Ask anyone who grew up during the late seventies into the eighties who their favorite R&B group was at that time, and you will definitely hear the name New Edition. From their catchy songs that captured the youthful virtue of the eighties to modernizing The Jackson Five formula for their generation, the Orchard Park natives had all the makings of a successful group that would still be celebrated 30 years after their debut.
New Edition hit the scene in 1983 with their debut album, Candy Girl, that created a small buzz and garnered them a crop of fans. However, if their first album was the knock on the industry’s door signaling their arrival, the second was the kick that broke through it. The album, titled New Edition, was the perfect infusion of candy-coated innocence, catchy melodies, and relatable kid- friendly lyrics delivered by five teenagers who were as endearing and stylish as they were talented. And Maurice Starr, who discovered and signed the group to their first deal on Streetwise Records, knew he captured lightning in a bottle. Unfortunately, the relationship between them wouldn’t last to the second album.
Their self-titled album marked a number of different changes. For starters, this was the first album post-Maurice Starr. After allegations of mismanagement and theft, the group signed with MCA (although, they would later find out it was a production deal with AMI/Jump & Shoot through MCA) hoping for a new start, only to run into some of the same issues as well as a set of new ones. Not only did they continue to have problems of mishandling and shady contracts, they became discontent with the bubble-gum and formulaic pop sound drenched in sugary overtones that this album produced. Despite some of the uneasiness this album brought forth internally, it was and still remains as one of their strongest offerings that secured their placement as R&B/boy band royalty. Fans still know all the words, the dance steps and get excited and reminisce when this album is played thirty years later. Many of these songs have been sampled, covered, and encapsulate a more innocuous time in music—one that was fun, lighthearted, colorful, and innocent.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of New Edition’s classic album, take a look at some of the many reasons why we still love it and leave your memories and thoughts of the album in the comments.
What’s not to love about the songs from this album?! Yes, they were somewhat predictable and even a bit too sugary now but at that time, everything about them was pure perfection. They spoke directly to the teenagers (and probably some adults) in a way that had everyone singing and dancing alongside them. Synthesizers, digital drum machines (probably the DMX), and wispy, cheerful lyrics dominated this album and still conjure up endless bouts of nostalgia that bring about instant feelings of bliss. If a DJ played “Cool It Now” or “My Secret (Didja Get It Yet?),” the probability of people hitting the dance floor doing the cabbage patch or break dancing is very high. Even if you can’t quite dance like you used to, your foot would tap or you would at least hum the words. “Mr. Telephone Man,” which was actually a cover of reggae singer Junior Tucker’s track of the same name released in 1983, would even get some slower moving feet on the floor easily. Also, many of the aforementioned and additional tracks (“I’m Leaving You Again,” “Lost In Love”) would be sampled later from artists like 2 Chainz, Dream, Bow Wow and Ciara, GZA, and Tony Yayo, proving their lasting effect on music and pop culture.
Although their debut album (Candy Girl) was successful in its own right with three charting singles that catapulted New Edition to becoming the most exciting boy band since The Jackson Five, their second album would take the pandemonium much further. New Edition produced more chart placements, specifically with “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man,” which both hit number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart as well as becoming top twenty hits. “Lost In Love” and “My Secret (Didja Get It Yet?)” also hit the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Pop charts, while the album peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 as well as placing at number one on the R&B albums chart. As one of the freshest cassettes to hit the record stores in 1984, the album would eventually go double platinum and remain as one of their most well-received that garnered them an even larger [global] fan base that still supports the group to this day.
What is there not to love about eighties music videos? Well, there might be a few things but the videos from this album were everything that was right about them: bright, fluorescent clothing, fresh dance moves, puppy love, Jheri curls and tails. And these companion pieces were essential to fueling the NE movement, especially at this time when music videos were just starting to [really] get into the groove of being a mainstream staple. Fans got to see the clothes, dance movements, and their favorite group even if they couldn’t make it to their concerts. And these videos remain universal favorites for those that grew up with them as well as for a new legion of fans that have an affinity for a simpler time in music history.
Most would later learn that New Edition weren’t as innocent as they appeared, especially Bobby Brown; but many, especially adolescent girls, were none the wiser. They swooned at them singing about young love and dreamed of being on the receiving end of those lyrics while boys wanted to be like NE and tried to use some of their tactics to get girls. At this time, New Edition weren’t overly sexualized or hyper-masculine and were able to maintain a certain level of naiveté that made parents comfortable while still being cool enough to appeal to their core audience. The track “Mr. Telephone Man” even has an air of naiveté. Years later, most of us who weren’t privy would realize that there clearly wasn’t anything wrong with the telephone line; home girl was cheating! But this was a perfect example of keeping a certain level of sweet simplicity to and from kids singing about something as complex as love. These five teenage boys sang about young heartache, having fun, teenage angst and “kid problems” in a way that was appropriate for them and their audience, which kept them on a solid terrain that aligned with the jovial carefree music of the decade they would come to dominate.
We know that New Edition were not rappers. We also know that they weren’t the first to rap over a non-traditional hip-hop song. So how does rapping tie in with this exactly? They were one of the first (specifically on the Candy Girl album), if not the first, R&B group to rap their own lyrics on their tracks, which was largely unique for that time. Rapping was left up to the emcees that weren’t harmonizing after they spit bars, so this infusion of rap with R&B was a rare twist that would come to dominate music a decade later. They already had a hold on the R&B lovers but adding this rapping twist, which was a testament to them knowing what their peers were into, also gave way to them tapping into the bourgeoning music scene. It also solidified one of the best roll calls in music history that most of us still chant whenever we see NE or if someone mentions them: “Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike!”
Having signed to MCA, New Edition had access to some of the best musicians and producers in the business. Many were renowned session musicians, composers, and songwriters who worked with legendary artists like Michael Jackson (Brad Buxer), Stevie Wonder (Michael Sembello), Minnie Riperton (Richard Rudolph), Frank Sinatra (Randy Waldaman), and a slew of others. Ray Parker Jr. also helped them score one of their biggest hits (“Mr. Telephone Man”) with Rick Timas and Vincent Brantley who worked on “Cool It Now.” This impressive collective of musicians aided in replicating the formula that worked so well for The Jackson Five, but with a more contemporary pop essence suitable for its time. They added some elements of rock, hip-hop, freestyle, soul and disco to an R&B base that created a vibrant sound that matched New Edition’s vocals and contributed to the consistent sound they carried throughout their careers. And though the members struggled with the more formulaic portions of the album, it still didn’t discredit this dynamic roster’s talents and contributions that played a significant role in the success of this album.
New Edition was not the first boy band but they definitely aided in setting the tone for a myriad of bands that would follow. From New Kids on the Block, who were deemed the “white New Edition,” to Boyz II Men, who picked their moniker based on one of NE’s songs, their influence remains even to this day. They inspired a surplus of artists, not just groups that copied their precise dance moves, style, and lyrical offerings. Just recently, Beyoncé even took some inspiration from their video “If It Isn’t Love” for her chart-topping track “Love On Top.” They also spawned countless albums and singles from the individual artists that made up the group through BBD, LSG and Heads of State, as well as Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill’s solo work. Michael Bivins would also go on to create Biv 10 Records, which produced Another Bad Creation, 702 and the widely successful Boyz II Men. And though it was revealed later that they had a tumultuous experience with record companies and managers as well as personal issues with one another, they’ve never completely walked away from the legendary NE foundation. They received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Soul Train and ASCAP’s Golden Note Award for their contributions to Rhythm and Soul, commemorating 25 years in the business. They are still selling out shows and making grown women scream while singing every word to each of their songs, proving that those same fans that grew up on their songs never forgot those memories. To maintain that type of longevity in this capricious business is a true testament to the talent and impact that New Edition continues to have 30 years later.
— Arasia Magnetic
Arasia Magnetic is an ethnomusicology student and proud Chicagoan who has served as a Hip Hop curator and freelance writer for over 14 years. She’s the former Executive Editor of KevinNottingham.com, now a Senior Curator who has also contributed to HipHopDX, PotholesInMyBlog, The Las Vegas Weekly and The Chicago Defender. She has interviewed Bob James, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Common and a host of others. Catch her talking all things music and culture on Twitter at @arasiamagnetic.