We all know about New Edition being five cats from Orchard Park Projects in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. We all know about their career being kicked off 30 years ago with a hit single called “Candy Girl” but there’s so much more than that to the story. These five teenagers announced to the music industry and the world that there was (still) talent in Boston. Not only were they from Boston but so were the men that produced the album and sold more than a million copies of it. New Edition were the first Boston cats to bring a Platinum plaque back to the projects (in theory, in reality the RIAA never delivered them as it had to be reported to them by Streetwise Records or their publicity department first). They also kicked off a rush of record labels scouting, evaluating and signing the talent that performed at local Boston talent shows for years to follow. In addition, record labels began looking for young singing groups nationwide due to New edition’s breakout success. Let’s start at the beginning…
The story of New Edition can’t be told without mentioning the Boston connection that resulted in them recording an album in the first place. Back in the early 80′s, Boston area producers/musician Arthur Baker often collaborated with other local producer/musicians Michael Jonzun, Maurice Starr & Gordon Worthy. They’d even previously recorded material as a group called Glory on NYC’s Posse Records. Individually, Arthur Baker was in a group called Planet Patrol with John Robie who had a hit called “Play At Your Own Risk” on NYC label Tommy Boy Records back in 1982 while Jonzun Crew also had a hit on their hands with a a song called “Pak Man (Look Out For The OVC)” released on their label Boston International Records. Arthur Baker would bring his Boston homies to the attention of Tommy Silverman of Tommy Boy. The song would become redone & re-released on Tommy Boy as “Pack Jam” to avoid being sued by Bally/Midway. “Pack Jam” became another big hit for Tommy Boy and soon Arthur Baker & his boys Michael Jonzun & Maurice Starr had already making hits for years for NYC labels using their trademarked “Boston Funk” sound that people outside of Massachusetts referred to as “Electro”. They were always looking for acts to put on & write material for. Arthur Baker was already in demand and Maurice Starr decided to mine for gold right there in Roxbury.
New Edition were already pretty well known up & comers on Boston’s talent show circuit after adding Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe and getting direction and choreography from Brooke Payne. They entered Maurice Starr’s Hollywood Talent Nights contest and won round after round before making it to the finals at The Strand Theater, ultimately coming in 2nd place. Starr liked what he saw and wanted to record with them so they were signed to Arthur Baker’s label Streetwise Records for $500 and a Betamax (not even a VCR). They went into the Roxbury studio on Linwood where Jonzun Crew operated Boston International Studios (built with money Michael & Maurice earned from producing uncredited hits for The Sugar Hill Gang & The Furious 5 for Sugar Hill Records) back in Fall 1982 and began recording the album “Candy Girl”. In late February 1983, “Candy Girl” hit the airwaves and took off instantly. Before you knew it, “Candy Girl” was everywhere. How popular was “Candy Girl”? It knocked George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” off the top of the Billboard R&B charts and it had been there for close to a month at the time!
“Candy Girl” hit #1 on the R&B Chart, #1 in the UK (it was the first #1 hit in UK history that featured Rap) and it rose all the way up to #46 on the Billboard Chart. The video was mainly shot in Boston’s South End/Lower Roxbury area as it begins at the steps of the long demolished Dover Street elevated station and takes you to the John Hancock Building, Commonwealth Avenue Mall and the old Lunchonette that used to be near Dover Street Station. The record was in constant rotation on the airwaves. The album “Candy Girl” was released on March 15th, 1983 while the lead single was still hot and climbing up the charts. Just as “Candy Girl” had ascended to #1, Maurice Starr & Arthur Baker released the second single from the album “Is This The End”. Album sales continued to pick up.
“Is This The End” had the feel of an old The Corporation produced Motown Jackson 5ive ballad from a decade earlier. Proving that they were no one hit wonders, the Roxbury Five’s second single rose all the way to #8 on the Billboard R&B Charts and peaked at #85 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Suddenly, Don Cornelius came calling and they debuted on “Soul Train”. The school year was about to end and New Edition would begin to tour the country (and other countries) to promote and sell their hit album “Candy Girl”. Once the Summer hit, New Edition began to tour and ride the success of their two hit singles. Their energetic live performances and tight choreography made them stand out and garnered them even more popularity. Towards the end of the summer they dropped a two sided single which would also make noise, “Popcorn Love”/“Jealous Girl”.
“Popcorn Love” reached #25 on the Billboard R&B Chart and just missed breaking into the Billboard Hot 100 (it peaked at #101) but these three songs helped to push the “Candy Girl” album. In addition, “Jealous Girl” became an extremely popular ballad. So much so that it often got played on air instead of “Popcorn Love” and New Edition decided to perform it on “Soul Train”. It had a Temptations meets the Jackson 5ive kind of feel to it. Teenagers were forming singing groups all across the nation and performing New Edition songs at talent shows, going as far as to even use Brooke Payne’s choreography in their performances after seeing them on TV. Before you knew it, the pride of Orchard Park Projects even had girl groups in New York singing love songs about them. New Edition had opened the eyes of the music industry and inspired young people in Boston and beyond to pursue their own dreams.
After all of the television appearances both stateside and abroad plus close to a year of touring, New Edition landed back in Boston with nothing to show for 3 hit singles and a Platinum selling album but 5 royalty checks for $1.87 each. New Edition’s parents lawyered up and sued Streetwise Records, ultimately freeing them from their previous contractual obligation to Streetwise Records. A bidding war for their services/contract began and was won by MCA Records, New Edition signed with a new management company who installed Jump & Shoot Productions as their new production team (which would create a new set of label issues & management woes for the next 3 plus years).
In July 1984, New Edition would prove that they were here to stay releasing their self titled debut on MCA Records. This time, they went double Platinum and the RIAA was notified so they received their plaques. Arthur Baker would go on to produce a ton of hits for acts as diverse as his own group Planet Patrol, Freeez, New Order, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. Maurice Starr & Michael Jonzun had some more success with Jonzun Crew and writing/producing for other acts (both Planet Patrol & Jonzun Crew released albums in late 1983 on Tommy Boy) but Maurice Starr really struck gold when he groomed a group called Nynuk from Dorchester who later became New Kids On The Block.
In conclusion, New Edition’s legacy is undervalued even by many of their fans. They are both the direct and indirect reason for the signing of youth groups throughout the mid to late 80′s, the R&B/New Jack Swing/Hip Hop hybrid sound of the early 90′s and even the boy band explosion of the late 90′s. Who can ever forget the evolution from “Candy Girl” to “New Edition” to “Heart Break”? Bobby Brown changing R&B forever by becoming a crossover superstar making edgy music with his albums “Don’t Be Cruel” & “Bobby”? Where would R&B be today without Bell Biv Devoe opening the door for groups like Jodeci to make raunchy Hip Hop influenced R&B that could also crossover to the Pop charts with their 1990 LP “Poison”?
Would Sean “Puffy” Combs have had the same willingness to launch Bad Boy without seeing Mike Bivins succeed at MCA with his Biv 10 imprint when he introduced Another Bad Creation & Boyz II Men to the world? Would future R&B groups be as willing to do side projects/solo albums if not for the Platinum success of all six members of New Edition? Without New Edition there’s no New Kids On The Block, meaning no Boyzone, Take That, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, 98º, B2K, LFO, etc. (and no TRL). If not for New Edition, the entire music industry and Black/R&B/Pop music as a whole would be different. 30 years later, they’ve survived bad records deals, shady management and defections (or voting outs) to still be standing and influencing the present generation of groups today. Now it’s time for their damb biopic, y’all know where to find me for that.