If you were to turn on Top 40 radio or MTV in the late ’80s and early ’90s the odds of hearing songs from New Kids on the Block, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Naughty By Nature and Salt-N-Pepa were pretty darn good.
Thirty years later, you can hear those hits and see the performers again, this time on the stage of “The Mixtape Tour.”
That’s the name the New Kids gave to their latest tour that rolls into town 8 p.m. Friday, July 5, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. They’ve invited their contemporaries to join them on an outing. New Kid Danny Wood says is designed to capture that time in music and in the lives of the fans.
“We took care in putting this package together,” Wood says. “If you’re going to call something a ‘Mixtape,’ you better have it represent well. We weren’t exactly sure what the response would be when we announced it. It’s been astounding.”
In addition to being pop stars of that moment, the Mixtape tourmates have other connections — including one that helped catapult NKOTB — which includes Donnie Wahlberg, Wood, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre and Jonathan Knight — from fledgling boy band with a failed album under their belt to the top of the pops.
In 1988, the teenage Tiffany, then at the peak of her “I Think We’re Alone Now” popularity, brought New Kids on the Block out on tour with her, putting the boys on stage in front of tens of thousands — just when they’d released “Hangin’ Tough,” their breakthrough album.
By the end of the year, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” was an MTV smash. By mid-1989, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” was a No. 1 hit and, when NKOTB and Tiffany went back out on tour together, they were “co-headliners” with the boys closing the show.
“It makes it special doing things with her,” Wood says. “She gave us a lucky break back then, having us open for her when we were nobodies. Now, we’re kind of returning the favor.”
There’s a contemporary connection between NKOTB and Naughty By Nature as well. It comes on “80s Baby” and “Boys In The Band (Boy Band Anthem),” the two songs the New Kids have released for the tour.
Those tracks are filled with shout-outs and cameos — including nods to Gibson and Salt-N-Pepa — as NKOTB embrace their era and their genre, saluting boy bands all the way back to Motown.
“I sing on them, so I love them,” Wood says of the new songs. “It’s a group decision what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do them. Donnie (Wahlberg) wrote songs with Kay Gee, who’s Naughty By Nature’s DJ. So it was really easy this time. Now we’re trying them live.”
That they’re making new songs and still out touring is something of a surprise for Wood, who thought NKOTB was over in 1994 when the group disbanded after a decade together.
“We had a great first run, but after we broke up, I didn’t think we’d get back together,” he said. “The astounding thing to me is it’s now 11 years (since we got back together) and we’re about to embark on our biggest tour ever.”
That tour, Wood says, will play to a lot of the same fans who saw NKOTB in their first run — along with a couple generations of new fans.
“You look out at the crowd, and if a woman brought her daughter when she was 10 years old 11 years ago, she’s 21 now and she’s there with her friends,” he says. “We see a lot of women in their 30s and 40s, they’re the hardcore fans. And they bring their daughters. When we toured with the Backstreet Boys, that exposed us to their audience and them to ours, so we see some people of that age.”
Speaking of age, one would imagine it’s not easy for a group of middle-aged guys to sing and dance like they are 20.
“It’s different for each guy,” says Wood, who turned 50 in May. “I work out a lot, over 30 years I’ve been working out. It really isn’t an issue for me. When a tour comes along, I step up my game and I’m ready to go.
“Especially for the guys singing lead, we have to reel in some of the choreography so they can get their breathing right, their singing right. But after 30 plus years of being in the biz, every guy knows what they have to do and how they have to do it to make it work.”
So what can fans expect of the live show this time?
“Donnie does the creative side and puts the show together,” Wood says. “He knows us, the four of us, so well. He puts it together, we get together and talk about it, rehearse and then, bang, it goes.
“There are songs we know we have to do. We’re going to do all the hits. It’s kind of deciding what other songs to throw in. That’s where the new songs come in. We always do new music to give something extra to the fans and we get to perform them, so they’re fresh for us.”
That said, Wood realizes that most of those who come to see NKOTB — and very likely all of their Mixtape tour mates — are there to hear the hits. For that reason, he’s baffled and amused when he learns that some veteran artists refuse to play their old songs.
“It’s funny when they say they have songs that they don’t like to do or won’t do,” he says. “To me, I’m thankful to have them and that people still want to hear them. I love doing them.”
And so does the crowd, which goes wild for the boys, just like back in the day.
“It’s very similar to the energy from our first run,” he said. “Obviously, they’re older, but it’s a lot of the same.”