RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Today, the New Kids on the Block kick off their reunion tour on "The Today Show." Here in New York, the rebirth of the jillion-dollar-selling proto boy band has meant that memories have come a flooding back for our producer, Ian Chillag. He's here with the latest in our series, The Best Song in the World Today. Hi, Ian.

IAN CHILLAG: Hey.

MARTIN: What you got to say for yourself?

CHILLAG: OK, now back in April, the New Kids appeared together on "The Today Show" to kind of announce this whole tour. And in our editorial meeting the day before, we were talking about, you know, what we wanted to do on the show, and it came up that, the reason they're doing this, is that it's the 20th anniversary of "Hangin' Tough."

MARTIN: I can't believe that.

CHILLAG: I know. I know.

MARTIN: It makes me feel horribly old!

CHILLAG: I know. I did the math in my head and I thought, I'm 29, there's no way I was nine when this song came out. There's just - there's no way! Because I have this really distinct memory of the first time I heard of them and that being in seventh grade. So I was, like, 12 or whatever. I remember going to this party. And it was supposed to be a party, but I got there, and it was all girls, and they had laid out...

MARTIN: This is not your idea of a good time, apparently!

CHILLAG: Yeah. No, I was totally caught off-guard. And they - like, the girl who was hosting the party, had a pool table, and she had laid out, like, cut out from Tiger Beat and Bop!, just like all these heads of the New Kids, like, covering the whole pool table in this, like, impromptu collage.

And the girls wanted me to, like, say which one I thought was cuter, Donny or - and it was just, like, it was this horrible, horrible experience. But that is my first memory. And I really distinctly, like, I'm remembering, like, oh, this thing, this new thing, the New Kids. I can't stand it. Right, so anyway, so after this meeting, after I made this big fuss at the meeting about how there's no way, this is wrong, it's not 20 years old. It's like...

MARTIN: After our meeting at the BPP, yeah.

CHILLAG: Right. I'm at my desk picking songs for us to play before the show. I put on "Please Don't Go Girl."

(Soundbite of song "Please Don't Go Girl")

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: (Singing) Please don't go girl...

CHILLAG: And I hear a few bars of this. And all of a sudden, I'm in fifth grade standing up in front of my entire elementary school singing New Kids on the Block.

MARTIN: What?

CHILLAG: In the cafeteria.

MARTIN: You did this?

CHILLAG: Yes.

(Soundbite of laugher)

CHILLAG: I've never experienced this phenomenon of repressed memory before. But, like, I heard the song, and all of a sudden, like, this entire year of my life comes back. And not only did I have this memory predating seventh grade, and so I was wrong, but I remembered I had been in a New Kids on the Block cover band.

(Soundbite of laugher)

CHILLAG: So the other kids...

MARTIN: It was so traumatic, though, you had buried it deep in the recesses of your memory.

CHILLAG: It was gone! It was completely gone. It wiped out not just my memory of this, but like all memory of the New Kids on the Block for me before, you know, whatever it was.

MARTIN: So this party - sorry, but at this party with the girls, you were like, who are these New Kids? This strange, new boy band.

CHILLAG: Well, you know...

MARTIN: And all along you'd been in a New Kids on the Block cover band?

CHILLAG: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. Continue.

CHILLAG: OK. So this band, right. It was John, Jennifer, Kevin and Jean. And Jean was the leader of the band. She could sing, and she had the karaoke machine. It was her karaoke machine that backed us up. And Jean had been my fifth-grade girlfriend. So when this memory came back, I had to find Jean.

JEAN: You were the new kid, and I was already in the school, and I was kind of like, I don't really know him. And you were quiet. My mom introduced us.

(Soundbite of laugher)

CHILLAG: Yeah, that's Jean. She lives in Alabama now. So I came to her school, a new school for me, at the end of fourth grade. And at the time I had kind of weird musical tastes for a fourth grader. Like, I was really into R.E.M. I was really into Etta James, the soul singer.

MARTIN: Oh.

CHILLAG: Yeah, I had, like, kind of an arty draw on myself, on one side of the pop/alternative divide. And like on the other side then, the New Kids. But I got to the school, and you know, I didn't - I was new, I didn't really have any friends. And there were these four really cool kids, and they sang these songs. And I just like - I just wanted friends, I just wanted to be part of it. And like I said, you know, John, Jennifer, Jean and Kevin. Their names all started with J and K, and I remember the group was called the JKs.

JEAN: But we were called the Showoffs. I've no idea where the JKs came from.

CHILLAG: Right.

MARTIN: You just made that up?

CHILLAG: Yeah. I think.

(Soundbite of laugher)

CHILLAG: So, like the group was called the Showoffs, not the JKs. So, like, this repressed memory that I had...

MARTIN: We've already established your memory is crap!

CHILLAG: So this repressed memory I have, it was gone. But like, while it was away, it like got twisted. But I think I know where it came from, because I think, like, at some point in this period, I have this vague memory. Somebody said, like, you know, we could call the group the JKs, if not for Ian, or something, you know, like, because I was the only one that wasn't a J or a K.

MARTIN: Oh, so it stuck. You ruined the name.

CHILLAG: Yeah. And it was - yeah, which is dumb really, when you think about it, because I was only one guy with a K name, too. But like, I just kind of remember obsessing about it. And by the way, like, the Showoffs, JKs thing. I totally trust Jean's memory over my own, because she remembers everything, like, she remembers the talent show.

JEAN: John got sick during the talent show. So it ended up just being me, you and Jennifer.

CHILLAG: And is that when we did that, the New Kids song? Do you remember that?

JEAN: We actually sang a Tiffany song.

(Soundbite of laugher)

JEAN: Yeah. We were big into Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

CHILLAG: Yeah. You know, the funny thing about it is, is I remember before I got there, and when I first started hearing the New Kids on the Block, I just hated it. And then, like, I wanted to be friends with you guys, so I just kind of sucked it up, and sang the songs. You know?

JEAN: Well, you see, I didn't even know that.

CHILLAG: Yeah.

JEAN: You were pretty shy, and my mama tried her best to try to get you out there.

MARTIN: Oh!

CHILLAG: Yeah. No, it was very nice. So, like, it turns out that I sang the New Kids when we performed, the Showoffs performed for the sixth graders' graduation. And it wasn't even "Please Don't Go Girl." It was some other song.

(Soundbite of laugher)

CHILLAG: Anyway, so Jean told me, as we were talking about this, and kind of like walking through the memories, she told me that before fourth grade, she was, like, kind of shy, I guess, like, didn't really do a lot. And her mom had done all these things, to kind of get her out there, too, like, you know, got her into singing. They would hold dances at their house. I remember going to these dances.

And like, as horrible as this memory of singing New Kids on the Block in front of my whole school is, I just have to say, I have to make "Please Don't Go Girl" The Best Song in the World Today, because, like, at this forgotten point in my life, Jean and her mom, and the New Kids, helped me stop being the new kid.

MARTIN: Oh! That's a nice story.

CHILLAG: It's humiliating, really, is the word.

(Soundbite of laugher)

(Soundbite of song "Please Don't Go Girl")

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: (Singing) We've been together for a long time, baby. Do you have to leave? Please don't go, girl. I just can't live without you. Please don't go, girl.

MARTIN: That was Ian Chillag of the Showoffs, and also of the BPP. And this is The Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: (Singing) Please don't go, girl. You would ruin my whole world. Tell me you'll stay. Never ever go away. I love you, I love you. I guess I always will...

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