Oct 11

BOYZ II MEN – “End Of The Road”

Popular54 comments • 4,988 views

#682, 31st October 1992

The “End Of The Road” video presented its directors with a logistical dilemma: in a vocal group, what do the other members do when it’s some other dude’s turn to sing? The solution was a sometimes hilarious extended essay in mooching: glum faces, shuffling, shaking heads, three bros feeling the intense purity of their buddy’s pain before it’s their turn to face the camera and plead.

At one point something happens that’s become very familiar: one of the Boyz (or Men) sings, and the others sit beside him straddling chairs. This sequence also serves as a tip-off as to this track’s key inheritors – they may be the best selling R&B band ever (and this song Motown’s biggest-selling hit, astonishingly) but Boyz II Men’s true legacy in the Popular story is the slow boyband: four or five lads on stools, emoting in sequence.

Boyband performances of male earnestness tend to plod, but Boyz II Men are stronger, churchier singers, happy to push “End Of The Road” into grotesquely impassioned territories. Feelings bulge out through the tune like muscles on an Image Comics superhero – by the time I get to the absurd spoken word sequence I’m thinking “they can’t mean this stuff!”. But they do! Of course they do – the whole point of this music is the chicken game it plays with sincerity.

Still, I’m basically the wrong age and the wrong gender for it, and even if I wasn’t “End Of The Road” seems to walk a precarious line. If you listen to the utterly gloopy LP version, two minutes longer, the extra material – mostly more of that unremarkable production – pushes the track into complete incoherence. The single version is just tight enough to work, or it would be if there wasn’t something rather gross about the content: “It’s unnatural / You belong to me” – it’s pressuring and patronising (that smarmy “your first ti-eye-ime”) and for all the bravura slickness leaves me with a rather nasty taste.



1 2 All
  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 7 Oct 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Boyz II Men performed ‘End Of The Road’ on Top of the Pops on four occasions. Details of the Christmas edition shall be provided anon;

    24 September 1992. A live performance by satellite in New Orleans. In the studio that week were; Messiah, Sade, Boy George, Suede, Mike Oldfield and Tasmin Archer. Mark Franklin was the host.

    15 October 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Sunscreem, Bizzre Inc featuring Angie Brown, Doctor Spin and Tasmin Archer, plus a live performance by satellite from Bon Jovi in New York. Mark Franklin was the host.

    29 October 1992. Also in the studio that week were; Go West, Felix, Vanessa Paradis and Rage, plus a live performance by satellite from Erasure on Broadway. Mark Franklin was the host.

  2. 2
    Tom on 7 Oct 2011 #

    #1 I’d forgotten how keen they were on their live performances by satellite.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just the 2 UK TV appearances for Boys II Men on the list;

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH WOGAN: with Craig Charles, Jo Brand, David Sullivan, Eddie Murphy, Boyz II Men (1992)

    THE O ZONE: with Boyz II Men, The Four Tops, Peter Cunnah (1995)

  4. 4
    weej on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Two memories of this; Sarah Greene being serenaded by them on her birthday (who are these people? Why is she excited about them singing to her?), and when they inevitably got to number one a rising feeling of hate for their music and all it stood for. A first real listen in nearly two decades reveals the song to be passable, their vocal talents fairly good, acceptance seems easy enough.
    If they introduced the concept of brooding on bar stools in the near-distance, though, well, I don’t really feel ready to forgive that. Still too soon.

  5. 5
    lex on 7 Oct 2011 #

    OMG I can’t believe you don’t like this Tom – it’s a total unimpeachable classic for me, the ultimate last-dance song – even the most #whitepeople of gatherings respond to it. (Case in point – when Hot Chip DJed on Broadway Market one summer evening a few years ago, they played this last, and EVERYONE started swaying and singing along. It’s a pop culture standard, not just a song, by now.) The way all the instrumentation drops out for the last chorus, and it’s sung acappella + handclaps…so amazing, every time. The harmonies throughout are the most incredible things.

    I think a lot of people get stuck on whether R&B singers really “mean” these impassioned declarations of love. Isn’t the point that these feelings (and this fantasy you’re temporarly buying into) ARE ridiculous and over-the-top? If you need them to mean it, they do. If you don’t, it’s pretty funny. Sometimes both! The spoken word section here makes me melt and crack up at the same time. It’s not about whether they mean it, it’s about whether you (the listener) are open to them meaning it. About whether you mean it!

    It’s interesting that this happens with male R&B singers a lot more than female ones (R Kelly gets it a lot, far too much of his critical re-evaluation was based on only being able to like him once everyone knew that everyone else found him SO HILARIOUS – and the minute her released a classicist ballad-heavy album, far better than the wacky Trapped In The Closet nonsense, it was roundly ignored). Actually, I can’t think of any R&B girl group or female solo singer whose ballads/slow jams elicited this weird “I don’t know if they mean it” fear.

    There was a Guardian music podcast where this was discussed, it was the one in the wake of my anti-Weeknd piece, and I can’t remember who actually said this, but they actually came right out and expressed a discomfort with/dislike of this kind of adult male sexuality, which was honest at least, though no less risible.

    Anyway 10, 10, 10, forever 10.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Although I wouldn’t award this a 10 I agree with Lex. Both the gorgeous harmonies and the tension between passion and restraint in the performances help to raise this above the majority of boy band ballads.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Hated at the time, fairly warmer to it these days (part 357)…nearly as much as I can be for a ballad this emotionally in yer face yet instrumentally slight*. I do like the vague sense of hope in the chorus (by ending on an impressively harmonised ascent notationally) but for all the bluster I never got the sense of desired melancholy that I feel comes through better on their collab with Mariah ‘One Sweet Day’ (plus the evidently sexier ‘Feenin’ by Jodeci). 5 for BIIM in the end because I just never really wanna hear it.

    *To contradict, or make an exception to my rule I think I like Shai’s ‘If I Ever Fall In Love’ more than this too but that may be because it doesn’t compromise at all, being straight a capella.

    I started to like glum (yet uplifting) RnB ballads a bit more after getting MTV (a year after this) when the often epic videos added a kitschier dimension – R Kelly’s ‘Down Low’, ‘Feenin’ as mentioned plus Mary J Blige’s more traditional-sounding (brassier) Rose Royce cover ‘I’m Goin’ Down’. I never actually bought this stuff or made it a major part of my life but ‘End Of The Road’s success above all these makes it a flagpost for a RnB/Swing golden age distinct from its 80s equivalent (‘Hello’ et al), highly revered and fondly remembered by those with any appreciation for the next generation’s take on ‘Soul’ at the time.

  8. 8
    Tom on 7 Oct 2011 #

    #5 I dunno if it’s male sexuality in general that I’m uncomfortable with – could reel off a list of overtly sexual artists I have 0 problem with – so much as the subset of it that is male seduction strategies. The roots of this discomfort are pretty obvious I grant you – it’s basically the same reason people get antsy with “banter”, exaggerated expressions of normative masculine behaviour can seem particularly icky if you can’t pull them off.

    Your point about the “meaning it” stuff is what I was trying to get at with the “chicken game with sincerity” line – the is/isn’t is part of the appeal, for sure! I’m pointing to the hyper-passion as what makes this rise above the boyband approach (where the temporary sincerity is usually all too boringly obvious).

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 7 Oct 2011 #

    #3 I am sure Boyz II Men appeared on Dance Energy performing ‘Motownphilly’, with Normski’s then-sidekick Vas Blackwood goofing around in the same preppy clobber they were rocking at the time. The latter definitely happened, but maybe just along to the video?

  10. 10
    Tom on 7 Oct 2011 #

    So yeah, “I don’t know if they mean it” TOTALLY should code as “Grrr why is it working for them?”!

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 7 Oct 2011 #

    I’m sort of with Lex on this one. It’s not a 10 for me but I think it’s pretty good. It seems a bit of a throwback to me – an entirely welcome one as it goes – to mid 70s soul balladry. Maybe it’s just the spoken word section but it definitely reminds me of The Chi-Lites and various other vocal groups of that era, albeit somewhat updated for the New Jack Swing/modern R&B era. I was able to sing the chorus before I’d even looked it up on Youtube, which given I don’t actually own the song in any format, must mean it made an impression on my young mind and after re-listening and grown up somewhat since its release, for me, it does a pretty good job of hitting a decent tone of regret for the end of a relationship. I even rate the vocals highly – yes, even the one of them who seems to be straining in the lead in to the chorus is doing so to the service of the song’s sentiments; that this is the end of something he doesn’t want to finish. The a capella (with handclaps) breakdown just pushes it higher in my reckoning – it’s not quite as good as En Vogue’s a capella break down in My Lovin’ (but few things are). It really does it for me. Strongest #1 in a while I reckon – certainly since Stay.

  12. 12
    punctum on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Although it was very far from being the last hit on the Motown label, “End Of The Road” was maybe the last recognisable “Motown hit” that most people would remember without looking the rest up, and listening to its full-length 5.48 version, and having grown up with Motown in my bones, it is difficult not to become emotional at the spectre of a long and crucial chapter in music being brought to a close. Everyone involved in its making, from writers/producers LA Reid and Babyface onwards, must have known the record’s real significance, since stylistically it reaches far, far back, towards the fifties street corner symphonies which gave Motown its original life. This may have been recognised by the record’s American buyers, who made it the most commercially successful of all Motown singles and kept it at number one for a then record thirteen weeks. Here in Britain, although the song only stayed on top for three weeks, it had climbed the chart slowly and patiently for over two months – a real slow burner – before peaking, just as in the old days.

    The four members of Boyz II Men take turns to voice the one soul, the soul who knows that he can’t really stop his girl from leaving, but is not confident that he will survive her departure. Their voices cluster and dovetail together just as the teenage Temptations (when they still called themselves the Primes) would have done back in Detroit, but the pain steadily escalates. At first they try to laugh her words off – there is a somewhat forced giggle after the line “Girl, I know you really love me,” and the following lines of “You just don’t realise you’ve never been there before/It’s only your first time” suggest that he may give her the benefit of the doubt (“Maybe I’ll forgive you” – is this “Band Of Gold” narrated from the other perspective?). But then there’s the untrammelled agony of the screaming “Pain in my head/Oh, I’d rather be dead!”

    And finally, the crucial break in the song’s smooth 6/8 journey, as the bass narrator – taking the tradition even further back, to the Mills Brothers and Inkspots – voices (possibly to himself) his true feelings: “When you just hurt me and just ran out with that other fella…baby – I knew about it…I just didn’t care…You just don’t understand how much I love you, do you?” he asks in rhetorical pity. As the song swells up towards its final climax behind him, his hurt becomes more palpable – “Yes baby, my heart is lonely…My heart HURTS, baby…Yes, I feel pain TOO!…Baby PLEASE…”

    So the soul knows her untruth, yet the soul clings because it doesn’t know how not to; because “End Of The Road” stands as a metaphor for the imminent passing of Motown, and the extreme reluctance not to let go of those memories, that sometimes utterable magic…”Although we’ve come to the end of the road/Still I can’t let go/It’s unnatural!/You belong to me…I belong to you!” The music finally fades to leave the voices on their own, clapping their hands to the slow rhythm, back to doo-wop, back to reminding us all how it started; they wave their farewells, the book is closed…but for those of us who lived through even half of Motown as it happened, that book will always remain open. 8

  13. 13
    swanstep on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Clearly these guys could sing their asses off, but I basically share Tom’s blindspot with respect to this one: my principal memory of EOTR is of trying to avoid it/change channels away from it for what seemed like months. (Checking now, it was #1 for 13 weeks in the US. Figures.) B2M’s ‘preppy’ image rubbed me the wrong way too for some doubtless irrational reason.

    I guess I like Prince’s long swoony songs (Adore most obviously) a lot more than EOTR, but I’m also not sure I can really defend that preference. It’s frustrating to feel so unmoved by EOTR when so clearly it does in fact work as ‘the ultimate last dance song’ for a lot of people.

  14. 14
    jim5et on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Is it wrong that my strongest association with this song is “Why doesn’t Michael Jackson like NKOTB?” “Because he prefers Boyz II Men”?

    It’s a lot better – and more traditional – than I remember it from the time. But there’s still something X Factor about it.

  15. 15
    Wheedly on 7 Oct 2011 #

    #14, seems unfair to blame Boyz II men for X Factor balladeering. Those with little talent but no real musicality or discipline will always oversing slow ballads, and have been doing so since time immemorial.
    I like the song, but if I was going to pick nits, I’d say it’s let down by a clumpiness in the drums.
    Listen to the song take off when the instruments fade out and you’re left with just the vocal and the handclaps – crucially, they’re right on the back of the beat and suddenly the song is swinging in a way that it can’t with a quantized rhythm track.

  16. 16
    chelovek na lune on 7 Oct 2011 #

    @14 yes it is wrong

    I find this a bit….dull. Maybe unfairly so. And syrupy.. “End of the Line” by the Honeyz, from a few years later, while perhaps technically less challenging than this, wins my “End of the…” 90s award every time.

  17. 17
    justfanoe on 7 Oct 2011 #

    10 is a little high, but I do agree with Lex that this one is a classic. I love the drama in this and, sure, the syrupiness too.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 7 Oct 2011 #

    It’s strange how choruses stick with you and the rest of the song is but a vague memory. I’m resisting the urge to go to YouTube and remind myself, quite simply because I know I’m going to be disappointed. And I’m feeling that the chorus with all that earnestness and the a’capella final section of the song is all I want to remember. A suggestion of Motown’s origins as the label begins to fade, as suggested in the comments above. Maybe it’s fear that prevents me from checking this out in full. Perhaps it may invoke a buried memory, but this is the 1st #1 since “Killer” I have massive problems with. I’m not sure I want to go there.

  19. 19
    justfanoe on 7 Oct 2011 #

    By the way, this one was #1 for 13 weeks in the US, at the time the longest reigning #1 ever, though this record was broken by “I Will Always Love You” a few months later. (Boyz ultimately reigned supreme as “One Sweet Day” eclipsed all and still holds the record at 16 weeks).

  20. 20
    will on 7 Oct 2011 #

    Re 16: I’d completely forgotten about the Honeyz! End Of The Line was a brilliant song. Pity the group were three faceless production line ‘babes’, with nothing in the way of personality.

  21. 21
    hardtogethits on 7 Oct 2011 #

    I can’t see how it’s unfair to blame Boyz II Men for X-factor balladeering, and honestly I’ve tried very hard to think of how they might be let off the hook.

  22. 22
    23 Daves on 7 Oct 2011 #

    In one of my earliest dayjobs, I regularly used to have to ring up a haulage/ courier company, and they had this as their hold music. Not for long, mind you – perhaps somebody told them how utterly inappropriate and irrelevant it was, as it made the company sound as if they were close to insolvency rather than successfully delivering products to end destinations – but long enough that in my memory, it still exists as a tinny tune played through a telephone receiver.

    It’s probably a testament to the song that despite my unusual and lengthy relationship with it, I still don’t hate it. For all that, though, this was never actually a favourite of mine. It just feels as if it’s pushing far too hard for a response from the listener, with seriously over-egged vocal performances and arrangements. I can understand everyone else finding appeal in this, and even predicted this would probably get a lot of love from the Popular comments crew, but it’s just not for me.

  23. 23
    nixon on 8 Oct 2011 #

    It’s Motown’s biggest hit in the same way Kokomo was the Beach Boys’ biggest hit; sure, it’s there in print, but that’s about it. 80s Motown was always a very hit and miss affair in every sense, so it’s not that the takeover ruined everything, but there’s a “corporate” sheen to this, an ironed-out slickness that Gordy’s LA Motown never really embraced (be it through lack of time, money or attention); the result is rather pretty but ultimately meaningless slop, and 4 seems about right.

  24. 24
    Erithian on 8 Oct 2011 #

    As I believe the kids say these days… OMG. I’d never seen this video in full before today, and it brings two immediate responses. One is to echo the words of Neil Innes singing the Dylanesque “Protest Song” with the Pythons in New York: “I’ve suffered for my music – now it’s your turn”. The other, watching the pain the Boyz are feeling in every frame, is to paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s words on the death of Dickens’ Little Nell: “One must have a heart of stone to watch this video without laughing”.

    And yet this was three months at number one in the US? Blimey. I wonder how many copies were bought by men trying to win back the love of their lives, and how many women were thus convinced that they had been right to dump the boring over-sincere tit in the first place.

  25. 25
    Another Pete on 8 Oct 2011 #

    #14 – I can see where you’re coming from in regards to the X-Factor almost like this is the genesis of soulful gesticulation that every contestant seems to do now. The video seems to be the first of its kind that for a ballad actually focuses on the singers. What cliché cinematic shots of the lost love are fleetingly brief instead of prolonged like most ballad videos. This may be due to the fact it’s four guys seemingly referring to the same girl. It must of been on heavy rotation at the time and sunk into the psyche that in order to be soulful these are the things you need to do. Nearly 20 years later they are still doing it.

    As for the song itself it was only lauded as amazing at the time as it was far more polished than anything else around hence why it stood out so much. Clearly after playing grebo, grunge and rave the radio DJs were singing their praises as at last here were a band that could sing not just that but could do harmonies, like the good old days. Hated the song then as a 14 year old lad and agree with my younger self now, though they did do a half decent cover version of “In the still of the night”

  26. 26
    Tom on 8 Oct 2011 #

    I don’t think I heard a single bit of Boyz II Men style inflection anywhere on the X-Factor tonight, incidentally.

  27. 27
    hardtogethits on 9 Oct 2011 #

    #26, Tom, I don’t watch X Factor much, so can’t comment on recent episodes, but it’s not all in the inflection.

    Perhaps Boyz II Men didn’t invent the hand-over-the-mic type ballad in which several singers showcase their same-ish-style vocal talents against each other in turn, to the detriment of the sincerity / meaning of the lyric. However, they innovated / popularised it to a degree that was previously unimaginable.

    For once, I’ve not checked my facts, but I’ve a strong feeling this was the first UK no.1 in which more than one lead singer has a go when the song doesn’t demand it (ie it’s not “Float On”) and there’s no charity to benefit (Band Aid, Ferry Aid, Hillsborough, The Crowd – which in any case showcase substantially different vocal styles). After this record, the previously unusual Boyz II Men approach became commonplace, perhaps even a genre in its own right.

    [As it happens, I agree with #25’s interpretation of #14, for the individual styles, it is “almost like this is the genesis of soulful gesticulation that every contestant seems to do now”]

  28. 28
    Vince Modern on 9 Oct 2011 #

    This was their first UK single release, and came a year after their debut album Cooleyhighharmony fared relatively well in the charts (number 7).
    My big brother John was a massive New Jack Swing fan, so was onto them pretty quickly. The album became a favourite of his and his fellow acolytes (along with Keith Sweat’s “Keep it Coming”, Mary J’s “What’s the 411?”, the MasterCuts compilations and many others). It’s a decent mix of club bangers and slow jamz, all featuring the slick, polished production of Dallas Austin.
    1990-92 seemed to be the golden years of New Jack Swing with Teddy Riley becoming the producer du jour. You can hear his signature style all over Michael Jackson’s Dangerous LP; even the Rolling Stones commissioned him for remixes. So Swing was definitely popular.

    1992 was when I first started buying music having just started my paper-round, and was obviously influenced by elder bruv. So upon reading on Channel 4 Teletext music pages that Boyz II Men were to release a single this week, I couldn’t get down Woolworths fast enough. Completed a blind (deaf?) purchase at 9.05am on the first Saturday it came out (didn’t need a listen, it was bound to be great right?).
    Rode home, made a big fanfare to everyone in the front room, stuck the casette in the midi system and pressed play. I immediately didn’t like it, expecting an uptempo banger in the style of Bobby Brown/Guy/Bell Biv Devoe.
    Dad was nonplussed (“They’re no Four Tops”), John said something like “This is sh*t – they’ve sold out” and then mooched off to buy some ridiculously cool 12″s.
    Mum liked it though, so every cloud and all that.

    I think Boyz II Men were the only genuine New Jack Swing artists to top the UK charts. Bell Biv Devoe/Janet/Luther came close with “The Best Things in Life are Free” around the same time (a much better song IMHO). As the nineties wore on New Jack Swing morphed into R’nB as we know it today, with artists in the genre achieving much more chart success.

  29. 29
    vinylscot on 10 Oct 2011 #

    Is this the first record covered on Popular while it is actually on the chart?

    This week sees it slip to #89 from last week’s #79.

    I presume some nobody must have “made it their own!” on X-Factor, or whatever inane drivel is currently occupying pre-pubescent minds on a Saturday evening.

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 10 Oct 2011 #

    I think it’s more to do with them winning the Outstanding Contribution award at the MOBOs last week.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page