“What is that dance that boy is doing? He looks like he’s having a fit.”
This was how my father described the popping and locking a little boy was doing in the barbershop one Saturday morning to New Edition’s new song “Candy Girl.” Much to the delight of this child eager to show us his new dance moves while waiting for his haircut, the song was blowing up on the radio. The break-dancing craze was EVERYTHING to us in the 80’s but to a lot of adults, our dancing just looked like we had been electrocuted. I remember loving “Candy Girl” instantly. How could you not love a song that reminded you of The Jackson Five? Although my dad made fun of our dancing, he did approve of New Edition’s music so not too long after that, New Edition’s second album made its way into our home. With songs like “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man,” I quickly developed something that I believe is a rite of passage in almost every young girl’s life: the boy band crush.
The boy band crush is a serious thing as a pre-teen. You know every single member’s name, birthday, likes and dislikes. As with any girl with a boy band crush, I had a favorite member: Michael Bivins. To me he was just the flyest. He had to be. He was so smooth that he got to talk in all of the songs! I remember coming home after school waiting to see the new video for “Count Me Out” from their third album All for Love. I kept waiting for Bobby Brown to show up in the video. After all, if you’ve heard “Cool It Now,” you know the members including Ralph Tresvant were “Ronnie (DeVoe), Bobby (Brown), Ricky (Bell) and Mike (Bivins).” I couldn’t figure out what was going on but I did notice that Bobby’s vocals were noticeably minimal on the new record. Something was up. It turned out that my instincts were right. It was soon reported on my local radio station that Bobby Brown was out of the group and going solo. I was devastated! If you know anything about pre-teen boy band devastation, then you know it consist of adolescent tears, marathon listening of songs and longing looks at posters on the wall torn out of teen magazines, wondering where it all went wrong.
After a pretty lukewarm debut album, Bobby Brown blew up with his second album Don’t Be Cruel. Songs like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step” from heavy hitters LA, Babyface and Teddy Riley soon made him a household name. I worried about what was going to happen to New Edition. Was Ralph Tresvant going to leave and go solo like when David Ruffin left The Temptations and Eddie Kendricks followed soon after? Because for all intents and purposes, New Edition really are my generation’s Temptations. I can’t think of a more fitting comparison than the dynamic between Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown to the dynamic of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. To make the similarities even more intense, just like The Temptations replaced David Ruffin with a heavy hitting soul singer Dennis Edwards, New Edition found a similar replacement of their own: R&B teen sensation Johnny Gill.
I remember thinking Johnny Gill sang so maturely that he just had to be the same age as Dennis Edwards. Not kidding. There was no reason that a fourteen year old with a Jheri Curl should’ve had a voice so passionate and so gruff. Many questioned how the maturity of Johnny Gill’s voice was going to fit in with New Edition’s young, bubble gum R&B image. However, in what I think is one of the greatest comebacks in music history, New Edition burst back on the scene with their best and classic album, N.E. Heartbreak. New Edition was back with a new sound (God bless you, Jam and Lewis), new image and new signature hits like “If It Isn’t Love,” “N.E. Heartbreak” and the slow jam of all slow jams, “Can You Stand the Rain.” They were right back on top.
Even with their separate projects (solo albums and the 90’s birthed magnificence that is BBD), I have to hand it to them for one thing: there’s never been a “New Edition Revue” or a “New Edition featuring Ralph Tresvant” type split of the group. They have remained a unit through and through. Bobby Brown has rejoined them from time to time for an album and a few tours but there’s never been a split. Most notably, there are musical acts that came out at the same time they did, and even much later, that do not possess the flawless showmanship and the catalog of hits on top of hits that they have to this day. They are true legends in black music and the blueprint for every single boy band that has come after them. No one does it better than New Edition.
Check out some of my favorite New Edition songs on this month’s Spotify playlist.