Boyz II Men, the most successful vocal group in R&B history, are about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Coolyhighharmony, with a new release of the set on vinyl along with their followup album II.
The band was formed at the Philadelphia High School of Creative and Performing Arts by Nathan Morris, Marc Nelson (who would leave before they broke big), Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCrary. They were heavily influenced by early harmony groups but kept a more modern sensibility, including taking their name from a New Edition song. In fact, it was the group’s audition in front of Michael Bivins of Edition that got them their management and recording contracts.
Their debut album, Coolyhighharmony, was named after the real-life Cooley Vocational School in Chicago and inspired by the 1975 movie Cooley High and was originally released by Motown Records February 14, 1991. The album eventually peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200 and has sold more than nine million copies to date, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and a nomination for Best New Artist (they lost to singer/songwriter Marc Cohn). Cooleyhighharmony combined old-school street corner vocals with drums in the New Jack Swing style, multi-layered samples, a style dubbed “hip hop doo-wop.” All four members shared leads, featuring Wanya “Squirt” Morris’ vibrato, Shawn “Slim” Stockman’s tenor, Nathan “Alex Vanderpool” Morris’ baritone and Michael “Bass” McCarty’s low range.
The album’s first single, the Austin-produced Motownphilly, set the tone, an origin story in which Bivins raps how the group met, with a title perfectly describing a new Motown Sound. The song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 1 on the R&B chart. The song’s popular video featured cameos by fellow high school alumni Black Thought and Questlove of The Roots. The album’s second single, the band’s cover of It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday, written by the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Freddie Perren and Christian Yarian and originally performed by G.C. Cameron for the Cooley High film soundtrack, hit the top of Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and crossed over to number 2 on the Hot 100, blocked only by Michael Jackson’s Black or White. The third single, Uhh Ahh, also topped the Hot R&B Singles chart and went to number 16 on the Hot 100, and was later sampled by Beyonce Knowles for her 2011 song, Countdown. The final single released from the album, the Dallas Austin-produced Please Don’t Go, went to number 8 on the Billboard R&B chart.
While Cooleyhighharmony was re-released in 1992 with a new cover, remixes and an inclusion of the single, End Of The Road, then again in 1993 to include In The Still Of The Nite (I’ll Remember), from the soundtrack of the TV mini-series, The Jacksons: An American Dream, this vinyl reissue is the original 10-track release with its (now-rare) original cover. Motown/UMe released a 2-CD deluxe edition of the album, including two previously unreleased songs, in 2009.
Boyz II Men’s II, originally released on Motown Records on August 30, 1994, was the group’s global breakthrough, featuring two consecutive Billboard Hot 100 singles in I’ll Make Love To You and On Bended Knee, making the group the third artist to succeed themselves at number 1 on the U.S. chart after Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and the first to achieve the feat in thirty years. Produced and written by Tim & Bob (Tim Kelley and Bob Robinson), Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, II topped the Billboard 200 for five weeks and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, going number 1 in France and New Zealand, Top 5 in Australia and Canada, Top 10 in Japan, The Netherlands and Top 20 in the U.K. Spain and Sweden, eventually selling 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. It became the inaugural winner of the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, while I’ll Make Love To You won Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. The latter song had already been number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks, breaking the group’s own chart record, set by End of the Road, which had 13 weeks at the top. On Bended Knee succeeded Love, staying at No. 1 for six weeks. Other singles from the album include Water Runs Dry, which reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Thank You, which reached number 21. The emotional spoken-word track, Khalil (Interlude), was a tribute to their road manager Khalil Roundtree, who was killed in Chicago while the band was opening for MC Hammer on his Too Legit To Quit tour.
For the new vinyl version of II, UMe has expanded to a two-LP set with the addition of two bonus tracks, a cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and the song Fallin’.
The track lists:
Please Don’t Go
This Is My Heart
It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday
All Around The World
I Sit Away
I’ll Make Love To You
On Bended Knee
Water Runs Dry
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