With their first permanent line-up in place, New Edition began entering talent contests, and it was at one of these, at Boston’s Strand Theater, that they received their first big break. Though they came in second place, their performance of the Jackson 5’s ‘The Love You See’ left local producer and impresario Maurice Starr so impressed that he invited them to his studio the next day to record a demo for what would become their debut album, Candy Girl.
Released in 1983 on Starr’s own Streetwise Records – while the members were all aged between 13 and 15 – Candy Girl proved a success. There were hit R&B singles in the shape of ‘Is This The End’ and ‘Popcorn Love’, but it was the album’s infectious title track which proved the biggest smash, racing to No.1 on both the American R&B and UK singles charts. To promote the album, the boys embarked on a major concert tour, though when they were dropped off at their homes in the projects, they were each given a cheque in the amount of $1.87 for their troubles. Starr told them that the tour budget and expenses had taken up all of their money, leading the group to sack their manager and enlist lawyers Steven and Martin Machat to help release them from their Streetwise contract. Starr lost the case, though he would go on to have an astronomical impact with his next project, teenage boy band New Kids On The Block.
Now free agents, with further help from the Machats’ law firm New Edition secured a contract with MCA, for whom they released their self-titled sophomore effort in 1984. Lead single ‘Cool It Now’ proved an even bigger success than its predecessors as it reached Top 5 in the charts. Further hits, including the Ray Parker, Jr-penned ‘Mr Telephone Man’, propelled the album up to No.6 in the charts.
Further legal problems occurred when the group learned that they were actually signed to a subsidiary of MCA, Jump And Shoot. In an effort to extract themselves, all five members took out a $100,000 loan from MCA to end the deal. Though they scored a new, long-term deal with MCA and finally found themselves the major label contract that they craved, the group would have to tour and record almost continually in order to pay off their debts.
The group’s third album, 1985’s All For Love, found them growing up quickly, as their voices deepened and the music began moving away from the bubble-gum pop of their previous efforts. Though it would reach platinum sales and spawn the hits ‘Count Me Out’ and ‘A Little Bit Of Love (Is All It Takes)’, the album sold less than expected. Meanwhile, lead singer Bobby Brown was becoming disenchanted with the group’s image; Christmas All Over The World, a holiday EP released later that year, became his final recording with the group before he left.
With Brown now pursuing a solo career away from the band, the remaining members recorded a covers album in the shape of 1986’s Under The Blue Moon. A collection of doo-wop numbers from the 50s and 60s, it would yield them another hit single with their take on The Penguins’ ‘Earth Angel’. With rumours circulating that Ralph Tresvant was about to follow Bobby Brown into a solo career, a bid to stabilise the band saw them enlist a new member in the shape of Johnny Gill, a friend who had been struggling as a solo artist.
Aware that Brown had enjoyed massive solo success pursuing the hip hop-influenced New Jack Swing style on his second album, Don’t Be Cruel, New Edition were Keen to follow suit. Looking to update their sound, the group enlisted Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – the red-hot production duo who had just masterminded Janet Jackson’s Control album – to follow a similar path on their fifth studio effort, 1988’s Heart Break. Featuring several R&B hits such as ‘Can’t Stand The Rain’, it went on to become their highest-selling album to date. Keen to stretch their wings and pursue other projects, the band agreed to put New Edition on hiatus in 1989, and the following year saw multiple releases from its members. Ralph Tresvant’s big-selling self-titled album featured the Jam- and Lewis-penned hit ‘Sensitivity’, while Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe re-launched themselves as Bel Biv DeBoe and employed The Bomb Squad to oversee their seminal, triple-platinum debut album, Poison. The Public Enemy producers added a tough hip-hop edge to their sound, and the title track became a huge worldwide hit. Newest band member Johnny Gill also re-launched his solo career with considerable success with his 1990 self-titled album featuring the hit single ‘Rub You The Right Way’.
Having achieved commercial success away from New Edition, the group reunited for a sixth album, 1996’s Home Again, with Bobby Brown back on board. Driven by the headline-making return of Brown, the album proved a triumph, becoming the most successful of their career, debuting at No.1 in the charts and yielding the hit singles ‘Hit Me Off’ (which topped the R&B charts) and ‘I’m Still In Love With You’. The group headed off on tour to support the album in 1997, but any spirit of camaraderie was short-lived as old personality clashes resurfaced.
Following the tour, the members resumed their previous projects, only reuniting again in 2002. Without Bobby Brown – and now without a label after their long-term deal with MCA expired – they embarked on a small-scale tour that took in clubs, casinos and arenas. Present at one of the shows was P Diddy, who agreed to sign the group to his Bad Boy Records label, for whom they released One Love, in 2002. Proof that their popularity had not waned, it debuted at No.12 in the charts, though a dispute over money led the group to leave the label.
New Edition group carried on regardless, touring on the legacy and festival circuit. In 2012, their incredible career was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award during the Soul Train Music Awards, with all six members – including Bobby Brown – appearing on stage to collect it. Further recognition of their impact on the music industry came in 2015, when it was announced that BET would make a three-night mini-series about the group, which aired in January 2017. Five of the band’s members were involved in its production, with Johnny Gill, Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell, Michael Bevins and Ralph Tresvant all signed up as co-producers.
When Maurice Starr uncovered the talents of a Roxbury vocal group in the early '80s, he envisioned a second Jackson 5. That was the direction he took New Edition in its early days, and this album includes such overt Jackson 5 ripoffs as "Candy Girl" and the title track. None of the toughness or street touches that emerged on their later material was evident on this slick, pop-oriented session. Ralph Tresvant, Ronald DeVoe, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, and Bobby Brown were all aged 13 to 15 when this was released. Words: Ron Wynn
Maurice Starr's vision peaked with this second album by New Edition. They were now thoroughly Jackson 5 clones and were reaping similar commercial dividends thanks to the teen angst cuts "Cool It Now" and "Mr. Telephone Man." They earned their first platinum album, one Top Ten hit and another Top 20 pop single (both songs topped the R&B charts) and were among the hottest acts in either pop or R&B during this stretch. Words: Ron Wynn
New Edition's voices and focus were changing in the late '80s. They'd moved away from the kiddie-pop/soul of the early '80s and were singing harder, adult love material and cutting uptempo funk tracks, although there weren't many of those on this session. While sometimes things got a bit sappy lyrically and seemed repetitive at other times, the group compensated with their strongest harmonies and vocal performances to date. Words: Ron Wynn
New Edition's fourth studio album, 'Under the Blue Moon' was released in 1986 and included the tracks 'Duke of Earl', 'Blue Moon' and 'Bring Back the Memories'.
This album marked New Edition's growth and maturity due in part to the production work of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the addition of group newcomer Johnny Gill. The first single from the much anticipated album was "If Isn't Love." With its percussive rhythm and frigid keyboard effects, Ralph Tresvant applies his rigidly smooth tenor to this mid-tempo dance cut. The single peaked at number two and seven on the Billboard R&B and pop charts, respectively. The second single, "You're Not My Kind of Girl," has a more grueling beat. In an up-tempo style and with its appealing melody, Tresvant imparts a urgent cry on this apologetic lyric. Gill enhances the track with his amplified background vocals and lyrical sighs. The single peaked at number two on the Billboard R&B charts. "Can You Stand the Rain" came next. Unlike any ballad the group has ever embraced, it sailed up the charts to the number one spot. Primarily led by Gill and Tresvant, whose vocals mutually complement one another, Ricky Bell injects his vocal plea, and Michael Bivins has a small rap part. With an aggressive rhythm, "Crucial" resembles more of a Minneapolis sound in the vein of the Time and Alexander O'Neal. That does not negate the substance of the song. It peaked at number four. The fifth single was "N.E. Heartbreak." From the staccato cadence of the verse to the reeling-style bridge to the energized vamp, the single had much to offer. It peaked at 13. Two unreleased notables are the ballads "I'm Coming Home" and "Boys to Men." This is a outstanding album overall. Words: Craig Lytle
After the careers of all of the former New Edition members stalled in the early '90s, the group reunited in 1996 for Home Again. All of the original members of the group plus Bobby Brown's replacement, Johnny Gill, participated in the reunion, and instead of turning into a gargantuan clash of egos, Home Again is surprisingly even-handed and consistent. Essentially, the album sounds like it was compiled from the highlights of each member's unreleased solo project -- most of the cuts are very good, with very little filler on the record at all. Granted, Home Again isn't a cohesive effort; it's pieced together with various producers (Sean "Puffy" Combs, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Gerald LeVert, etc.) and songwriters, but the consistency of the performances makes that issue a minor one. Simply put, none of the members have sounded so fresh since the late '80s. They might not be breaking any new ground on Home Again, but they prove they can deliver gangsta-inflected hip-hop, smooth soul, and new jack R&B with style. Words: Leo Stanley
Nearly seven years removed from Home Again, New Edition's career has once again been resuscitated. The thanks this time around go solely to music juggernaut P. Diddy rescuing the group from what could have been a future filled with casino and dinner theater shows. Signing the group makes perfect business sense, as Diddy is obviously aligning NE with the other soul artists (Mario Winans, Loon) in his Bad Boy stable, and having a group with over two decades of loyal fans can only bring in more and more sales to his empire. And like those aforementioned artists, Diddy's production house has the magic touch and comes up with another winner of a record, One Love. After a self-congratulatory "Conference Call" for an intro, "Been So Long" lifts the record off properly and could possibly be the type of song Marvin Gaye would be writing and performing if he were around today. With the notable absence of Bobby Brown, the band favors more laid-back cuts than on Home Again, favoring the sultry vocals courtesy of Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill to anchor many of the tracks. The production is focused, mature, and fitting for a group with the members nearing their forties, even when the lyrics aren't: "All on You" comes across as a desperate attempt to target the younger audience and hang on to the wild days of youth, while "Best Man" is textbook Timberlake. "Rewrite the Memories" is also quite an appropriately titled song -- as the opening piano line and chords appear to be based almost entirely on NE's classic "Can You Stand the Rain" and Force M.D.'s' "Tender Love," but that's actually quite fine as it's one of the best moments on the record and one of their finest ballads ever. All in all, it's a cohesive statement and another victory for a group with such a publicly documented and tumultuous career. It's also another jewel in the crown for Bad Boy, but here's hoping Diddy gets the guys back in the studio immediately. Seven years between New Edition records is far too long and is inexcusable. Words: Rob Theakston