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How Will I Know

by

Whitney Houston



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, who record as Boy Meets Girl and had a hit in 1988 with "Waiting For A Star To Fall." George and Shannon were a romantic couple, and secured a record deal with A&M Records after writing a batch of songs together and playing the Seattle club scene. They spoke with us about this song:

George: "They asked us to write for Janet Jackson's next record, so Shannon and I went to work and came up with our song How Will I Know, which was sent to Janet Jackson's people. They passed on it because it wasn't right for her at the time - she was in the midst of doing her Control album.

Shannon: "It wasn't right for that, but then our publishing company played it for Gerry Griffith when he was in Los Angeles gathering material for the unknown Whitney Houston. He loved it, sent it to Clive (Davis), and Clive said, 'We must have it.' And we said, 'Whitney who? Clive who?'

George: "Shannon and I had our first record deal, so we were caught up in Boy Meets Girl land, and the idea of writing for other people, this is pre-Whitney Houston and pre- our understanding of songwriting for other people, so it was really a big deal when they wanted to hold onto this for Whitney Houston. Then we started checking into it and thought, well, this could be kind of a neat deal. Our good friends, brother team Alan and Preston Glass, called us where they were working with Narada Michael Walden. They were recording Whitney Houston on 'How Will I Know' and they said, 'Guys, you've got to hear this.' They played it over the phone, and I swear, her voice, hearing the first take of 'How Will I Know' on the phone we knew we were on to something special, too."
This is a very innocent song where Houston sings about trying to decide if a boy she likes will ever like her back. It went well with her wholesome image early in her career.
Shannon sang the demo, which was done in a sweet, light, R&B style suited for what Janet Jackson was recording before her Control album. Narada Michael Walden, who has also produced for Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Lisa Fischer, went to work:

Shannon: "Narada added his very punchy track and he did some rearranging on it and got us involved in some writing on the song. So it really was far more powerful than the demo we did and it sounded gorgeous and fun."

George: "He had an idea for taking some of the music of the chorus and making a verse out of some of it, and as Shannon and I heard it, we thought that sounded like a cool idea, and Shannon jumped right in on the lyrics."

Walden almost didn't take the gig. He told us: "I got a call from Arista and I said, First of all, I'm right in the middle of making this album for Aretha. I can't take my attention off that. But they said, You've got to make time for this girl because she's going to be incredible. So they sent me the demo on 'How Will I Know.' I said, the song's only half done, will it be okay if I mess with it? Eventually, the writers said it would be okay. So I rewrote it and cut it on the same session as 'Freeway of Love.' It didn't come out until December, but it was a monster hit. And it was all because when I met her, she was just mind-blowing. All that range and power and beauty and sex appeal coming at you with a kind of confidence you've never known before. I said, oh my Lord, you are really too much. She said, yeah, I know. After that a bunch of things came down the pike." (Here's our full interview with Narada.)
The backing vocals are by Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston.
George and Shannon also wrote Houston's hit "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)." They describe what it's like writing for other artists:

Shannon: "When we're writing a song for other people, we tend to do more stringent editing. In some cases that's for the better, and in other cases it just ends up making the song sound a little too mental and not emotional enough. So I think that's just the thing that we keep an eye on when we're writing for other people, to not overthink it, really keep it emotional. Not really so much about what they're going to think, just feel how the song is going.

George: "You want to make sure that the idea is clear and that you haven't put every idea into one song."
George and Shannon continue their musical partnership and released an album in 2003 called The Wonderground. Learn more about Boy Meets Girl at www.boymeetsgirlmusic.com.
Whitney Houston
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Comments (1):

This song is so fun, her best song to date.
- Theresa, Murfreesboro, TN
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