September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Various artists

George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, who perform as Boy Meets Girl, are a talented composing-singing team from Seattle who both suffer from the same problem: Neither of them is Whitney Houston. This being a fairly common affliction, it wouldn’t matter much except they are the ones who wrote Houston’s 1987 hit, I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me). That creates an irresistible temptation: to wonder how Houston might sing every song they write. Reel Life, their second album, is full of the fruit of such temptation, even though Merrill and Rubicam are a vivacious pair whose un-Houston-like renderings of such dance pop tracks as Stay Forever and No Apologies are fully enjoyable. (A brief ballad, Someone’s Got to Send Out Love, suggests Rubicam has deeper resources too.) Number One with a Bullet speaks to how-would-that-sound-if curiosities in a different way. It contains 10 demo (for demonstration) tracks—usually bare-bones arrangements used by composers trying to peddle tunes to performers or record companies. All 10 songs later went on to become No. 1 hits. Composers often hire people to demonstrate their songs. Others sing themselves, and Merrill and Rubicam’s demo of I Wanna Dance with Somebody is included on the album. Houston not only bought the song, she used most of the demo arrangement, and it’s a fascinating comparison. The Merrill-Rubicam rendition is terrific—it could have been a hit itself—but Houston’s delicacy, vitality and (mostly) that sterling silver voice turned a good pop song into a knockout hit. Number One with a Bullet includes a number of other intriguing cuts. Neutron Dance, which Allee Willis and Danny Sembello wrote, is okay in vocalist Arnold McCuller’s version, but it lacks the flash of the Pointer Sisters’ hit. Marti Jones is a classy singer and her Walk Like an Egyptian (by Liam Sternberg) uses the same approach as the Bangles’, yet it’s missing the quirky touches of the Bangles’ novel success. On the other hand, Tom Kelly’s and Billy Steinberg’s duet on their True Colors gives the tune more emotional weight than Cyndi Lauper’s chirpy style could approach. In any case, it’s always fun to hear composers’ versions of their songs that other people have turned into hits. That was true in the prime songwriting days of Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Carole King and it’s true on this album. (Reel Life: RCA; Number One: Cypress)

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