Saturday, December 6, 2008

Keep Watching Those Skies

By the time the duo Boy Meets Girl scored their biggest hit with 1988’s ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’, its members had already had an involvement in three U.S. #1 hits, as both writers and performers. Seattle based musicians George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam had met when they were both hired to perform at a wedding. A few months later Merrill was in the market for a female vocalist to add another performance dimension to his band Sparrow. Rubicam got the gig, and despite Sparrow folding soon after, the chemistry was right, so the duo decided to work together. They spent the next four years accumulating songs, and sending demos out to record labels. While they were waiting for their big break as performers, Merrill and Rubicam worked with writer/producer Thom Bell as session vocalists (citing him as a key influence on their career), and wrote a number of songs for Deniece Williams (see future post). The duo sang backing vocals on Williams’ 1984 U.S. #1 ‘Let’s Hear It For The Boy’ from the ‘Footloose’ soundtrack, and Merrill sang backing vocals on Williams’ 1982 hit ‘It’s Gonna Take A Miracle’.

Merrill and Rubicam’s professional partnership had now evolved into a personal relationship, and the couple moved to Los Angeles to sign on with A&M Records as songwriters for the publisher Almo-Irving Music. Soon after hearing the couple’s demos, A&M offered them the chance to record their own album. Merrill and Rubicam had chosen the name Boy Meets Girl to record under (makes sense given the circumstances of their musical union). Boy Meets Girl recorded their eponymous debut album in 1985 (US#76). Sales for the album were helped along by the success of the single ‘Oh Girl’, which eventually peaked at #39 on the U.S. Hot 100 in mid ‘85. A&M Records executive John McClain (that’s McClain) was suitably impressed with the commercial appeal of Merrill and Rubicam’s songs. He asked them to write some material to be considered for the next Janet Jackson album. One of the songs they proposed was ‘How Will I Know’, which to their dismay was rejected by Jackson and her management. But the song was simply too good to remain unnoticed, and it soon came to the attention of Gerry Griffith, who was the director of R&B music at Arista Records. Griffith had been charged with unearthing material for Whitney Houston’s first album. Griffith had found a suitable number of R&B style songs and ballads, but he felt the album was in need of at least one radio friendly pop song. ‘How Will I Know’ fitted the bill perfectly, and following some slight adjustments, in consultation with producer Narada Michael Walden, it was included on Whitney Houston’s first album. ‘How Will I Know’ went on to spend two weeks at #1 in the U.S. during February ‘86 (UK#5/OZ#2).

Following the runaway success of ‘How Will I Know’, Merril and Rubicam were commissioned to pen another up-tempo pop song for Whitney Houston to record. Soon after the couple were in attendance at an outdoor concert by Whitney Houston at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. As fate would have it, moments after Houston finished singing ‘How Will I Know’, Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill happened to notice a falling star in the night sky. Rubicam felt it far too serendipitous to ignore, so she pulled out a note pad and pen (which is of course what all writers, song or otherwise, should carry with them at all times), and scribbled down the line “waiting for a star to fall”. The pair wrote a song based around the inspiration of that moment and that phrase, and offered it to Arista Records for Houston to record - to the surprise of the songwriters, Arista passed on it. Apparently Belinda Carlisle did record a version of the song for her 1987 album ‘Heaven On Earth’ but the song didn’t make the final cut. In the scheme of things the rejection of ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ by Houston’s handlers was a minor set back, and soon Rubicam and Merrill had other things to attend to, like raising their baby girl.

In between nappy changes and midnight feeds the couple were asked to find time to pen another song to submit to Houston. Within a few days Rubicam and Merrill had written and recorded a demo for ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’. The head of Arista, Clive Davis, loved the song but apparently Houston’s producer Michael Narada Walden didn’t share his enthusiasm, thinking the song a little bit too country. But Houston recorded it, the song was released in 1987 and promptly shot to #1 around the globe. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ went on to win the Grammy Award for ‘Song of the Year’. The writer’s royalties probably came in handy for Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill who married during 1988, making them officially another husband and wife team in the pop charts. The 80s seemed to be a golden era for husband and wife teams in pop music - think Timbuk 3, Nu Shooz, Quarterflash, Martha & The Muffins, Ashford & Simpson - and that’s just if you take a casual browse through Retro Universe (yes I know that’s a blatant case of self promotion but the marketing budget is on the skids so I have to work plugs into my posts).

Fresh from the overwhelming success of their song writing endeavours, Rubicam and Merrill returned their focus to their recording project Boy Meets Girl. During 1988 they recorded their sophomore album ‘Reel Life’ (co-produced by the legendary Arif Martin), and the duo had one song already in the can which they knew would be a hit. A chance celestial event led to ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’, which had all the hallmarks of an instant radio hit. The song hit the U.S. charts during September ‘88 and before year’s end had peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 (#1 Adult Contemporary). The U.K. (#9) and Australia (#33) followed in early ‘89. I can recall seeing the clip for ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ on the Rage Top 50 playback one Saturday morning. The slick harmonies and infectious chorus hook reeled me into buying the vinyl 45 that same day. The Boy Meets Girl sound was very much in the mould of T’Pau, Scarlett & Black and Climie & Fisher (see future post), and fitted the late 80s pop music recipe perfectly. The album ‘Reel Life’ did modest business (US#50/UK#74) but did yield another hit in the U.S. with the follow up ‘Bring Down The Moon’ (#49), though the third single ‘Stormy Love’ blew out to sea. It had been a stellar second half to the decade for Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill, as both writers and performers.

They worked with producers Arif Mardin and Phil Ramone on tracks for their next album with a working title of ‘New Dream’, but due to the vagaries of record label politics the album was shelved indefinitely in 1991. So Boy Meets Girl was put on hold while Merrill and Rubicam returned to song writing guns for hire. During the 90s they penned songs for Bette Midler, Smokey Robinson and Sheena Easton, and during the latter part of the decade wrote a string of hits for U.K. dance-pop groups OTT and Girlthing. The couple also retreated somewhat from the music business to focus on family life, and recharge their batteries after a hectic few years.

In 2002 they started working on recording some songs that had emerged out of the trials and tribulations of their divorce, and a reassessment of their life direction. The sessions resulted in the 2003 album ‘The Wonderground’, which the couple self-produced and released via their website. In 2005 Boy Meets Girl released remastered versions of their first three albums (including the previously un-released ‘New Dream’) through their website. The same year ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ had a massive resurgence on the charts, not once but twice, when it was sampled in two new electronic dance hits. The U.K. based Sunset Strippers won the rights to sample the original recording of the Boy Meets Girl track in their new song ‘Falling Stars’ (UK#3/OZ#26). Sunset Strippers had been in competition with Australian act Cabin Crew. When they lost out on the sample rights, Cabin Crew enlisted the services of George Merrill to record some new vocals for ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ for inclusion on their song ‘Star To Fall’ (UK#4/OZ#25). Soon after another electronic music guru Mylo used samples of ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ (along with ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ by Kim Carnes) in his hit ‘In My Arms’ (UK#13/OZ#25). All up Merrill and Rubicam must have enjoyed a nice little boost to the bank balance from all those song writing royalties.

According to their own website, Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill now go by the professional moniker of BoyMeetsGirl Music - partly to distinguish themselves on internet searches from dating sites and two other bands called Boy Meets Girl - and partly because it seemed like a nice updated name for the future.

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