Surprising Songs Sung: Sam Smith / How Will I Know

I was in the coffee shop the other day when this plaintively sad song sung with a haunting falsetto came on. “Sounds so familiar,” I thought. Much to my surprise, I realized that it was one of my favourite songs from the ’80’s, but done in a completely different way.

Whitney Houston came from a talented singing family. Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a respected gospel singer and her cousin was the chart-topping Dionne Warwick. Houston’s debut album, released in 1985, itself had several chart-topping singles. I was just blown away by her talent, vibrancy, and obvious joy in singing. “How Will I Know”, written by George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam, was the third single from the album and went to number one on the charts in both the US and Canada. Houston’s mother joined her in singing backing vocals on the song. Houston’s version of this song is upbeat and hopeful, despite being about the uncertainty of a new relationship.

Sam Smith’s mother used to play Whitney Houston and other R&B/soul singers in the car, while driving the kids to school. In a 2014 Rolling Stone article, he described Houston’s single, “How Will I Know”, as “…a feel-good song,” saying, “I love the juxtaposition of a melancholy lyric with an upbeat sound.” He found the sadness in the lyric, slowed down the tempo, and paired his heart-wrenching vocal with only a piano. The result is magic. I’ve certainly heard of Sam Smith, but I’ve never really listened to his music. This song is one that I can listen to over and over again.

9 thoughts on “Surprising Songs Sung: Sam Smith / How Will I Know

  1. This is playing at my Starbucks, too. It’s interesting but in the end i like the original better. The energy of the song in the original version wins it for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t tell you how many singers I played the downtempo songs for in the late 1980s. I probably played “The Greatest Love of All” at a dozen graduations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They used to have actual CDs that they played in the cafés. Then some cafés switched to streaming, and supposedly they were going to allow the baristas more leeway in deciding what to play. I never actually witnessed that happening. But there was a time when I wished they’d just sell the CD of what they were playing in the café (and then they also quit selling CDs …).

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah. They were worried they were getting off track. I know the baristas did not mind as it’s one more piece of inventory they didn’t have to keep track of. That was the main reason they shut down their website at the end of last year, too, they felt they were getting off track. If you need Sbux they want you to come to their stores. Since they liquidated Teavana they aren’t selling the teas there anymore, either.

        Like

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