(May 14, 2023). “My girl’s like candy, a candy treat. She knocks me high up off my feet. She’s so fine…as can be. I know this girl is meant for me.”
It was on the Billboard Black Singles chart dated May 14, 1983, that a song with that opening line sung by a group of post-pubescent kids out of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood went to No. 1 across America.
The song was “Candy Girl,” the first single ever released by New Edition—a group fashioned by its producer/manager to be a “new edition” of the legendary Motown group The Jackson 5 from a decade earlier.
Forty years later, that same group’s original members—Ralph, Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike (that’s Tresvant, DeVoe, Brown, Bell and Bivins) plus one crucial singer who joined the group in 1987 (Johnny Gill) as Brown’s “replacement”—are still going strong (with Brown having long since returned to the fold)!
To wit, it was just two weeks ago that the group completed its 2023 Legacy Tour, which included concert stops in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Miami (Brown bowed out of the last dates due to “exhaustion” but is still part of the group).
This was after 2022’s Culture Tour, which saw the band—with all six of its members—touring many of the same major cities plus several others where they performed hits from their immense 40-year-old catalogue.
It’s become an annual tradition for these Boys from Boston to defy the odds that have doomed other groups and have all of their original members—plus Johnny—come back to perform timeless classics like “Can You Stand The Rain,” “Mr. Telephone Man,” “N.E. Heartbreak” and so many others they’ve accumulated since that first cherubic single graced boomboxes and turntables in the spring of 1983.
New Edition’s enviable catalogue of hits started with “Candy Girl,” the bubblegum soul smash that sped up the charts and reached No. 1 on that May 14 list when the group’s then-five members were all just 14 and 15 years old.
To put that in perspective, Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny were all still in diapers when the band that inspired them and whom they emulated—the Jackson 5–were having their first No. 1 hit with “I Want You Back” in late 1969.
And in an ironic twist, it was that Motown act’s lead singer—Michael Jackson—sitting at No. 2 on the May 14 soul chart right behind “Candy Girl” with his mega-smash “Beat It,” the song that New Edition had hopscotched to get to the top, but which would topple the Boys from Boston the following week (May 21).
Still, to be able to say that they’d beaten “Beat It” to the top and that it took the biggest star in the world to knock them out of No. 1 had to be a thrill for five young teenagers who weren’t even heard of only eight weeks earlier.
Thanks largely to Maurice Starr, the famous producer who’d discovered New Edition in a talent show in 1982 and who would manage them until he was fired for embezzlement less than a year later, “Candy Girl” received a major push from the beginning, despite being on a fledgling independent label (Streetwise Records) that had enjoyed very little national success before then.
The song debuted at a very respectable (for an unknown act and label) No. 60 on the 100-position soul chart dated April 2 and was No. 1 just six weeks later (displacing icon George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” in the process).
Starr had co-written and co-produced “Candy Girl” with creative partner Michael Jonzun (both formerly of the band The Jonzun Crew; oldheads will remember that group’s electro-dance songs “Pack Jam,” “Space Cowboy” and “Space Is The Place,” all also from 1982/3).
Yet even with Starr and Jonzun’s more electronic, future-focused own hits, “Candy Girl” was fashioned after the old Jackson 5’s hits of the past—most obviously 1970’s “ABC”—and it didn’t hurt that lead singer Ralph Tresvant sounded very much like an 11-year-old Michael.
Nor did it hurt that Jackson, who was 24 in early 1983, was the biggest pop star on the planet with his Thriller album and the megahit singles from it. Anything even tangentially or remotely connected to the King of Pop—officially or not, real or imagined—was bound to benefit from that association.
And “Candy Girl” did just that while filling a Black teen idol void that surprisingly no one else had attempted to—at least not very successfully—in the half-decade or so prior.
“Candy Girl” was as bubblegum a hit as any American group had released since the late 1970s, when the family act The Sylvers were still hot with teenybopper jams like “Boogie Fever,” “Cotton Candy,” “Hot Line” and “High School Dance.”
And given the fate of so many teen-idol acts before them, there was nothing to suggest that New Edition would defy all odds and still be around—fully intact—40 years later. A better bet would have been that The Four Tops—the 60s Motown act who still had all of its original members as late as the 1990s—would outlast them.
With all of their overnight success, the only disappointment for New Edition and “Candy Girl” in 1983 was that the very pop sounding tune didn’t garner enough crossover play to make the pop top 40 (it stalled at No. 46 on the Hot 100 in June 1983).
But that was through no fault of New Edition (pop radio stations were still reluctant to play hits by new Black artists in 1983 as the full impact of Thriller hadn’t been felt yet).
Plus the Boston group would acquit themselves several times over in subsequent years with top-ten pop hits both collectively (“Cool It Now,” “If It Isn’t Love,” “Hit Me Off”) and individually (too many to mention, but Google the discographies of all six members).
Through its resilience, New Edition has since become one of the most iconic groups in Black music history…check that, in all of music history. Despite their various personal trials and tribulations, each member—all of whom are now between 54 and 56 years old—has shown that it’s possible to remain true to the core group while forging their own successful careers.
As evidence, New Edition is still the only group in history with at least six key members where all of them have reached No. 1 on the Black Singles chart (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) in separate entities away from the group: Bobby, Johnny and Ralph as solo artists, and Ricky, Mike and Ronnie as Bell Biv DeVoe. All of those entities have had top-10 hits on the pop chart (the Hot 100) as well.
The fact that this venerable act is still together and touring today just adds to their stature as one of the greatest R&B/pop acts of all time, particularly in an era where “groups” (consisting of three or more members who are regularly billed as a single unit) are sadly a thing of the past.
When New Edition topped the chart with “Candy Girl” forty years ago, there were 19 songs by groups in the soul top 40 (and 23 in the top 50).
On today’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, there are zero songs by groups on the entire 50-position chart. The chart just consists of solo artists with a few of them collaborating on joint efforts.
Here’s an even bigger feather for New Edition’s cap: Of the 23 groups that were represented in the top 50 on May 14, 1983, only one still tours with all of its original members intact.
That would be, of course, New Edition.
Today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Candy Girl” topping the charts!
Now, if we could just get New Edition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like so many of their predecessors (and successors) who only wish they could boast having their original lineups fully intact and touring more than 40 years after they started, we’d be in business!
DJRob (he/him/his), who thinks New Edition Is the greatest non-family Boy Band there was, is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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