, if the initials still mean what they meant with each respective group, sounds a bit dubious) must have sent them into a frenzy. The supergroup (and by that I mean that they’re a big and famous group, not that I think the collaboration was marvellous) played 80 concerts across the globe between May 2011 and June 2012, and released a compilation album. And for anybody worried about it, the Middle-Aged Kids on the Block are still together and, as far as I know, still performing. Phew. I shall be keeping an eye on them in the future; I’m particularly looking forward to seeing whether they will be honest with their name as the years creep up on them. ‘Please welcome to the stage (slowly…): Pensioners on the Block!’ It could happen.