The New Kids on the Block debut album was released in 1986 and was a flop. In the spring of 1988, the group released Please Don’t Go Girl, which would be on sophomore album Hangin’ Tough, and “failure seemed destined a second time when the song…went unnoticed by the listening public, and Columbia Records made plans to drop the New Kids from the label. At the eleventh hour, however, a radio station in Florida began playing the song. Scoring listener approval, it soon became the most requested song on their play list. When Columbia caught wind of the positive response, they decided to keep the group on its roster and put more effort into promoting the single. National attention soon followed and it eventually climbed to #10 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Chart—becoming the group's first hit” (Wikipedia).
Hangin’ Tough, featuring a set of “good songs collected by New Kids mastermind Maurice Starr” (Heilman/ Carpenter), was released that fall to “modest fanfare” (Wikipedia). The album featured “tight, warm, even soulful harmony on the ballads” (Heilman/ Carpenter) and plenty of teen pop appeal.
However, the album took time to grow. “The group began making national televised appearances on such music programs as Showtime at the Apollo and Soul Train. They later landed a spot as an opening act for fellow teen-pop act Tiffany on the U.S. leg of her concert tour. Sales of Hangin’ Tough steadily increased as the group’s national attention slowly rose” (Wikipedia).
“When MTV took notice of the group and began playing the video [for second single You Got It (The Right Stuff)] in regular rotation. By early 1989, it cracked the top five. The New Kids hit pay dirt with their next single, I’ll Be Loving You Forever, which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart…The group had been scheduled to open for Tiffany once again on a second tour, but their sudden popularity caused a reversal, and she wound up opening for them (although the two acts were technically billed as ‘co-headliners’)” (Wikipedia).
The New Kids “became the first ‘teen’ act to garner five top 10 hits from a single album” (Wikipedia). In a rare sign of just how dominant they had become, the band’s remake of ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind’ from the first album worked its way into the top 10 as well.
Hangin’ Tough would prove to be the peak instead of the beginning. The New Kids pulled off a top ten holiday album and another multi-platinum #1 album with 1990’s Step by Step, but had pretty much reached has-been status by their fourth and final studio album in 1994.
None of it could diminish just how potent the band’s impact had been. A decade later, N’ Sync and Backstreet Boys became huge successes with roughly the same sound and approach, proving that no matter how much teen pop may be dismissed as flash-in-the-pan lightweight fluff, it will always return – if it ever really went away.