What compelled the band to get back onstage? Donnie says: “The records was flying. The security guards dragged us offstage, and the song kept playing. The crowd was laughing because the song kept playing and the voices were on the tape and we were singing. The mikes were on. There was, like, 10,000 people. But my classmate Cristin, who I’d been going to school with since first grade, was standing dead center in the front row looking at me. And Danny knew her, too. The minute they pulled me offstage, all I thought was ‘Cristin’s gonna tell everyone in school what happened. I can’t let this happen.’ And I ducked under the security guard and I ran back onstage, and I looked back and said, ‘Come on!’ and all the other guys came back onstage.”
Alma remembers watching the crowd turn around once the guys reemerged and continued performing. “They all started clapping and yelling for them. . . . As scared as I was, that was the right thing to do, and I knew it.”
Donnie says: “In those times, when race relations were so tense in Boston, you couldn’t drop another white kid in Franklin Park at the Kite Festival and expect them to perform in front of 10,000 black people. They would’ve ran. We were like, ‘This is awesome.’ We loved it. We thrived on it. . . . Going back onstage was simply about us believing in ourselves and wanting to stand our ground.”
SOME OF THE BAND’S shows in the mid-’80s occurred at unlikely places, from retirement homes to a prison where one of Donnie’s brothers was incarcerated. The group was clever enough to adapt to each audience by pulling tricks out of its sleeves, such as tossing cigarettes to the inmates. “I just knew prisoners loved cigarettes, and I also figured it’s the only way we wouldn’t get humiliated,” Donnie says. “When we threw those packs of cigarettes out, that’s it. We were heroes. The whole prison was going crazy. Any movie you’ve seen with a prison or, like, Marilyn Monroe singing at the USO, it was like that. Except we were boys singing at a man’s prison.”
IN 1987, Danny, Donnie, and Jordan all worked summer jobs in downtown Boston. Donnie remembers: “Danny and me worked in the Shawmut Bank building, and Jordan worked right across the street in the mailroom in some other bank building. We’d take the subway into work in the morning, we’d meet for lunch, and then we’d probably go to Maurice’s house at night after that. From the summer of ’87 on, we were together all the time. We were with Maurice or we’d go ride around and play basketball together. We’d go try to pick up girls together. Everything we did all day was related to the group.”
“PLEASE DON’T GO GIRL” was released as the lead single to the group’s second album, Hangin’ Tough, on April 16, 1988. The song was distributed to black stations, utilizing the same marketing strategy put in place for the 1986 debut album, New Kids on the Block, which reflected the band’s new name.
In conjunction with the single, the band recorded a low-budget music video, which was released to BET (Black Entertainment Television). The video featured a very young-looking Joe, with the four other guys in tow, holding a yellow flower and imploring a significantly older woman not to leave him. The video was recorded on a frigid winter day, which is apparent by the group’s red faces. “It was downright freezing that day; it was really bad,” Jordan says. “That video was so whack. But you gotta start somewhere.” Maurice fronted the $9,000 needed to film the video — a lot of money for him to come up with.
ASK ALMOST ANY MEMBER of NKOTB about his standout memory of those earlier days, and he will cite the group’s first Apollo Theater appearance in the spring of 1988. Located in Harlem, the landmark theater attracted a primarily black audience that was infamous for being unforgiving, frequently driving performers offstage. Of the anticipation leading up to it, Donnie says: “We weren’t terrified that we were white and no one was going to like us because we were white. We kinda figured when these five white kids walk out onstage they’re gonna think we’ll sing like a barbershop quartet. Then we’d start dancing and going crazy. I think by that point, we were aware that it was an asset. But there in the Apollo Theater, it was like ‘We can’t fail. We can’t be booed. This could be the end of us.’ ”
Looking back on their performance of “Please Don’t Go Girl” and “The Right Stuff” that night, Jon says, “I think that was the scariest show I ever did. It was just nerve-racking.” Back then, before boy bands and crossover music, NKOTB was a novelty for the Apollo crowd. As a testament to the audience’s wonderment, Jon remembers that in the middle of the performance “they started shouting, ‘Go, white boys! Go, white boys!’ It was just like ‘What the hell is happening?’ ” Danny recalls that night as a big turning point: “The moment for me when I knew it was going to happen was when we did the Apollo and got a standing ovation. That was pretty big.”Continued...