In every era of pop music, boy bands have elicited irrepressible shrieks from adoring female fans. In the ’60s, it was the Beatles. In the ’70s, the Jackson 5. More recently, the likes of Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, who then passed the boy band baton to One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer.
In 1989, it was New Kids on the Block’s turn to rule music like only boy bands can.
After Boston-based producer/songwriter Maurice Starr had formed New Edition, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985 with “Cool It Now,” he followed with New Kids on the Block – brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood. While their self-titled first LP didn’t hit the Billboard 200 upon its release, follow-up Hangin’ Tough filled the late ’80s boy band void, yielding five infectious Hot 100 top 10s, including the quintet’s first No. 1 in June 1989, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever).” The ballad followed the No. 10-peaking “Please Don’t Go Girl” and the No. 3 hit “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” which built even more buzz.
On Sept. 9, 1989 – 25 years ago today – New Kids’ rise culminated in the set and its title track taking over atop the Billboard 200 and Hot 100, respectively. The set was a slow-burner that took 55 weeks to reach the Billboard 200 summit, completing one of the longest climbs to No. 1 in the chart’s history.
By years’ end, New Kids on the Block had charted at last on the Billboard 200, reaching No. 25, and generated its own top 10, the group’s No. 8 cover of the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind).” The group even gleaned a top 10 from a third album, the holiday set Merry, Merry Christmas, when “This One’s for the Children” reached No. 7. In between, Hangin’ Tough‘s fifth single “Cover Girl” rose to No. 2.
(On their summer 1989 tour, New Kids on the Block – and former Billboard publisher Tommy Page, then in his teen-idol days – set out as the opening acts for Tiffany. By the end of the tour, Tiffany and the unstoppable New Kids had swapped spots.)
The Kids’ blend of street (i.e., Wahlberg’s semi-rap on “Hangin’ Tough”) and sweet (Jordan Knight and McIntyre served as the voices of the band’s biggest ballads) helped make them a chart, touring and merchandise powerhouse, one that continued with 1990’s Step by Step. Like its predecessor, the album and its title song became respective Billboard 200 and Hot 100 No. 1s. Follow-up single “Tonight,” which playfully name-checks several of the act’s earlier hits, rose to No. 7.
Ultimately, the group earned the honor of Billboard‘s top artist of both 1989 and 1990.
As musical trends shifted from pure-pop to rap and grunge, New Kids on the Block released the No. 37-peaking Face the Music (billed as NKOTB) in 1994 before taking a hiatus. With enough time passed for nostalgia to help restore its image (along with a return to prominence for pop music), the band blew back in 2008 with the No. 2 hit album The Block (featuring a track with then-new act Lady Gaga), which yielded the quintet’s first top 40 Hot 100 hit since 1992, the No. 36-peaking “Summertime.” Last year’s album 10 hit No. 6.
In between its last two proper albums, the act embraced its place in boy band lineage: In 2011, it released NKOTBSB, a collaborative set with Backstreet Boys, which hit No. 7. The acts’ partnership has continued in the form of Nick & Knight, aka BSB’s Nick Carter and New Kid Jordan, via their Sept. 2 self-titled debut release as a duo.
“You appreciate things more later in life,” Wood told Billboard last year.
“Jon sneaks out of the hotel at 2 in the morning for Starbucks with fans,” Wahlberg added. “Everyone in this group will put everything aside to give more time to our fans. And, not just on Twitter, not just in generic ways. In real, genuine ways.
“We’ve built a relationship with our fans and it’s very special. It’s unlike any other group.”
A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard magazine