When Boyz II Men Ruled The World

Above: Boyz II Men in the '90s

Q: Which five artists or groups have spent the most time weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts?

A couple of the members of this exclusive club are pretty easy to guess.

Obviously, “The King” Elvis Aaron Presley holds down one of the spots and those four lads from Liverpool that led an invasion of the airwaves are included, so that’s two. Mariah Carey is closing in on 25 years in the business and has 18 No. 1 singles, tied with Elvis for second-most all-time, two back of The Beatles, making it no surprise that “Mimi” makes the list. The same goes for Rihanna simply because she’s dropped seven wildly successful studio albums in less than a decade.

But the fifth member of the pack is a little harder to place. It’s not Michael. It’s not Beyonce. It’s not Katy Perry or Usher.

It’s Boyz II Men.

Given that they haven’t been a prominent act this century, it might surprise some that the quartet (now trio) from Philadelphia rank fifth on this list with 50 weeks combined at No. 1, but it speaks to just how huge Nathan, Michael, Shawn and Wanya were from the time they dropped their debut album Cooleyhighharmonythrough the release of Evolution in 1997. Over the course of three albums and one single on the soundtrack to Boomerang, the group that got their big break by sneaking backstage at a Bell Biv DeVoe show and singing New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain?” etched their names in the musical history books.

Their debut single, “Motownphilly,” was an update to what New Edition had done before them, infusing harmonies with a New Jack Swing beat courtesy of producer Dallas Austin. Both “Motownphilly” and the second single, an a capella version of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” topped the R&B charts and broke into the Top 10 on the pop charts, but what followed is what really set Boyz II Men apart from the pack.

Boomerang was a good, not great Eddie Murphy movie and the soundtrack featured quality offerings from P.M. Dawn (“I’d Die Without You”), A Tribe Called Quest (“Hot Sex”) and Babyface (“Give U My Heart”). Resting midway through the 12-track lineup was “End of the Road,” an emotional ballad written and produced by Babyface that went on to become one of the biggest songs of all-time. How big? How about a record-setting 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1.

After that kind of monster success, there were big expectations for their second album, II. Some groups would cave under that kind of pressure, but their sophomore album managed to take things to another level. The lead single “I’ll Make Love to You” would spend 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, besting the previous record they had set with “End of the Road” and when it was finally replaced at the top of the charts, it was the album’s second single, “On Bended Knee” that took over the No. 1 position. It was the first time an act had replace itself at No. 1 since The Beatles went back-to-back-to-back over 14 weeks in 1964.

It would only take a little more than a year for another song to come along and top the 14-week run “I’ll Make Love to You” enjoyed at the top of the charts though, re-establishing the record at 16 weeks.

That song was “One Sweet Day,” a powerful, soulful partnership between Mariah Carey and… you guessed it… Boyz II Men. It’s one of the best songs of all-time – a flawless effort that paired two amazing acts at the height of their excellence – and capped an insane stretch of success for the group.

Their third stuido album, 1997’s Evolution, underperformed compared to Motownphilly and II, though the lead single “4 Seasons of Loneliness” reached No. 1 and “A Song for Mama” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Vocal Performance (Duo or Group) category.

And then it all kind of just ended.

They bounced between labels for a while, dropped a couple albums that failed to make any real impact (2000’s Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya and 2002’s Full Circle) before ultimately getting dropped from their label and delivering a couple really solid albums of covers as a trio after Michael McCrary’s ongoing back issues forced him to leave the group. They’ve continued making music and released their 11th album, Collide, last month, but have never come anywhere close to replicating their previous success.

Then again, not many have.

Not many artists stick around long term these days – they’re hot for a minute and then gone – and the few that do have enduring success can’t match the run of dominance of the quartet that ruled the charts for large chunks of the ’90s.

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