Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Best Of Boy Bands - part 1: 20 to 11

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3

Boy bands: what a great invention. For the past three decades, they've been constructed to entertain millions around the world, with a new crop of all-singing, all-dancing young men waiting in the wings to take the place of any group that passes its use by date. Or, in the case of Menudo, to replace guys already in the group.

New Edition don't make my top 20, but without them boy bands may not exist

So what constitutes a boy band? For the purposes of this list, it's a male vocal harmony group (although harmonies are negotiable), sometimes with dance moves, often with coordinating outfits and never (or very rarely) playing musical instruments.

In other words, the "band" in the boy band is generally a backing track and the emphasis is on the boys - some of whom can sing and/or dance, some whose looks got them a spot in the line-up and some that are just there to make up numbers (I'm looking at you, East 17).

Since New Edition burst onto the scene almost 30 years ago with "Candy Girl", I've enjoyed a lot of songs by boy bands - if nothing else, they're firmly on the pop side of the music spectrum. And since boy bands are big business all over again, with the likes of One Direction, The Wanted and, er, Justice Crew topping charts around the world, what better time to look back at the best boy bands have had to offer.

First up, I'll count down my all-time favourites (based on their catalogue of singles) from 20 to 11...

20. Another Level

Years (releasing music): 1998-1999
Members: Mark Baron, Dane Bowers, Bobak Kianoush, Wayne Williams
Top 3 best songs: "From The Heart", "Be Alone No More", "Bomb Diggy"

Designed to be the hip, urban alternative to your average cheesy boy band, Another Level brought some R&B to the Brit boy band equation and routinely featured guest rappers (even, believe it or not, Jay-Z) on their tracks.
Their fortunes peaked when they turned a Stateside hit, Silk's "Freak Me", into a UK number 1 and not long after, went their separate ways. My favourite Another Level track, though, is 'From The Heart", which was featured on the Notting Hill soundtrack and was given a great remix by Frankie Knuckles.
Dane was the only one to make much of a solo splash, collaborating on two songs with Truesteppers (including "Out Of Your Mind" with Victoria Beckham), before notching up a couple of minor solo hits.

19. Northern Line

Years: 1999-2000
Members: Dan Corsi, Zak Lichman, Andy Love, Ian Mason, Michael Sharpe
Top 3 best songs: "Love On The Northern Line", "All Around The World", "Run For Your Life"

Speaking of cheesy boy bands, Northern Line were everything that Another Level were trying not to be - bad formation dancing, shiny outfits, naked shoots for gay mags. And never mind three best songs - they only had three songs total. However, they were three good pop songs - even if the highest chart position they could manage was for second single (and their best song) "Love On The Northern Line", which got to number 15 in the UK.

18. Big Fun

Years: 1989-1994
Members: Phil Creswick, Mark Gillespie, Jason John
Top 3 best songs: "Handful Of Promises", "Can't Shake The Feeling", "Blame It On The Boogie"

It's going to get worse before it gets better... Big Fun were quite possibly the weakest vocalists Stock Aitken Waterman ever worked with (and there's some stiff competition), but regular readers will know of my love for all things SAW, and Big Fun were lucky to have been given such great pop tunes to try to sing. The group really only lasted for the one album, 1990's A Pocketful Of Dreams, although two of the guys (Phil and Mark) released a cover of "Stomp!" as an afterthought in 1994.

17. New Kids On The Block

Years: 1986-1994, 2008-present
Members: Jon Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood
Top 3 best songs: "Step By Step", "You Got It (The Right Stuff)", "Call It What You Want"

NKOTB's placing on this list might be lower than you'd expect, but I was never a big fan of the New Kids. In fact, aside from the three songs listed above, I really only liked "Tonight" and "If You Go Away". And so despite them being a worldwide phenomenon that took the concept of a boy band to a whole new level, the majority of their songs just never really did it for me.
Obviously, the guys are back together these days, touring in between Donnie's acting commitments (since, surely, he's the only one they have to work around) and sometimes teaming up with Backstreet Boys (who are still to come) on the road.

16. Phixx

Years: 2003-2005
Members: Mikey Green, Andrew Kinlochan, Nikk Mager, Chris Park, Peter Smith
Top 3 best songs: "Love Revolution", "Hold On Me", "Strange Love"

In the same way that Liberty X was formed out of the runners-up from the season of Popstars that created Hear'say and then went on to be a more successful group, Phixx were also-rans from Popstars: The Rivals, the season that saw One True Voice go head-to-head with Girls Aloud for 2002's Christmas number 1 in the UK - and ended up outlasting and out-performing OTV.
Their debut single, "Hold On Me", had a bit of a Duran Duran feel to it and the guys even covered "Wild Boys" for their third single - so it's a shame they didn't carry on longer, because a boy band doing New Romantic-style pop songs could've been a novel twist. In the end, the prospect of solo careers (that never eventuated) and a lack of significant chart success back home caused Phixx to self-combust - but they were responsible for my favourite song for 2004, "Love Revolution", so that's something, right?

15. 911

Years: 1996-1999
Members: Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable, Spike Dawbarn
Top 3 best songs: "Don't Make Me Wait", "Love Sensation", "More Than A Woman"

More successful in Britain than they probably should've been, 911 came from an era when acts weren't dumped as soon as their first single flopped. Persistence paid off with the trio gradually building to a run of five consecutive top 5 hits in the UK in 1997/98. Then, a covers album gave them three top 3 hits in a row, including a number 1 cover of "A Little Bit More" (made famous by Dr Hook).
In truth, 911's music was pretty bland and their position on this list is more down to the fact that they were able to get three albums and so many OK singles out before splitting than any real excitement I feel for their songs.

14. Color Me Badd

Years: 1991-1998
Members: Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Kevin Thornton, Sam Watters
Top 3 best songs: "Choose", "All 4 Love", "I Adore Mi Amor"

Now we're getting somewhere. They may have had terrible dress sense - even in the early '90s, those suits were awful - and bad hair, but American group Color Me Badd did have some quality tunes. And they appeared on Beverly Hills, 90210! Their first and biggest worldwide hit was "I Wanna Sex You Up", which I never really liked, but their debut album, C.M.B., was packed with singles, including my number 2 and 3 songs above, as well as "Heartbreaker", "Slow Motion" and "Thinkin' Back".
My favourite track of theirs, "Choose", actually comes from their less successful second album, Time And Chance. But even I lost interest after that, despite the fact that the guys released two more albums before going their separate ways. Sam is now a succesful songwriter/producer while the others perform together in various combinations from time to time.

13. Boyz II Men

Years: 1991-present
Members: Michael McCary, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman
Top 3 best songs: "Motownphilly", "I'll Make Love To You", "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday"

It was genius: combining old fashioned soul harmonies with the new jack swing sound that was sweeping America in the early '90s. And with New Edition/Bell Biv Devoe member Michael Bivins (a guy who knew a thing or two about boy bands) behind them, there was no way Boyz II Men were going to fail.
And while success came quickly, it was in 1992 that the quartet would really hit paydirt with the over-the-top "End Of The Road" - a song only beaten in the histrionic stakes by their 1995 Mariah Carey collaboration, "One Sweet Day". I can't stand either of those mega-hits, and it's a shame the success of those big ballads meant they didn't release as many upbeat tracks. Another effect of BIIM's US chart domination: the plethora of imitators. All-4-One, 4PM, Az-Yet, Shai, Silk, Next, 112, Jagged Edge... the list of '90s R&B male vocal groups goes on and on - and they all owe a debt to Boyz II Men.
Although the group's distinctive bass vocalist, Michael, left in 2003, Boyz II Men has never broken up - and spent the majority of the 2000s recording a series of covers albums.

12. The Wanted

Years: 2010-present
Members: Max George, Siva Kaneswaran, Jay McGuiness, Tom Parker, Nathan Sykes 
Top 3 best songs: "Lose My Mind", "All Time Low", "Satellite"

I must confess, I was a little surprised when The Wanted was launched a couple of years ago. I thought the concept of the boy band was pretty much dead and buried, but it was nice to be proved wrong when their debut single, "All Time Low", went to number 1 in the UK and then, more recently, "Glad You Came", became a worldwide smash - notably in the US.
And although the guys don't do formation dancing, I am impressed that they can all sing and don't filter what they say to the media (including myself, in a recent interview I did with Max, Tom and Siva during their latest Australian promo visit).
I'm interested to see what they come up with next, but even if the group implodes tomorrow, they've already racked up enough good songs (see also: "Chasing The Sun", "Lightning", "Warzone", "Gold Forever") to earn themselves quite a high ranking on my list of favourites.

11. a1

Years: 1999-2002, 2009-present
Members: Ben Adams, Christian Ingebrigtsen, Paul Marazzi, Mark Read
Top 3 best songs: "Same Old Brand New You", "Caught In The Middle", "Be The First To Believe"

We started off at number 20 talking about a group who flew in the face of the cheesiness often associated with mid-to-late '90s boy bands. And here at number 11 is a group who started their career around the same time as Another Level but were so saccharine it made your teeth hurt just watching their videos. That might have had something to do with the fact that a1 was formed by the brains behind Steps.
But the primary colours were out for album number two and in their place was a darker, broodier look. The result: two UK number 1 hits, a cover of a-ha's "Take On Me" and "Same Old Brand New You", my favourite song of theirs.
Then, just as the band was starting to be taken a little more seriously, with the well-received "Caught In The Middle" from third album Make It Good, Paul up and left the group, and a full split followed soon after. The other three have now reformed and are recording new music together - but have yet to enjoy any success outside Christian's homeland, Norway.

Next up, I'll tackle my top 10 boy bands. Then, I'll take a look at some groups that put the "band" back into boy band - before finishing off with some boy bands that time forgot. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Another Level and A1 are the best from this part of the rundown.