by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Spouses playing together in the same bands is not an altogether rare thing; Paul McCartney, after all, employed his wife Linda as a full-time keyboardist for Wings, while Bruce Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa has been a member of the E Street Band since 1984 and Smokey Robinson’s former wife Claudette was a member of the Miracles for the group’s first sixteen years. Longtime spouses Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris have been keyboardist and drummer, respectively, for New Order for nearly the band’s entire existence. Keith and Donna Godchaux served as part of one of the most beloved lineups of the Grateful Dead, while Marilyn McCoo and husband Billy Davis, Jr. sang together for years in the Fifth Dimension and later made several successful records together, such as “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (to Be in My Show)” as a duo. Gloria Estefan’s longtime husband Emilio was the leader of her former band Miami Sound Machine, while the Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie were married for thirteen years. [Contrary to public misconception, Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein were never technically married, nor were the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox or the Human League’s Phil Oakey and Joanne Catherall.]
And, while the couple ultimately divorced shortly after the band’s American breakthrough, Fleetwood Mac’s John and Christine McVie continued to play together for decades to come. [While not bands per se, Pat Benatar’s longtime husband, Neil Giraldo, has been her full-time guitarist from the very beginning, while Dave Ellingson has not only been Kim Carnes’ husband since 1967 but her co-writer and bandmate ever since the two were part of the legendary folk group the New Christy Minstrels.]
There have even been plenty of musically successful husband-and-wife duos over the years, from Ike & Tina Turner (note that we said musically successful unions, not personally successful unions – or even particularly healthy unions) and Ashford & Simpson to Captain & Tennille and Timbuk 3. [Not that the musical unions of spouses are necessarily always good ideas: Gregg Allman will never completely live down the album – Two the Hard Way, released under the moniker Allman & Woman – he made with former wife Cher, while Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson notoriously left Cheap Trick for a while in the ‘80s to go make an EP – Tom Peterson & Another Language – with his then-wife Dagmar as lead vocalist that bombed spectacularly, moving only a few hundred copies.]
This week, we look at two successful but much lesser-known pairs of musical spouses from the ‘80s, beginning with George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, better known as the duo Boy Meets Girl.
How did Boy meet Girl, anyway? By sheer fate, both George and Shannon were separately hired to sing at the wedding of Susan Boeing, and months later, they’d re-connect when Shannon auditioned to be vocalist in George’s then-band Sparrow. Sparrow didn’t last, but the two stayed together as a team, working as staff songwriters for Mighty Three Music, a publishing company created and managed by the legendary soul producer/songwriter Thom Bell. Through their connection to Bell, the two got to write for and both record and tour with R&B singer Deniece Williams, even providing the background vocals on her Number One hit “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” from the movie Footloose. The couple moved over to A&M Records’ publishing company Almo-Irving Music and were eventually given a label deal themselves.
The duo’s 1985 self-titled debut – their first and only album for A&M – was produced, surprisingly enough, by Tom Werman, best known for his work with such rock acts as Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, Motley Crue, and Twisted Sister. [A former A&R representative with Epic, Werman had actually been responsible for discovering and signing such superstars to the label as Cheap Trick, Boston, Ted Nugent, and REO Speedwagon.]
The George-sung single and minor Top 40 hit “Oh Girl,” an interesting pastiche of styles which sounds vaguely like John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” in its guitar-driven verses and takes a turn towards shimmering R&B-pop a la Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal’s “Saturday Love” in its chorus, may sound too dated for some ears, but it’s an extremely well-constructed song and has a really appealing warmth to its hook and remains quite the lost gem.
No other single from the disc charted, but the album’s not lacking for other fine pieces of songwriting. The beautiful balladry of the Shannon-sung “Don’t Tell Me We Have Nothing” had already been recorded by Deniece Williams on her Let’s Hear It for the Boy album but sounds just as good performed here by its writers and has a slight hint of rock in this rendition. The duo ventures into more distinct R&B territory on “The Touch,” which was co-written with their former boss and mentor, Thom Bell, who also provides backing vocals on “Be My Baby.” Guitars and synths play off of each other to surprisingly good effect on the lovely peppy pop of the Shannon-sung “Pieces,” while the great, George-sung “From Now On” is the album’s hardest-rocking cut, sporting a surprisingly gritty guitar solo.
Better things were still to come for the duo, however; by the end of the year, a cut penned by the duo for Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut, “How Will I Know,” would be released as a single and would shoot to Number One and, two years later, history would repeat itself when Whitney recorded a second song penned by the duo – “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” – and take that to Number One as well.
Interestingly enough, Whitney missed out on a chance to score a third hit penned by the duo. George and Shannon had penned the song “Waiting for a Star to Fall” after attending one of her concerts and noticing an actual falling star in the skies above during the show. The head of Whitney’s label, Clive Davis, opted to pass on the song, however, deeming it not suitable for her. Undeterred, the couple then submitted the song to Belinda Carlisle, who recorded the song against her wishes at the insistence of her record label, MCA; her own version ultimately got shelved, though a copy of it eventually leaked out and has been circulated around on bootlegs. It’s fairly obvious from listening to her vocal performance on the recording just how much Carlisle disdains the song, but it was all for the better: George and Shannon ultimately decided to simply cut the song themselves and it not only ended up serving as the lead-off single on their second album, 1989’s Reel Life, released on RCA and co-produced by the legendary Arif Mardin, but gave them their first and only Top Ten single – and a Top Five hit, at that! – as recording artists, also topping the Adult Contemporary charts.
The duo nearly scored a second Top 40 hit from the disc with “Bring Down the Moon,” but the single would sadly stall at #49; it’s every bit as appealing as “Waiting for a Star to Fall,” however, even if it’s a bit stylistically different, incorporating a slight funk sound and a harder-hitting drum track, making it perhaps the most muscular side the duo ever crafted.
The album arguably boasts more immediate hooks from start to finish than the duo’s debut, containing such catchy cuts as “Is Anybody Out There in Love,” the insistent up-tempo beats of “If You Run,” the ironically rocking “Restless Dreamer” (boasting some savvy drum fills from Michael Jochum that keep the track chugging along), and “No Apologies,” which boasts the prettiest chorus on the album next to that of “Waiting for a Star to Fall” in addition to a great saxophone solo from Seawind member and always-in-demand session great Larry Williams, best known for his work on Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life.”
Strangely and sadly, RCA initially opted to not release the follow-up album, New Dream, originally slated for a 1990 release. Though George and Shannon would sadly divorce in the early 2000s, they continued their musical association, and two Boy Meets Girl albums would emerge shortly after: a belated release of New Dream and an all-new 2003 album called The Wonderground.