Yo! Kids! What up?

Remember these guys? Unless locked in the Biosphere, it would be hard not to be aware of the musical conglomerate known as New Kids on the Block. You know, the five teens who in 1989 and 1990 almost brought in more revenue than the entire beleaguered Bay State? Their story has been told before. Actually, in the spirit of true pop icons, there are two stories: authorized and unauthorized. Here are the Cliffs Notes:

Authorized: In the summer of 1984, aspiring Roxbury record producer and songwriter Maurice Starr, creator of the Bobby Brown-led New Edition, is looking to form a similar group of young sensations. He holds citywide auditions for six months before finding Dorchester-bred Donnie Wahlberg, a 15-year-old legend in his own neighborhood for his Michael Jackson impersonations. The second member is Donnie’s brother Mark. He left the group after six months to—in the words of Donnie—”play basketball.” Mark would go on to some fame of his own as rapper cum underwear model cum actor Marky Mark.

This temporary setback is quickly overcome when Dorchester homeboys Danny Wood and brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight join the group. Longtime buddies, the quartet becomes a quintet when cute-as-a-button 12-year-old Joey McIntyre from Jamaica Plain climbs aboard.

After being known as Nynuk for a thankfully brief time, these five lovable youngsters become the New Kids on the Block. Things weren’t easy at the beginning. Their first gig is before a tough audience: Deer Island prison convicts. Early recording sessions are hectic but recalled fondly by Wahlberg.

“We had some really good times. Maurice would have us over to his [Roxbury] studio,” reminisces Wahlberg. “Then we’d head down to the MIT gym, hustle our way in, and play ball with the students. Then we’d go down to Bob the Chef, where Maurice had a tab he never paid, and we’d chow down. Those were happy times.”

The New Kids sign with Columbia Records in 1986. They catch their big break in 1988 when then teen idol Tiffany agrees to let them open on her tour of malls and state fairs. The rest, as they say, is history.

From 1988 to 1991, the New Kids’ squeaky-clean version of soul and hip-hop sweeps the nation. A female frenzy not seen since the Beatles rages. They become the first act since Michael Jackson to have six Top Ten hits in a year. A 900 number racks up more than two million calls. There is an animated Saturday morning show. Their 1990 North American tour grosses $74.1 million, second only to the Rolling Stones.

After conquering the world, these very tired New Kids take a two-year break. And boy, do they deserve it!

Unauthorized version: Maurice Starr, svengali to Roxbury’s New Edition, is pissed. After becoming stars, New Edition ditches their Dr. Frankenstein in a money dispute. Without an act, Starr plots his next move. Although New Edition had been successful, the black pinups have limited appeal because—well, they’re black. He decides to take the New Edition formula to its logical conclusion: Have white kids sing black music! It worked for Elvis, didn’t it?

The five Starr recruits are nice and all, but they really can’t sing. No problem. Starr writes, produces, arranges, plays, and sings backing vocals on their first two records. He teaches them dance steps and plots their future.

Starr’s wily ploys pay off beyond his wildest dreams. The New Kids follow in the not-so-glorious footsteps of the Bay City Rollers, the Monkees, and Menudo—other completely prefabricated, critically despised pop groups who caught the fancy of lonely, dateless preadolescent girls.

The guys seem to be having a good time. Then the misbehavior starts. See Donnie have a fistfight with a Harvard student who wouldn’t yield an airline seat to him. See Donnie arrested for allegedly setting a hotel room on fire with vodka. Joey’s brother is reportedly nailed for hitting a bar patron. On another occasion, according to a newspaper report, one of Jordan’s bodyguards gets in a fight with two bar patrons who were defending a fan. Donnie tries to take on members of a Georgia Tech fraternity over an errant Frisbee toss.

And then the lip-synching charge. In early 1992 ex-music director Gregory McPherson sugge
sts that the New Kids are pulling a Milli Vanilli. Angry denials. A performance on the Arsenio Hall Show proves they aren’t lip-synching but—well, seven years into the business carrying a tune is still a supreme challenge.

Starr is not helping matters, either. To anyone who will listen, he confirms that the New Kids is indeed his creation. To emphasize his point, Starr’s name appears 10 times on the New Kids’ second album. The New Kids’ names? Not once.

The marketing of the New Kids lies somewhere between absurd and obscene. It starts with books, T-shirts, and magazines; it ends with lunch pails, dolls, slippers, keychains, and bedsheets. For reasons of integrity, a breakfast cereal is turned down.

After five years together, the Kids start getting on one another’s nerves. Jonathan begins dating Tiffany. This creates some jealousy. At one point, there are four buses for the five members.

“It was crazy, out on the road,” recalls Wahlberg. “There was a time when I would have killed for any one of them. After a while out there, I questioned that. I wasn’t so sure anymore.”

In early 1991, a remix album and a subsequent single flop. If America must look at their sparkling faces again, a collective gag is a distinct possibility. Having played every market from Seattle to Sydney at least twice, the Fab Five take their money back to Boston and count it. This takes a very long time.

End of story?