Boy Bands: 75 Greatest Songs of All Time - Rolling Stone
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75 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time

From the Jackson 5 to BTS: here are the most scream-worthy boy band songs

Boy Bands

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Irresistibly catchy, unapologetically inauthentic, sexy and they know it — the boy band is the most fabulously pre-fab of all musical outfits. From the scripted TV shenanigans of the Monkees to the charming folkiness of One Direction, as long as there are junior high school notebooks to deface, there will be outfits providing pop spectacle in its purist, least filtered form.

As music has evolved, so have boy bands. Their existence is a pop constant but parameters have always been blurred: sometimes they dance and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are total strangers, sometimes they have known each other since birth. Sometimes they sing words they’ve written themselves, sometimes they sing other people’s. Sometimes they are literally boys, sometimes they’re twentysomethings with boyish charm. But like any other form art, you know a boy band when you see one. The main defining factor? The venues full of screaming fans — always young, mostly girls — who help turn a boy band into a cultural artifact worth admiring and singing along to even after their inevitable disbandment or “hiatus.”

In honor of their continuing impact and dominance, here are the boy band heartthrobs’ pop confections worth screaming for.

Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night” (1975)

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Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night” (1975)

Derek, Alan, Eric, Les, and Woody: the Bay City Rollers. The Scottish lads lit up the world with their tartan gladrags, Edinburgh accents, and awesomely gawky haircuts. They were the definitive 1970s boy band, from the gap between the Jackson 5 and New Edition. The Rollers wanted an American-sounding name, so they stuck a pin in a map of the U.S.A. at random and chose the handle of Bay City, Michigan. Their fandom was feared and respected worldwide: “Saturday Night” could get any school bus full of girls chanting, “S-A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Niiiight!” They were easily Rolling Stone’s most hated band of the Seventies, winning the “Hype of the Year” award for 1975. (“Comeback of the Year” went to Jefferson Starship.) But “Saturday Night” became a Number One classic, influencing imitators from Queen (who ripped it off with “We Will Rock You”) to the Ramones. “We really liked the Bay City Rollers,” Joey Ramone said. “‘Saturday Night’ had a great chant in it, so we wanted a song with a chant in it: ‘Hey! Ho! Let’s go!’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ was our ‘Saturday Night.’”

New Kids on the Block, “Please Don’t Go Girl” (1988)

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New Kids on the Block, “Please Don’t Go Girl” (1988)

“Please Don’t Go Girl” made the Apollo Theater go wild when the New Kids played it at their Amateur Night debut, but the song — the first single from their second LP, Hangin’ Tough — dropped off the R&B chart after only three weeks. Producer Maurice Starr had been pushing the New Kids to black radio stations, but when a DJ in Tampa tried “Please Don’t Go” on pop station Q105, it quickly became the station’s Number One request. When Columbia got word, the label changed their marketing strategy overnight, and the group that had been opening for Brenda K. Starr was soon touring with Tiffany. The New Kids became the template for the next decade of boy bands, but at the time, they weren’t even sure they had a hit. “No,” Joey McIntyre said when biographer Nikki Van Noy asked if knew the song was special. “Not compared to the reaction and even how I feel when I listen back to it. It’s so pretty — but, no.”

O-Zone, “Dragostea Din Tei” (2003)

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O-Zone, “Dragostea Din Tei” (2003)

Singer, songwriter, and svengali Dan Bălan has hinted that the Romanian smash “Dragostea Din Tei” (colloquially known as “the Numa Numa song”) is about losing his virginity “under the linden trees.” But any trace of folk melancholy is firmly pummeled out by robotic stop-start rhythms and a futuristic video that sees Bălan, Arsenie Todiraş and Radu Sîrbu dancing on the wings of an airplane in gleaming white trousers. The U.K. had been drip-fed continental summer bangers since the advent of package holidays in the mid-Seventies, but Moldova’s O-Zone was the first one to take boy band form. Tempering the less-pronounceable Romanian lyrics with memorable ‘mai-ai-hii‘ nonsense helped “Dragostea Din Tei” conquer Europe in 2004, selling over 8 million copies — it remains the fourth best-selling single ever in France. Bălan went on to win a Grammy after Rihanna and T.I’s chart-topping “Live Your Life” sampled the tune.

Backstreet Boys, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” (1996)

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Backstreet Boys, “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” (1996)

“Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” was the first big U.S. hit for the Backstreet Boys, who were already causing pandemonium the world over before gaining a foothold here in 1997. “America just wasn’t ready for us,” Backstreet’s Howie Dorough told USA Today after “Games” finally hit it big Stateside. “Rap and Hootie and the Blowfish were really big.” While this was the breakthrough for the Boys in America, it set the template for 1999’s international chart-topper “I Want It That Way,” whose breezy guitars and winsome vocals, courtesy of Max Martin, are at least cousins of those found here.

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