11
Oct 10

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK – “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”

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#636, 25th November 1989

The arrival of the modern boy band, as much due to demographics as sound. Though Maurice Starr’s concept – New Edition, but white – dates from the mid-80s, the band were an inititial flop. But by 1988 they were a better fit: this pop-R&B sound seemed like the kind of thing a bunch of street-smart white kids might make – or rather, it could be pitched as such to the younger and less street-smart white kids Starr wanted to buy it. The boys’ looks and moves would do the rest.

In the UK we got New Kids in one great compressed spurt – the promo campaigns for Hangin’ Tough and Step By Step collapsing into each other so the band were suddenly inescapable for most of a year, new hits arriving every second month. This also meant their breakthrough hit here wasn’t the sweet bumfluff soul of “Please Don’t Go Girl” but the far more stripped-down and active “Right Stuff”. And the romantic flourishes here – the “all that I needed was you…” bits – feel like trimmings, with the point of the record being that chunky keyboard riff and beat. Or rather, the dancing the riff enables – motion is as central to this song as to any house hit, but it’s the performers’ movement, not the audience’s, which counts. In the video, the ‘story’ – NKOTB as a teen posse, driving around and goofing around – is separated from the dancing, which becomes an abstracted selling point in its own right. (Easy to do now you’ve severed the group from all that distracting ‘instruments’ nonsense).

But is it a good record? Well, not really. It’s cute, the riff is memorable, but the boys’ singing – cloying but pretty on “Please Don’t Go Girl” – is subdued here. When they have to end each riff with a chanted “The right stuff!” they sound like boys mumbling “Amen” in school assembly, and it deadens the mood not amplifies it. But even without that buzz-harsher, Maurice Starr’s electro-funk production would feel leaden and lumpy. It’s hard to tell whether this is because the style is a couple of years behind the times (the keyboards especially shriek 1986) or just that Starr isn’t especially good with this relatively heavier sound. Either way, it makes for a long four minutes.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Tom on 13 Oct 2010 #

    The support at AP were DJs – “Oakie” I believe – rather than bands, which chimes with my ‘allied with the future’ line too. Of course the sound was crap enough for bands: for the DJs it was if anything even worse, and not many were dancing. In fact my main memory of the entire thing is being impressed by two very energetic shirtless ravers having it large while most of us huddled morosely against the walls of the cavernous venue – my first encounter with E’d-up dancers, so it all felt a bit transgressive by association.

  2. 52
    wichita lineman on 13 Oct 2010 #

    I wonder what their previous London show was? I’d guess Dingwalls, when Made Of Stone came out, but I’m sure it’s documented somewhere. The jump from a 300 capacity London venue to 8,000 in a few months was unprecedented back then and certainly added to their aura (something James and Inspiral Carpets tried to bask in by playing the Blackpool Empress Ballroom and Ally Pally within eighteen months).

  3. 53

    If Mannion and Asher are correct up above, and NKotB are indeed a way station between Visage in the 80s, the Neptunes and grime in the 00s, then their purchase on futurity has turned out surprisingly stronger (soundwise) than seemed at the time. I actually have a theory about this but it’s pressday and I keep getting interrupted so you’ll have to wait!

    (I’ve never been to the Allie Pally but I find it hard to imagine it ever has good sound.)

  4. 54
    wichita lineman on 13 Oct 2010 #

    Sigur Ros sounded good at Ally Pally – anything washy and beatless probably fares best.

    Gosh, I don’t get this NKOTB way station thing. Wouldn’t New Edition, personnel and soundwise, have done the job already? And Candy Girl was super-now in ’83, whereas The Right Stuff and NKOTB generally make me think of late 70s US teen idols like Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy, a few years adrift of what was happening in the UK.

  5. 55
    Steve Mannion on 13 Oct 2010 #

    I wasn’t suggesting any connection between Visage and Grime re NKOTB! Just that Maurice Starr’s idea of pop didn’t seem to advance after ‘Candy Girl’ and in fact ‘The Right Stuff’ is a wishy-washier retread of that early 80s sound and doesn’t anticipate any new trend. But maybe I was exaggerating Bell Biv Devoe’s own ‘nowness’ tho and their big singles could’ve come out a few years earlier too.

  6. 56
    Rory on 13 Oct 2010 #

    @49: a “fairly decent album”!? [Mops brow, sits down, has calming cup of tea.]

    NKOTB: Bleah. 3. Next… wait, no! Not the next! Damn.

  7. 57

    Don’t walk it back Steve! My theory and reputation depends on your wayward ear!

    (I know you were connecting a Jordan Knight production w/the Neps: Asher was the one mentioned grime…)

  8. 58
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Oct 2010 #

    @56 Well, I, too, LOVED it at the time, quite irrationally, uncritically.

    But in retrospect maybe half of the tracks, possibly more, have little of substance to them…

    (thinks; oh God, not one, not two, but three shite number ones coming up next)

  9. 59
    Tom on 13 Oct 2010 #

    #59 There’s the year and decade polls in between if we can just drag ourselves over the 80s/90s line on Friday.

    I haven’t listened to TSR for years – I went off them rapidly after “One Love” and found their constant indie-disco rotation a bit of a burden. Now I’m quite curious what I’d think. Might try it.

  10. 60
    Rory on 13 Oct 2010 #

    @58 When I look at its track listing I see enough absolute classics to more than make up for the less-classic tracks among them. Especially as my copy is the 1991 UK reissue, with “Elephant Stone” in the middle and “Fool’s Gold” at the end.

    And that’s even after the drawing-back-the-curtain effect of “Second Coming”.

  11. 61
    Rory on 13 Oct 2010 #

    Oops, I mean “Fools Gold” with no apostrophe (he adds hurriedly after reading punctum’s JB comment, ahem) (after trying to edit the above comment and not being allowed) (and why didn’t they use one anyway?).

  12. 62
    Steve Mannion on 13 Oct 2010 #

    Chelovek think of it as being only three (or imo four) #1s from perhaps the greatest run of chart toppers ever.

  13. 63

    maybe fools is a verb?

  14. 64
    Rory on 13 Oct 2010 #

    “Fools Gold (into playing indie hits instead of their usual stuff)”

  15. 65
    Chelovek na lune on 13 Oct 2010 #

    #62. No, sorry, can’t agree. When’s better? Would need to check some lists, but early 80s or early 70s might be more obviously promising imho. And that’s not even considering the horrific sequence at the top later in the summer, with the “help” of some more anthropomorthised critters.

    This is what I call Fools Gold… or indeed, What The World Is Waiting For

  16. 66
    Steve Mannion on 13 Oct 2010 #

    The fool is (Murray) Gold: So futuristic it was beamed back to the year Doctor Who was cancelled by an Ian Brown annoyed by the changes to the theme tune.

  17. 67
    Erithian on 13 Oct 2010 #

    Funny, had the Doctor Who theme on my mind just as you posted that. The BBC was showing footage from a camera attached to the top of the capsule taking the Chilean miners to the surface, and it looked strangely akin to the DW opening titles!

  18. 68
    Daniel - Yurtdisi Egitim on 14 Oct 2010 #

    They were a product what was getting along well with the fashion of music, that would be used to make money through popularity among teenagers and kids. Used and thrown away when shelf life was over.
    Now we see such products in different shapes, that will be remembered like NKOTB.

  19. 69

    OK,. the “theory” I had, now that I have a bit of time to set it down, was something like this.

    Something that often happens in TV programmes for small kids is that they’re somewhat salted with material to amuse the grown-ups condemned to watch along. Material that will simply pass the kids by — little jokes or references or whatever — which will make having to sit through it less of a chore. Probably makes making the programme less of a chore, also.

    So I wondered if boyband production doesn’t have a similar dimension, especially latterly, once production work is less the in-house signature of the impresario steering the boy-band project (as it might be with Maurice Starr), but something brought in from independent production crews for hire with their own approach (as the Neps would be).

    So what I’m suggesting is this: the core project — of placing a boyband before its primary audience — is the responsibility of the record company; the production obviously mustn’t stand in the way of this, but the exploration of musicality isn’t (necessarily) relevant to this core project. Or let’s say it’s sometimes fairly low on the list of priorities.

    But still, the hired-in production company have enough space to help developp their own sound, to explore and dvelop production ideas that proceed as attractions for “the grown-ups”; those listening (other musicians; other industry types) who are not there JUST for the kick of the hottness and/or curteness of the band itself.

    In fact, if the boyband is a little bland and featureless, all the better for this element of production: the teen-directed sexiness is handed over to the dancing boys (who also sing as much or as little as is needed); but the musicality is an unpoliced space to develop ideas that can be used elsewhere to full developed effect, possibly with singing stars of more robust technical expressivity)

    (This idea isn’t new: it’s present in Spector, in the sense that some of his “stars” were pretty non-descript, while others — Ronnie for example — had enormous talent and presence)

    Anyway, the takeway of my theory is that the weediness of a boyband isn’t necessarily a drawback for the producers: they get to deliver an interest backing production; to try things out; to attract industry attention…

    I’m not suggesting that this is happening with all boybands ()it certainly isn’t); or that all boybands are equally featureless (they’re not); what I am suggesting is that the best music needn’t necessarily be determined by the most blazingly talented frontpeople. Sometimes a certainly flimsiness upfront creates space elsewhere in the music for interesting stuff to go on…

  20. 70
    Steve Mannion on 17 Oct 2010 #

    Yes indeed lord s this has been the crux of my interest in pop production particularly – the tug of war between the vocalist’s personality (or lack of) and the producer’s personality as it manifests in the music. Those who know my tastes will know I hold more interest in and value on the latter. That said, as a big fan of records like ‘I Feel For You’ and ‘Billie Jean’ I’m a firm believer in big production and big voices working together, even if the singer hates/hated the outcome. But even with average voices there’s some scope for working with more space – ‘Gone’ was as interesting to me an NSync single as ‘Pop’, for example.

  21. 71
    DietMondrian on 18 Oct 2010 #

    On the (slightly off-) topic of material for the adults that slips the kids by, my favourite of these was Hulk Hogan taking part in a quiz set by Trevor and Simon on Going Live:

    Trevor (or Simon): “What is your name?”
    Hulk Hogan (confidently): “Hulk Hogan.”
    Trevor (or Simon): “No, sorry, the answer we have on the card is Hull Kingston Rovers…”
    (Cur Hogan having pretend hissy fit and smashing up set, sound off camera of floor crew laughing.)

  22. 72
    Garry on 23 Oct 2010 #

    This is where pop lost me for a few years. Having my earliest memories of the New Romantics, Dire Straits etc, the boy bands were god awful. I was 12 when this came out, and they were so far away from the teens I saw, I loathed it. Kylie and Jason had already made me cringe, and these guys turned me off. I also owned Smash Hits 88, 89 and 90 and I remember liking less songs on each progressive tape.

    The Stone Roses and other developments weren’t played on the radio in my town.

    I’ll be interested to see what comes up in the next couple of years here to see what I recognise or how switched off I was.

  23. 73
    hardtogethits on 6 Apr 2014 #

    #24. Listening to Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’ the other day I found myself expecting a segue into this as “You Can Be Mine” draws to a close.

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