Whitney Houston – How Will I Know
How will I know if he's thinking of me?
I try to phone, but I'm too shy (Can't speak)
Falling in love is so bittersweet
This love is strong, why do I feel weak?
In mid-November 1985 one of the most pop singles of one of the great stars of the second half of the 80s was released. We are talking about a singer who, thanks to her truly out of the ordinary vocal skills, was able to often and willingly afford to go far beyond the canons of the hit parades, interpreting memorable pieces sung to perfection. A singer who, however, has also been able to return to Earth and speak to the younger generations with irony and sympathy, and this song is an example.
Whitney Houston was making her debut in the world of great music. Her career began in 1984 with the release of the first singles, which had been especially successful in America. In February 1985, however, the release of the first album, simply titled Whitney Houston, had given a significant acceleration to her popularity, which was further supported by the release of singles such as All At Once and Saving All My Love For You, two ballads, much closer to rhythm and blues than to pop.
Until 1984 Whitney performed in some prestigious New York clubs, and right there she was noticed by her future producers, who began to collect material to create her first album, looking for songs suitable for her voice. And so it went when they first heard How Will I Know: the song was written by writers George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, who were then married and were the members of Boy Meets Girl. Until then, however, they worked more as authors for other artists than for their own group. In this case they had written a song for Janet Jackson, designed specifically for her. Janet’s authors, however, declined the proposal, considering it not suitable for the new image they were creating for Janet, definitely more aggressive.
When the producers of Whitney Houston heard the song, they remained doubtful: the song was not bad overall and could serve to give a lighter image of Whitney than the other songs on the album, however it remained a song perhaps too simple for her, with the risk of making her interpretation too easy. At this point one of those characters who worked behind the scenes of the 1980s often becoming fundamental to the success of others, comes onto the stage. We are talking about Narada Michael Walden, of whom it was said, to give the idea of how to pronounce his name, that “Narada rhymes with Florida”, and therefore should be read more or less “Nareeda”. By the way, Narada is a Buddhist name given him by the guru Sri Chinmoy, a well-known figure in the United States of the 70s. Narada was a divine sage of the Buddhist tradition.
Well, the good Narada agreed to work on the song, but in some way he asked for a license to kill, and got it, and decided to change some lines and also some chord sequences. It was a success. The music was more sparkling, and the lyrics, though very simple, appealed to everyone. There is also a special voice among the backup singers; that voice belongs to Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mom.
The video is also simple but successful: for the first time we don’t see a Whitney in sumptuous clothes singing on the stages of prestigious theaters, but a jaunty Whitney, in a silver dress, singing and dancing in a kind of colorful labyrinth surrounded by dancers dressed in black. In the video we also see a cameo of a great lady of American music, Aretha Franklin, who worked for the same record company as Whitney. Not only: the producer of Aretha was exactly good old Narada Michael Walden, who momentarily interrupted the production of Who’s Zoomin’ Who by Aretha Franklin to produce How will I know!
How will I know topped the charts in February 1986, and Whitney displaced from the first place a song by… her cousin, who was not just any ordinary cousin, but another great lady of American music, Dionne Warwick, who was leading the chart with That’s What Friends Are For. In this case, having a beautiful voice was clearly a family gift!