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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  1. 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?).

  2. 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.

  3. 63

    maybe fools is a verb?

  4. 64
    Rory on 13 Oct 2010 #

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

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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…

  10. 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.

  11. 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.)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 74
    hectorthebat on 8 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    NBC-10 (USA) – The 30 Best Songs of the 80s (2006)
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)

  15. 75
    Mostro on 26 Feb 2017 #

    Might just be me, but I noticed that on the lines “All that I needed was you, Oh girl, you’re so right” (#) there’s something *very* faintly but strangely “off” about the backing chord progression.

    Specifically, when it gets to “you’re so right”, it comes across as almost discordant or sinister, rather than romantic (which I’d have assumed they were going for here).

    My knowledge of musical theory is very limited, so I can’t really say what this is, but am I hearing things?

    (#) Around 55 seconds in, repeated around the 2:03 mark.

  16. 76
    Izzy on 27 Feb 2017 #

    Yes, there’s a dischordant note (I’m no musical theorist myself, but I’m guessing a flattened fifth?) which I’m picking up most clearly at 2:11. Probably put in by the producer for a bit of harmonic interest.

    On the line after, Donnie’s vocal is audibly autotuned, which makes me wonder whether I’m listening to a modern remix as I don’t recall that being a big feature of pop circa 89/90?

    Finally and most importantly, as that chord appears and they’re driving in an open-top in the video, Jordan (? alas no.13 beat me to it and says it’s Danny) is quite clearly wearing a Bauhaus Bela Lugosi t-shirt. Was there ever an explanation for this? In fact maybe the vampiric chord is it?!

  17. 77
    Mostro on 27 Feb 2017 #

    #76 Izzy; I suspect the Bela Lugosi thing is probably coincidental; even if the musician responsible for playing- or programming- keyboards was trying to sneak something interesting in there, I doubt they’d be in a position to let the people making the video know. And it doesn’t strike me that the people in charge would go along with this- if they noticed, they’d probably make them change it!

    I also noticed the same thing (I think) that you thought was an autotune artifact; it’s possible it might just be due to splicing two takes together in the middle of a line, though.

    Regarding the effect, I’m not sure it’s just the chord itself, so much as the jump between it and the previous one. I also found that the “you’re so right” sounds more obviously sinister and unromantic if you play it in isolation.

    If either of us felt inclined to spend enough time trying to figure out the chords to a New Kids song, I’m sure we could tell whether it was due to a flattened fifth or not, but I’ve probably already listened to the damn thing more than I had at the time and I’m not *that* keen on it. ;-)

    Might have a go later. :-O

    FWIW, I came across a good article on the flattened/diminished fifth (AKA augmented fourth apparently):-


    (Edit; Filter is breaking the auto-generated link, you’ll have to cut and paste it manually).

  18. 78

    While it’s true that on most chordal instruments, the intervals of a flattened fifth and an augmented fourth are played using identical notes, they’re not really the same analytically: how you interpret them largely depends on what what chords you take them to be in, and thus what direction you feel the notes in the (flattened or augmented) chord are going, downwards or upwards. Hence (assuming they’re elements in a dominant seventh) the C and F# of an augmented fourth resolve to B and G (part of a G major chord), but the C and Gb of a flattened fifth resolve to Db and F (part of a Db major chord). Without knowing the next chord, you can’t tell whether the F# is actually a Gb or vice versa. (And in fact in the moment, they may well be ambiguous, depending on how they arrived from the previous chord — which becomes a neat way of modulating from G major to Db major!)

    A flattened fifth chord is different again — like G dominant seventh, it’s a chord that CONTAINS a flattened fifth, but whereas in a dominant seventh chord, the flattened/augmented interval is between the 3rd and the 7th, in a chords that’s TERMED flattened fifth, it’s actually the fifth of the chord that’s flattened (so that the altered interval is between the root and the fifth).

    A common example is in the cadence supertonic to dominant to tonic, for example D minor to G to C. Add in the sevenths: D minor 7th to G7 to C, where the A in the first chord resolves to a G in the second (and doesn’t move for the third). Add the flattened fifth: D minor 7 5b to G7 to C. The directions of the movements are the same, but the flatted 5th (Ab) is now only a semitone above the G, and moreover a semitone out of place in the ordinary diatonic scale, so it feels as is there’s a distinct pressure to get it to the G, so the resolution feels just so (even more just so).

    (With the flatted/augmented interval in the dominant seventh, both notes move to resolve: with the flatted fifth in the minor seventh flatted fifth, only the one note moves to resolve…)

    (There are many other types of example, in Wagner, in the post-Gershwin musical and in jazz especially. You generally only hear a chord as peculiar is it’s NOT resolving as per classical harmony. There *is* the ghost of a clash here, but I’m not convinced it’s one that responds to the kind of analysis that easily interprets it as something flattened or augmented. Needs someone with a better ear than me, or access to the sheet music…)

    (tbh this would probably be easier to follow if I could point to notes on a stave and wave my arms around)

  19. 79

    Couldn’t find the official sheet music, but I did track down some plausible-seeming guitar tabs, which give the chord sequence in the chorus as Fm7 to Eb to Db to C7. No flatted fifths deployed here: (what I take to be) the odd-sounding element everyone’s noted comes as Db moves to C7. In classic diatonic harmonising this is actually quite an unusual sequence, which partly explains its curious feel in this species of pop.

    (Tonal or semitonal slides up or down are much less uncommon in powerpop and punk, simply because barring the chord and moving up and down the fretboard feels so natural…)

    But (I think) it’s more the sung melody over the chords, than just the chords themselves, that causes the effect: as the chord moves out of Db into C, he sings Ab Bb G (which sounds fine), and then (within the chord of C) does a little turn on the G, as in G-A-G-F-G (so actually an inverted turn, lol). Again, in itself not unusual, except the A clashes strongly against our memory of the Ab just previously — and besides I think he’s also unconsciously sharpening it, so it comes out closer to the Bb he’s just sung (though it doesn’t hit it, and is actually off the piano grid altogether, ie out-of-tune, or a highly personalised blue note if you want to be diplomatic ). It gives the ghost of the sense of an oriental-sounding augmented second (aka minor third) in the turn: classically an indicator of “the sinister”, in late 18th and early 19th century music especially (the sinisterness probably arrives via somewhat dubiously stereotypical memories of Romany fiddle music, which uses this kind of embellishment a lot, because it sounds great, rather than sinister).

  20. 80
    Mostro on 28 Feb 2017 #

    #78 & #79 pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør; Intriguing stuff- at least as much as I understood of it with my limited knowledge!- thank you. I’m probably going to have to come back to this after I’ve learned enough to get the most out of it though :-/

  21. 81
    Izzy on 28 Feb 2017 #

    I genuinely could not be more delighted with that explanation. Pounding it out on the piano now, and that change does sound very unexpected.

  22. 82
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    Ok so New Kids did kick start the modern era style boyband but their songs were and are just so awful!
    The boybands who followed them were far superior in all aspects.

  23. 83
    Gareth Parker on 29 Apr 2021 #

    I like this one more than most of the commenters, and I prefer it to Hangin’ Tough. 5/10.

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