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New Kids on the Block: From Puberty to Platinum

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In fact, one secret of the Kids' success could be that they are that rare pop phenomenon that comes complete with a significant amount of parental approval. The Kids' G-rated image and antidrug stance have helped the group win the hearts not only of America's daughters but also of their mothers.

Talk to some of the hundreds of moms who are accompanying their daughters during the all-night vigils that have become standard procedure at the hotels where the Kids stay on the road and you'll find a strong consensus that the Kids are good kids.

"I would never let my daughter even listen to Motley Crüe's records," says one dedicated mom who's spending a long night after the Kids' show in the lobby of the Marriot near the Nassau Coliseum. "I heard them on MTV and told my daughter to come quickly. I like the music myself, and I like the fact that they're clean-cut. So if my daughter wants to take one day off from school, that's okay with me."

Another secret of the group's success has to do with the Kids' own schooling: The Kids are one happy result of the controversial school-busing program in Boston that led to so much racial disharmony in the Seventies. "We grew up when they were trying to integrate the city with busing," says Donnie. "A lot of bad stuff came up, a lot of racism. But kids weren't involved with it. Some people have said, 'Ha, they've even gone to black schools to train to be black.' As if it was part of an intricate plan." The New Kids on the Block's schooling may, however, be one reason that they seem so utterly free of racism – an important factor, considering the organization around them is largely black.

"These [kids] are white kids who are black," Starr told the Los Angeles Times recently. "They have white skins, but they are black. They have soul."

Indeed they do. When the Kids talk about music, it's almost always about rap and soul. In the comfort of their posse on the tour bus, they talk like veteran B-boys. Some of their favorites are Public Enemy, James Brown, Michael Jackson, the Stylistics and – to the apparent dismay of Starr – New Edition and Bobby Brown. Both Donnie and Danny were heavily into break dancing before they even joined the group.

Accordingly, the group members – who've all recently read The Autobiography of Malcolm X – are disturbed by the racist assumptions people sometimes make about their black colleagues and friends. "I was in a mall once and this kid walked up to Peter [Work, the Kids' road manager] and said, 'Is he your bodyguard?' I said no. 'Your valet? Your roadie? Your choreographer? Your DJ?' Finally, I had to say, 'Listen, he's my manager.' "

This is one reason, according to Wahlberg, that the Kids are getting sick and tired of seeing themselves depicted in the mainstream press as talentless white kids being manipulated by a frustrated black mastermind.

"Some people think we have no talent and that Maurice is this crook Svengali puppeteer," Donnie says. "And that's a lot of garbage. Especially with kid acts, people think there's got to be evil stage parents or evil, greedy adults behind you. We're not Menudo. Danny's not going to get replaced if he grows a mustache. We do have talent to produce and write and play, and we will do more of it. We've done some on the records already. But right now we're still learning, still growing. We're proud of our past, and we're confident about our future. We know people are going to try and stick drugs in our faces – do something to trip us up. But we're not worried. We know who we are, and we're not puppets. There are no strings."

Their critics might not buy it, but the little girls understand.

This story is from the November 2nd, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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