The 80s had seen the New Jack Swing sound of R&B acts like New Edition and Keith Sweat sell massively, but it took Boyz II Men’s slicker, more sugary harmonising style to send sales stratospheric.
In the great tradition of the Motown label the four vocalists – Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, Nathan Morris and Michael McCary – were highly trained both vocally and in deportment, so any hint of “street” edge was removed from their sound and their image.
Their 1991 Dallas Austin-produced debut album Cooleyhighharmony went platinum, but it was a song hurriedly recorded while touring the album that would ensure their place in pop history.
End Of The Road, written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds for the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang was the absolute epitome of soft, yearning, girl-friendly variety of soul that would come to define both R&B and boy band pop throughout the 90s.
The 1992 single set a US record for the longest stay at #1 (13 weeks), but the triumph was bittersweet as the downbeat song unintentionally reflected events in the group’s life.
Two months before the disc’s release, their road manager was killed and their assistant road manager wounded by three assailants following a scuffle in a hotel elevator. Although the loss hit the Boyz hard, they themselves were far from the end of the road, with many more hits to come.
After the enormous success of End Of The Road, Boyz II Men paid tribute to their influences with a cover of the Five Satins‘ In The Still Of The Nite. Although the Five Satins’ version only made it to #24 in Billboard, it would become the most popular doo-wop record of all time, a reported multi-million seller.
Their second US #1, I’ll Make Love To You (1994), was also masterminded by Babyface.