Boy Meets Girl on writing hits for Whitney Houston: “How Will I Know was written in our garage”

Whitney Houston
(Image credit: Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)

If they’re lucky, a songwriter will manage to write one pop masterpiece in their career, but George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam - AKA Boy Meets Girl - managed it three times. Under their own name, they had a hit with Waiting For A Star To Fall, and prior to that there were two chart monsters for Whitney Houston: How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me).

Now, to celebrate the upcoming arrival of the new Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody (released globally in cinemas on 21 December), Merrill and Rubicam have come up with a new mix of How Will I Know, to be released as a bonus track on the vinyl reissue of 2021 Boy Meets Girl EP Five.

Released in 1985, How Will I Know was lifted from Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album, and helped to propel her to superstardom. However, Merrill and Rubicam have confirmed that the song was originally destined for someone else.

“How Will I Know was written in our funky little Venice, California garage, roughly 1984,” say the duo. “Written for Janet Jackson (she passed on it as she was about to release her groundbreaking Control album), Brenda Andrews at Irving Music played the demo for A&R icon Gerry Griffith who was songhunting for a ‘new young singer’. 

“Gerry convinced Clive Davis [Arista Records chairman], and Clive chose the song as one of the featured tracks for Whitney’s first album; he chose as producer Narada Michael Walden. Narada made significant musical additions to the song and took it to new heights with his punchy bright production.

“Soon after, a phone call came from friends Alan and Preston Glass, in the studio with Narada after Whitney’s vocal session. ‘You gotta hear this!’, [they said] and they held the phone up to the speakers and blasted the opening bars of How Will I Know… I think we about fell on the floor!

“The track and Whitney’s voice were SO powerful. It was one of the great moments, and still is a thrill to hear our song over the sound system in a grocery store or being sung by generations of contestants on American Idol or The Voice, and we are forever grateful to fate for aligning so perfectly!”

This wasn’t the end of the relationship, though; in fact, Merrill and Rubicam would supply Houston with an even bigger hit in 1987. 

“As a follow up, Clive requested that we write another song for Whitney’s second album,” they recall. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) was the song that emerged. 

“By that time, of course, we understood the soulful and joyous impact of Whitney’s voice and were better able to tailor something for her. Clive liked the demo straight off, and again Narada was the producer. And Whitney the unmatchable singer, so we knew everything was in the best hands.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston in the studio with Narada Michael Walden (right). (Image credit: Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)

“It’s hard to explain the feeling of having written such time-tested hits, because once a song leaves the studio and goes out into the world, it belongs to the performer and the listeners and fans; and you as songwriter have to let go. If you’re lucky, and we were, it has a life and momentum all its own as it rolls through the world becoming more.”

Having met at a wedding at which they were both booked to perform, Merrill and Rubicam ended up getting married themselves, releasing their first album as Boy Meets Girl in 1985. Waiting For A Star To Fall was originally offered to Houston, but it’s said that Clive Davis rejected it. Belinda Carlisle turned it down, too (but not before she’d recorded a demo, it seems).

Sensing that they had a hit on their hands, Merrill and Rubicam decided to record the song themselves. They were proved right, too - on its release in 1988, Waiting For A Star To Fall hit the top 10 in charts around the world and has subsequently been sampled and reworked multiple times by other artists.

Despite ending their marriage towards the end of the ‘90s, Merrill and Rubicam continued to work together, and are proud of the part they played in the Whitney Houston story.

“Recently when we saw the Whitney movie preview, I think we both had chills,” they say. “We feel so honoured, touched and so very fortunate to have had any part at all in Whitney’s meteoric career, and now in her story as told on screen.  We met her as a jubilant 19-year-old with her parents, backstage in Los Angeles after singing How Will I Know to a riveted Greek Theatre crowd. That’s as good as it gets!”

Boy Meets Girl’s new single, Stars Are Falling (a collaboration with Darius & Finlay and Lotus) is available now. The How Will I Know Martini Mix will be released on 2 December, with the vinyl reissue of the Five EP set to follow on 16 December.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.