George Michael is known as many things nowadays. World-class singer and songwriter. King of Stubble (and he’s worked that look for two decades plus now), Public Restroom Inhabitant. But did you know that when George first stepped on the scene with his Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley, he was…
I’m sure if anyone were to show this 1983 performance to George these days, he would look for the nearest hole to crawl under. However, I (one of maybe 10 people in the U.S. who knew who Wham! was before “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) find this performance to be quite energetic and charming. I still can’t figure out what the hell Andrew Ridgeley did, though.
Anyway, the song, “Young Guns (Go For It)” appeared on Wham!’s debut album “Fantastic” (actually, for their first album, they were named Wham! U.K. here in The States). A year later, they were global superstars, and a year or so after that, George Michael had officially gone solo. But what of the two fetching young ladies who danced with George & Andrew in that television performance (and whom you might also remember from the “Go-Go” video)? Well…
Their names were Pepsi and Shirlie, and they had a minor U.S. hit in the fall of ’87 with “Heartache”, a pulsing bit of mid-tempo pop that was helmed (as was just about everything else in the late 80s in Britain) by the Stock/Aitken/Waterman team. The production team kept busy with artists like Kylie Minogue, Donna Summer, Rick Astley and Bananarama…one member of whom went on to marry…you guessed it, Andrew Ridgeley. See how everything folds into itself? You gotta love it. Anyway, “Heartache” wasn’t a huge single, but I remember it getting enough airplay in New York that I still remember the chorus after not hearing the song for two decades, and it’s a much better song than you’d expect a duo of background singers to come up with.
Around the same time “Heartache” came out, George Michael went nuclear with the “Faith” album and it’s attendant singles. No matter what radio station you turned on, whether it was the Lite station, the Top 40 station or the R&B station, George was impossible to avoid, and with good reason. “Faith” still stands as one of the 80s’ most irresistible pop albums.
By the spring of ’89, George could sneeze on a record and it would become a hit. This is probably the reason Deon Estus’s “Heaven Help Me” cruised into the pop & R&B Top 5 around that time. Estus (who looked like a cross between Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, a member of Milli Vanilli and the black dude from Color Me Badd) had previously been best-known (if at all) as George & Wham!’s bassist, with some prominent facetime in the “I’m Your Man” and “Monkey” videos.
“Heaven Help Me” doesn’t have a particularly ingenious bassline, but what it does have is George Michael. LOTS of George Michael. George wrote and produced the song, sang background vocals and handles the chorus damn near on his own. In addition, Deon’s voice is enough of a dead ringer for George’s that you’d be forgiven if you’ve thought for all these years that this is a George Michael record. Estus’ album, called “Spell”, was otherwise George-free and that’s probably the reason it bombed. However, this song is damn good-as good as most of the material on “Faith”. And the video is one of those “so bad it’s good” deals.
While Andrew sits at home and counts checks (and I won’t scare you by putting the video for “Shake” on here), Shirlie from Pepsi & Shirlie is now married to one of Spandau Ballet’s Kemp brothers (man, are all British 80s pop stars married to each other?), Pepsi has settled into civilian , and Deon Estus continues to tour as a support bassist. George Michael seems perfectly content to rake in money re-releasing greatest hits compilations and getting arrested every so often, but at least he’s contributed to some of the Eighties’ most indelible musical moments.