Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give

Released: 2nd February 1998

Writers: Full Force

Peak position: #2

Chart run: 2-6-15-28-39-40-42-51-59-63-65-68
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 57-5-6-6-7-6-5-6-9-10-11-11-12-22-22-27-34-34-35-34-50

By early 1999, the Backstreet Boys were on the cusp of something big. After years of disjointed international release schedules that saw different singles released in different territories at different times – and one album that wasn’t released in America at all – things were coming together. But the group needed a moment to take a breath, and that’s what All I Have To Give represented. It was an opportunity to cohesively tie up loose ends before they took the next step.

At this point, the Backstreet Boys had firmly trademarked a distinctive Swedepop sound thanks to their close work with Max Martin and Denniz PoP, a relationship that would continue during the proceeding years. But just for a moment All I Have To Give broke rank; the track was written and produced by Full Force, an American R&B group. Even if it’s not a huge departure in sound, it was an interesting – and some might say risky – diversion for both Backstreet Boys and Full Force. For the song also plays around a bit with the established conventions within the group, promoting both Howie and AJ to lead vocals alongside Nick and Brian.

The changes are subtle, but they do imbue All I Have To Give with a slightly different energy than we had become accustomed to. The back-to-basics production with its gentle guitar chord melody and shimmering, twinkling beat was a refreshing change of pace to the Backstreet Boys’ usually extravagant approach to balladry. We’re not quite sure why the song is insistent on being grammatically incorrect (“Does his gifts come from the heart?”), but certainly, it could feasibly have appeared as a slow-jam on an R&B album of the time. But the group was not an R&B act, and in theory, this shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. What stops it being a misjudged experiment in genre-hopping is the Backstreet Boys. They never use All I Have To Give as an opportunity to try and be something they’re not; instead, they bring a real pop quality to the track. And accompanied by a less prominent production, this is one of those songs that showcases their vocal talent as a quintet.

Featuring Howie and AJ in a more prominent capacity begs the immediate question of why they hadn’t been used more in the past. Their contributions don’t significantly change the overall dynamic of the Backstreet Boys in the slightest, and nor do they detract from it. Instead, it simply introduces some additional tones into the group’s arsenal. Howie brings the velvety silkiness of a dependable confidante: “That’s okay babe, just tell me your problems, I’ll try my best to kiss them all away”, while AJ’s gravelly rasp adds a little more urgency: “Baby please, I’m on my knees, praying for the day that you’ll be mine”. So successful is this as a shared effort, you wonder why the producers couldn’t find something for Kevin to do. The middle-eight, featuring the four leads, works a treat and thus he’s rather conspicuous in his absence.

So, while All I Have To Give does some things a little differently – and does them very well – there is one aspect of the song the reverts to type: a key-change. This isn’t just any old key-change, though. It’s not necessarily a surprise when it happens, because you feel it brewing away. But it is huge; accompanied by a mimicked mic-drop in the music video, the track briefly stops before unleashing: “Oh-oh-oh-O-O-O-O-O-OH-WOAH” accompanied by some insane falsetto ad-libs from Howie, while the twinkling melody shatters down around the group. It’s a magical moment of ‘90s pop music, which feels rightly triumphant. This was the Backstreet Boys through-and-through, and here they were ready to take on the world.

The accompanying music video is another slick effort that further complements the bright aesthetic established in earlier releases. Like the song itself, there’s a slight fusion of genres. In places it’s unmistakably a product of the bubblegum pop era; the dance routine featuring the group dressed in top hats and white suits with billowing curtains in the background really couldn’t have come from any other genre. That image, in particular, feels synonymous with this period of the Backstreet Boys’ career, as do the sequences with the group huddled around a single microphone sporting an array of dazzlingly bright colours (the yellow beret!) in what can only be described as a very context-specific style.

Curiously, there are some cutaways to a slightly different setup with the Backstreet Boys donned in smart-casual gear dancing on a reflective – or very shiny – floor. It almost looks like something out of a Hype Williams video (or at the very least a more modest alternative) and quite unlike anything you’d commonly associate with the group. It’s a shame then that there is little more than a fleeting glimpse of it because what we do see looks great. Indeed, considering the tempo of the song and the fact that there’s no narrative to the video, it’s a rather busy visual treatment.

It never seems to be remembered as such, but All I Have To Give was a pretty big hit for the Backstreet Boys. This isn’t necessarily the obvious candidate if you had to name the highest-peaking release from the Backstreet’s Back album, but it reached #2 in the UK, outperforming both As Long As You Love Me and Everybody (Backstreet’s Back). All I Have To Give was similarly successful in America as well, hitting #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a commendable performance for both the last release from an album and one that veered away from the group’s usual songwriting team at that. Most importantly, though, it aligned the various paths the Backstreet Boys had taken to reach this point. They were just months away from the most important single of their career, and nothing less than a near-simultaneous worldwide launch would do.

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