Boyz II Men’s 1991 debut album Cooleyhighharmony put the vocal quartet on the map, but it did not yield them a No. 1 pop single, an accomplishment that would come immediately after the album had run its commercial course. That hit - “End of the Road” - became one of the biggest charting singles of all time, beating the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and establishing Boyz II Men as the hottest R&B act of the moment.
The track was featured in Eddie Murphy’s 1992 film Boomerang; the group had committed to contributing a song to the movie’s soundtrack, but they had not yet recorded the promised song. Indeed, it hadn’t even been written yet.
That task fell to Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons, the writing team (with L.A. Reid) behind such smashes as Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” Karyn White’s “Superwoman” and TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby,” among many others. “At the time,” Simmons told Songwriter Universe, “Kenny had been through a divorce, and I was going through a divorce. So here we go with this concept, thinking about [how things were at] the end of the road. That’s how the concept came along.”
The two played the song for Reid, which went very well, as Simmons recalled.
“[Reid] says, ‘Okay, you say you all got something - let me hear it.’ I can still see him sitting on the couch, throwing his arms on the couch. Kenny plays it, and we sing it, and he goes, ‘That’s just a smash!’”
The trio flew to Philadelphia and met Boyz II Men in a studio, only to find tenor Wayna Morris had all but blown out his voice in rehearsals for an upcoming tour. Morris suggested he sing away from the mic, in a corner of the vocal booth, so he could just power through the track with as much volume as he could muster.
“So Wanya goes to the back of the room,” Simmons remembered, “[and] puts a warm towel around his neck. And I tell people, when you listen to the fade of the record, when he sings ‘Oh my God, help me out a little, baby’ - that made the hair stand up on our arms. We felt so bad by taking him through this, but [there] was so much pain in what he said.”
After just two passes through the song, the Boyz had nailed the track. Shortly after “End of the Road” was released, it sailed into the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 (hitting the peak on Aug. 15, 1992) and stayed there for 13 weeks, besting the record of 10 weeks, held by Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” and Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” Not even Elvis Presley or The Beatles had managed to stay at the top that long.
Such longevity records are made to be broken, though, and Boyz II Men’s record stay at No. 1 would soon be eclipsed by a number of singles, including two of their own: “I’ll Make Love to You” (14 weeks) and their collaboration with Mariah Carey, “One Sweet Day” (16 weeks).