Chart Week: April 19, 1986
Song: “A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)” – New Edition
Chart Position: #38, 8th week on the chart. Peaked at #38 for two weeks.

Every teen pop group faces a dilemma as they get older: how do they maintain their audience as they, their fans, and their music matures?

New Edition was bumping into that issue when they recorded their third album, All For Love. The Boston group was the archetype for how an ‘80s Boy Band should operate, and much of the group was fine with sticking with that formula. But Bobby Brown chaffed at the idea of continuing on that path. He wanted to explore more adult themes. He believed he should be the featured singer on more tracks. And he thought the band should shed their clean-cut image. That tension boiled over in late 1985, as the band toured All For Love, when Brown was fired after continually disrupting their performances.

That split was painful but worked out fine for all. Brown became one of the biggest stars in pop music on his second solo album, 1988’s Don’t Be Cruel. And New Edition made one of the greatest R&B albums of all-time after adding Johnny Gill.[1]

I was thinking less about the band’s arc and more about how my peer group was changing in 1986 when I heard this song last weekend.

The changes among my friends had become apparent a few months earlier, in the first week of ninth grade. Our English class got an assignment to write and present an essay about something that we loved. I will never forget when the biggest guy in our grade, who always wore black and was super into heavy metal, stood up and shared his passionate work about the history of English New Wavers Duran Duran. Or rather I remember all the guys in class staring at each other with jaws agape, the 1985 version of “WTF???”

Turns out homie got a girlfriend over the summer. She was into Duran Duran. So, to paraphrase Jules Winfield, turns out he was into Duran Duran, too. Like crazy into them. This was a dude who, three months earlier, was the go-to if you had questions about any heavy metal artist, no matter how obscure. Yet here he was carrying on about a bunch of Brits who wore makeup and linen suits and played updated disco music.[2]

In the spring of 1986 I ran into this phenomenon again, although in a less striking way.

A different classmate started talking up the latest New Edition album. This seemed strange to me, as anytime I would go to his house, we always got into his older brother’s album collection, playing AC/DC, Queen, Triumph, Rush, Kiss, and other loud rock bands. I couldn’t remember any R&B or soul ever being played in his house, or of him expressing interest in such acts. Something had changed.

Turns out, again, it was a girl. He was hanging out with some cutie who liked New Edition. He knew I listened to more “Black” music than anyone else in our friend group, so started telling me how good the album was. He especially loved “School,” NE’s goofy, rapped, stay-in-school anthem. I guarantee his older brother thought any kind of rap was the lowest form of music and probably would have kicked his ass if he knew his little brother was listening to it. This kid was blowing my mind!

Right around this time “A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)” was getting a fair amount of airplay. I know I had it on my running mix tape at some point that spring.[3] When my mom’s April Columbia House catalog came, I was thrilled to see All For Love listed. I had her order the cassette, and soon it was my daily, after-school soundtrack.

Anyway, things were changing, as they do with teenagers. New Edition and Bobby Brown were on their way to adult stardom. A couple of my friends had their first girlfriends. And I had a building block for my late ‘80s/early ‘90s Modern Black Music obsession. Plus fuel for a blog post 36 years later.

While much of All For Love is the standard, cotton candy pop that made NE famous, you can hear the stirrings of where they were headed in this song. It is slightly more mature in that it’s universal rather than clearly about some crush in your homeroom class. The harmonies on the chorus are really good. While Ralph Tresvant’s voice never got super deep, it does has more depth to it here than on songs like “Candy Girl” and “Cool It Now.” The production, though, is still pretty cheesy, certainly no where near the immaculate sound Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis crafted for Heart Break. While it doesn’t reach the highs the classics from Heart Break did, “A Little Bit of Love (Is All It Takes)” does seem like the link between the first phase and second phases of New Edition’s career. 7/10

  1. Coincidentally Don’t Be Cruel and Heart Break were released on the same day: June 20, 1988.  ↩
  2. I dug Duran Duran, so not knocking them.  ↩
  3. There’s probably a better term for those, but I’m talking about the tapes full of random songs recorded off the radio every kid of the ‘80s had. I generally kept a blank cassette in my stereo with the Record and Pause buttons engaged, waiting for favorite songs to come on so I could add them to my current mix. Complete with late fade-ins/outs, random DJ chatter, and the occasional splash of a commercial from hitting Pause a second too early or too late. I wish I still had some of those. They would give great insight into why I am the way I am.  ↩