TRACKRECORD: a new section at the site where we talk to musicians about one of his/her songs of the past. This time, "Waiting For A Star To Fall", one of my favourite late eighties pop tunes and it's an honour to talk to Shannon Rubicam and George Merrill of BOY MEETS GIRL. The songwriting duo of Merrill & Rubicam had already written the #1 hits, "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", for Whitney Houston (both songs among Whitney's best work, prior to all the wailing b.s.) and 'WFASTF' was also written with Whitney in mind (Belinda Carlisle actually recorded it but the song didn't end up on her 1987 album). It ended up on BOY MEETS GIRL's own record "Real Life" in 1988 and it became a Top-10 hit all over Europe and in the states. The catchy refrain, grand piano, saxophone, made it sound like a perfect and fun mixture of POP, WESTCOAST (or if you prefer: Yacht Rock?) and classic feel good music. It's back to 1988, it's time to find out more about "Waiting For A Star To Fall". Here's Shannon and George, BOY MEETS GIRL...
"SHANNON: George and I were in attendance at a Whitney Houston concert in Los Angeles, held at the Greek Theater, a gorgeous outdoor, open sky venue. We knew she would sing our song 'How Will I Know' sometime during her set and we were very excited to be there. It was an electric moment, everybody was on their feet; as she finished and the audience was applauding, I happened to look up in the sky just as a star rocketed across the great arc of darkness. Always equipped for such random events, I pulled out my little notebook and pen, jotting down the words that came to mind: waiting for a star to fall...!
Shannon: The structure is for the most part what pop songs were following at the time ~ verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus, a solo thrown in there somewhere, and choruses out. Eighties pop music arrangements tended toward heavy vocal layering, punchy drums, and soaring choruses. It was a good fit for us because we love making up harmony clusters and recording layers of background vocals. We do also love a more spare sound, but had become accustomed to the larger aural effect of multiple tracks of just about
everything! Regarding formulas, there were general guidelines for song formatting, but in the end you follow the song story arc, the emotional trajectory, the musical dynamics, and wind up where you do. The aim is to write a musically and emotionally satisfying song that hopefully touches others as it presumably touched the writers. That is true resonance, and what makes a song of any genre POPular.
Shannon: I am predominantly a lyricist, although once a song is started George and I trade off ideas about lyrics, melody, arrangement, chords—all the details of how a song unfolds. But he is the main musician of the two of us, with far greater technical knowledge and instrumental ability.
Shannon: The idea behind the lyrics? I would say WFASTF is a song of longing for the seemingly unattainable. We all sooner or later—usually sooner!—have some experience with that particular heartache to draw from. Those experiences often leave a place marker in our hearts, which we refer to at various other times in our lives for understanding, empathy, and other more beneficial aspects; or conversely as a reason for setting up barriers to avoid pain.
Shannon: Did bands need at least one sax solo a song back then? Must have been so; sax solos proliferated like bunnies! The guy who played the sax solo for
'WFASTF' really gave it up for us; we were all smiles in the studio.
Shannon: Before we moved to LA and began writing for a publishing company, I think our style of songwriting was more homegrown, maybe even more intimate and personal in a way; but in considering, among other things, how to appeal to a singer who is not you the writer, there is the need to inhabit the hearts of others and by doing so broaden your own boundaries. At least then the target is a bit larger. I don’t think George and I were very calculating about it, but we did intend to inspire others besides just ourselves. In addition the attitude of the eighties was a snappy, flashy and energetic, drug-fueled going-big kind of era (not that we were all that drug-fueled, but the times reflected the sound and vice versa). In the end, though, you have your own individual unique toolkit, perspective and well of experiences that inform your writing ~ so if there is a style it’s made up of all those elements, times the writers involved and their alchemical synergy.
Shannon and George: Any crazy ancedotes? Well, One time while we were out promoting our Reel Life CD we got stuck in the Houston airport with our manager and one of the RCA/BMG promo guys, waiting for an overdue plane. It was long past any mealtime and we were starving, so George called information, got the name of a Chinese restaurant, placed an order and had them meet him at the baggage claim curb with our food, and borrowed the airline boardroom for a bit of an impromptu party. That was some fun. And once while traveling in Germany, we'd lost track of time during an airport layover. As soon as we realized it we raced back to our gate only to see the plane pulling away in the dark, the ramp being wheeled back to the building. We waved wildly at the pilots through the plate glass window and begged the ticket collectors to persuade them to come back and get us. Amazingly they did! I’m certain this doesn't happen anymore due to lunatic airport security—for sure you’d be tackled if you ran like that, but those were the old days of kindness and tolerance for human foibles!
Shannon: How come it (WFASTF) became such a chartbreaker?
Well, A hit song evokes some common feeling or experience or is in some way relatable, expressing for the listener those things they too share. It is also usually very much ‘of the times’. WFASTF must have appealed to people on these levels. The other thing a hit song does is to use an idea that metaphorically represents something that moves and connects the listener to the singer, the music, and/or the message of the lyric. Maybe this is why fans identify with the singer, feel closely intimate or even rabid...because you are transposing their feelings and speaking for their heart. You seem to know them, to see them clearly, to have told their story.
George: Thanks to you Wally, that was fun!
Interview by Urban 'Wally' Wallström
|BOY MEETS GIRL: WAITING FOR A STAR TO FALL
The single reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It also ended up Top-10 in the charts of England, Australia, etc.