The R&B scene fully stepped into the ’90s with a little help from a singing group out of Philadelphia named Boyz II Men. R&B groups may be an endangered species in 2016, but twenty-five years ago, that was far from the case. Acts like Guy, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Mint Condition, Troop, After 7 and many others were all making major noise on the charts and producing some great tunes, but it would ironically be a member of two of the more popular groups of the period that would introduce the music world to the future of the genre. Mike Bivins, of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame, discovered and molded what would become the definitive male vocal group of the ’90s in Boyz II Men.
The quartet – which consists of Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and now former member Michael McCary — would dominate the decade with multiple albums that would all move millions of units and produced numerous smash singles that have gone on to become classics.
Catching their big break after performing for Bivins backstage at a New Edition concert in Philadelphia, the group would take on Bivins as their manager and sign a deal with Biv 10/Motown Records. Releasing their debut album, CooleyHighHarmony, on Feb. 14, 1991, Boyz II Men quickly became the hottest male R&B group in the game.
The album boasts multiple hit singles and help widened their appeal unlike many of their contemporaries with their constant nods to the old-school R&B while also endearing themselves to the new school of music fans enticed by the hip-hop aesthetic.
CooleyHighHarmony would go on to sell over nine million copies and established Boyz II Men as heartthrobs for a new generation of listeners, a distinction they would hold throughout the better part of the decade.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the LP’s release, we’ve selected and ranked the five most potent songs on this classic album. Check it out below.
“This Is My Heart”
“Loving and kissing and holding you tight / Letting you know everything is all right / Do you love me / This is my heart,” Boyz II Men croon on the CooleyHighHarmony standout, “This Is My Heart.” On the song, Shawn Stockman guides the ship on this outing, singing “We belong together / The love I feel is strong / And I wouldn’t take the world for exchange / For this feeling I have inside of me,” and rises to the occasion in a big way. Boyz II Men delivers more than a one-two punch on the ballad with lines like “Our love keeps us together / Whenever we’re apart, our bond holds us close / We live in each other’s heart / And so I’ll always feel whole.” Overall, the song is sentimental and full of passion.
“Please Don’t Go”
Another CooleyHighHarmony‘s highlight comes in the form of “Please Don’t Go,” an epic ballad on which Wanya, Nathan, Shawn, and Micheal plead for their lover’s undying love and loyalty while promising their own in return. Wanya Morris takes the lead, crooning “Slowly, my eyes began to see / That I need you near right with me at all times / My feelings are so deep for you / That I won’t let go of you,” before the infectious bridge takes your breath away and leads you to the hook and a few words from Michael.
Nathan Morris steps up to the plate with the second verse, singing “When you’re away, temptation may come / Above of when I get caught up (by you) / When I get caught up (by you) / When I get caught up / I let go,” and harmonizes with Wanya, the two of their voices colliding and making for musical magic. “Please Don’t Go” is an undeniable slow burner that showcases the best of what Boyz II Men have to offer.
Boyz II Men get kinky with the sensual ballad, “Uhh Ahh.” It’s a steamy number that sees the quartet from Philly turning the lights down low and ratcheting up the raunchiness. After a climatic countdown, the Boyz waste no time getting busy, with Nathan Morris crooning “The love I have right next to me / Is here and always will be / I’m caressing your body emotionally / As you can feel and will see,” before Shawn Stockman glides in for a few sensuous lines of his own. Micheal McCary closes the track with his signature baritone, whispering sweet nothings like “The music is low, the lights are dim, there we lie / Passion overflows with every look in your eyes,” while Wanya Morris impresses with his harmonious wails as the song fades out, ending one of the more stronger tracks on CooleyHighHarmony.
“It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye”
“How do I say goodbye / To what we had?” Nathan Morris belts out at the onset of Boyz II Men’s rendition of G.C. Cameron’s 1975 hit of the same name. The song was originally penned by Motown husband-and-wife songwriting team Freddie Perren and Christine Yarian for the classic 1975 film, Cooley High. While Cameron’s original was a hit in it’s own right, the Boyz II Men version would prove to have an even bigger impact, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming the most successful single released from CooleyHighHarmony. “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye” would be a staple at funerals for children, teens, and young adults, along with being used to signify the end of an era. Topping a classic with a remake is no easy task, but Boyz II Men achieve this feat and it played a big part in the group’s resounding success.
Boyz II Men made a stellar impression on the music world with their debut single, “Motownphilly,” which touched down in late 1990 and eventually become one of the definitive songs of not only the year, but an entire era of R&B. Produced by Dallas Austin, the track incorporates elements of New Jack Swing and old-school doo-wop sensibilities. The end result was a fresh new sound that appealed to the youth and was respected by older folks as well. Singing “Motownphilly’s back again / Doin’ a little east coast swing” while introducing themselves on the hook, Nathan tackles the opening verse, crooning “It’s long overdue but now / Philly is slammin’ / Boyz II Men, A B C, B B D / The east coast family” before Wanya swoops in for an impassioned delivery of the song’s bridge. Lyrics like “Back in school we used to dream about this everyday /Could it really happen? Or do dreams fade away,” were true-to-life and symbolized the quartets transition from high school students to full blown superstars. “MotownPhilly” would shoot all the way to the No. 3 slot on the Billboard Hot 100 and mark Boyz II Men’s arrival in grand fashion.