Saturday, 18 August 2012

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

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3

Originally posted in 2012. Updated in 2020.

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 in 1983 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. When I first wrote this post, boy bands Were enjoying a resurgence, with the likes of One Direction, The Wanted and Justice Crew topping charts around the world. In 2020, K-Pop is keeping the boy band dream alive, while the now defunct 1D and The Wanted sliding into my top 20 (and replacing Another Level and Northern Line, who get relegated to the wrap-up in Part 3).

Here's the (revised) countdown of my all-time favourites (based on their catalogue of singles), kicking off in this post with numbers 20 to 11...

20. JLS

Members: JB Gill, Marvin Humes, Aston Merrygold, Oritsé Williams
Years: 2008-2013

Top 3 best songs: "Billion Lights""Beat Again", "Eyes Wide Shut"

Unlike other successful pop groups to emerge from the British version of The X Factor, JLS existed before the audition process (although at that stage they were called UFO). After they came runners-up to Alexandra Burke in the fifth season of the reality show, they embarked on an impressive chart run in the UK, notching up 10 top 10 hits (half of them chart-toppers) taken from their four studio albums, released each November between 2009 and 2012 like clockwork. That rigorous schedule at home left JLS without Australian chart success, although Aston would hit the ARIA top 10 with solo track "Get Stupid" after the band went on hiatus. A reunion tour seems to be in the works at the moment.

19. Big Fun

Members: Phil Creswick, Mark Gillespie, Jason John
Years: 1989-1994

Top 3 best songs: "Handful Of Promises", "Can't Shake The Feeling", "Blame It On The Boogie"

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.

18. New Kids On The Block

Members: Jon Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny Wood
Years: 1986-1994, 2008-present

Top 3 best songs: "Step By Step", "You Got It (The Right Stuff)", "Remix (I Like The Way)"

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 "Call It What You Want", "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.

17. Phixx

Members: Mikey Green, Andrew Kinlochan, Nikk Mager, Chris Park, Peter Smith
Years: 2003-2005

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?

16. 911

Members: Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable, Spike Dawbarn
Years: 1996-1999
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 mostly down to the fact that they were able to get three albums and quite a number of singles out before splitting.

15. Color Me Badd

Members: Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Kevin Thornton, Sam Watters
Years: 1991-1998
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 for the early '90s - 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.

14. Boyz II Men

Members: Michael McCary, Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman
Years: 1991-present
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.

13. One Direction

Members: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson
Years: 2010-2016
Top 3 best songs: "What Makes You Beautiful", "One Thing", "Live While We're Young"

Just when it seemed like kids in the 2010s wouldn't have a global phenomenon to call their own, One Direction came along, after being put together by the judges on the seventh season of The X Factor UK, to save the day. With Simon Cowell steering the ship, 1D were a new breed of boy band, who would go on to make fun of dance routines and other typical attributes in the "Best Thing Ever" music video. Over time they transitioned away from the pure pop of the songs listed above to more mature tracks like "Little Things" and "Story Of My Life", and could well still be putting out music today. But the departure of Zayn in 2015 was the beginning of the end for the group, with all five members currently in the throes of solo careers - some with more success and acclaim than others.

12. a1

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

When they hit the pop scene in the late '90s, a1 were so saccharine it made your teeth hurt just watching their videos. That might have had something to do with the fact that the quartet 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.

11. Worlds Apart (second and third line-ups)

Members: Cal Cooper, Schelim Hannan/Tim Fornara, Steve Hart, Nathan Moore
Years: 1993-2000, 2007
Top 3 best songs: "Everybody", "Je Te Donne", "Everlasting Love (Remix)"

This boy band is a bit of a strange one. They started their life in the UK as a five-piece Take That knock-off formed by Simon Cowell and released mostly cover versions as singles, none of which got higher than number 15 in the charts there. That would ordinarily have been that.
But after a line-up shuffle (which included the arrival of ex-Brother Beyond singer Nathan), the new-look Worlds Apart packed up their suitcases to ply their trade on the Continent. It was a smart move, because this and the subsequent third incarnation of the group actually achieved a number of hits in France, Germany and neighbouring countries.
I'd been vaguely aware of the earlier five-piece but didn't hear anything from the revamped version until chancing upon "Everybody" in 1996 (although not, until now, the rather hilarious video). Thankfully, the
internet was in full swing by then, and I was able to follow the group over the next couple of years as their success continued - and so their placing on this list is down to that phase of their career.

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.