Popdose Flashback ’91: Boyz II Men, “Cooleyhighharmony”
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6-5, 4-3, 2, 1. Injection fellas.”
How many times was that line used in 1991 to get panties droppin’? Me, well I was only 15 and a total dork when Cooleyhighharmony came out so while ladies were most likely on my mind 24/7 this wasn’t working for me. Though lord, I know I tried.
Growing up in the Boyz’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA or right outside of the city for my entire life, there was simply no way to avoid this record in my nice suburban neighborhood. But then how could anyone really not pay attention to the album after “Motownphilly” went to #3 and the gorgeous a cappella cover of G.C. Cameron’s “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” hit #2. I mean fuck, I’m listening to the former right now and I’ve had to stop writing like eight times to get my groove on.
Back in ’91 this was my joint. Produced by Dallas Austin but masterminded by the one-and-only Michael Bivins, Nate, Mike, Shawn and Wanya sang about walking South Street (I did that!) having all the Philly cheese steaks they could eat (I still do that!) and romancin’ the sweet ladies (I learned how to do that!). And they did this while combining the freshest New Jack Swing with sensual grooves and more a cappella passages than anyone could possibly think would land on national radio. Now it was done before Cooleyhighharmony and done after it as well, but the initial version of the album was released with the first half composed of the sexy ballads and the second half the funky grooves. That’s something that always stood out to me as being a stickler for correct sequencing I think it’s the only way this album would have worked. Not only did the Boyz come right out and pretty much say “we’re a group that’s gonna help you get laid” but they completely set the tone for pretty much their entire career. When you think Boyz II Men, you think ballads; “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love To You” and “Hey Lover” not necessarily the dance tunes. At the same time, the calculated move to release “Motownphilly” as the first single got them the airplay and once that moment happened, it was guaranteed superstardom.
I listened to the album in full last week for the first time in years and it holds up so well. I mean, I can’t say it’s truly relevant since New Jack Swing doesn’t really exist any longer but I couldn’t believe from the very first note of “Please Don’t Go” to the final one of “Your Love” I could still sing every word and it immediately took me back to awkward mood lighting and trying to get up the nerve to inject my own fella in something (probably anything, really). Instead of course, what I actually ended up doing was listening to “Uhh Ahh” performing that self hug thing and kissing air like I was trying to french Mary-Louise Parker (what? I was the only 15-year-old boy watching Fried Green Tomatoes?) with the scrambled softcore porn from some movie channel on in the background. I would love to be able to say I sat in front of a girl and sang “a lonely heart is what I feel / if no one cares for me / let me show you now the way that it would be / if you were with me” from “Lonely Heart” but I’d be lying. I got zilch in the way of lovin from this record. Even something this smooth couldn’t help the teenage me out.
Nowadays, Boyz II Men make cover records and Christmas albums and have dropped so far off the map in pretty much every place but Philadelphia that I’d bet half the world doesn’t even know they still exist (though only as a trio now) which is a total shame. They Boyz still sing their asses off though and probably made enough dough off “End of the Road” and “One Sweet Day” alone to live comfortably and do whatever they please in the music world. I just kind of miss the days when Boyz II Men were “going off, not too hard, not too soft.”
- Shawn Stockman Talks Boyz II Men Reunion — Exclusive Video (theboombox.com)
- Rock-Critic Pop Quiz: How Many of Boyz II Men’s Five #1 Singles Can You Name? (blogs.villagevoice.com)