Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sheena Struts Her Stuff - The Prince Era & Beyond

Figuring if the whole sex kitten makeover move could work for Olivia Newton-John, it could work for her too, Easton strutted into late 1984 with the platinum selling album ‘A Private Heaven’ (US#15/OZ#88). The album dispensed with the light pop/ballad formula in favour of a more funk based R&B tone. The brass-driven ‘Strut’ (US#7/OZ#13) worked a treat with record buyers, and benefited from a much played promo video featuring Easton doing her best sultry pout to camera (incidentally Bruce Hornsby, who appears in the video, was the keyboardist in Easton’s band during this period). The song was co-written by one Charlie Dore (‘Pilot Of The Airwaves’ - see earlier post). It was no coincidence that Easton’s revamped, vamped up pop vixen image arrived on the same album as her first collaboration with Prince. Though Prince, who as we all know loves a good pseudonym, went under the song writing/production credit of Alexander Nevermind for the provocative hit single ‘Sugar Walls’ (US#9/OZ#87).

Before the end of 1985, Easton had released the Nile Rodgers’ produced album ‘Do You’, though the soul styled dance set only yielded two minor hits in ‘Do It For Love’ (US#29), and a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland penned song ‘Jimmy Mack’ (US#65), a top 10 hit for Martha & The Vandellas in 1967. She also found time to record the Spanish language album ‘Todo Me Recuerda’, and won a second Grammy Award in 1985 for ‘Best Mexican/ American Performance’ (wasn’t she still Scottish?) for the duet ‘Me Gustas Tal Como Eres’ with Luis Miguel. 1986 was a relatively quiet year for Scotland’s, turned America’s, favourite lass, her only chart hit being ‘So Far So Good’ (US#43) from the soundtrack to the Rob Lowe/Demi Moore film ‘About Last Night’.

In 1987 Sheena Easton would make up for a quiet 1986. She made her acting debut in television via her role as Sonny Crockett’s (Don Johnson) wife for five episodes on the hit TV cop drama/farce ‘Miami Vice’. Easton also provided backing vocals for her new ‘creative collaborator’ Prince on the diminutive one’s hit ‘U Got The Look’ (US#2/UK#11/OZ#90), and found time to record another album ‘No Sound But A Heart’, though the album’s U.S. release was postponed (for 12 years), after the lead out single ‘Eternity’ failed to reach any of the U.S. charts. Such a flop could prove fatal to some artist’s careers, and indeed EMI acrimoniously parted ways with Easton soon after, but their were more successful chapters to be written in her career.

In 1989 Sheena Easton signed with MCA, and enlisted the production/writing talents of R&B powerhouses L.A. Reid and Babyface, for her next album ‘The Lover In Me’ (US#44/UK#30). The title track soared to #2 on the U.S. charts in early ‘89, also becoming Easton’s first solo British hit (#15) since 1983. Prince thought his name was ‘Joey Coco’ when he penned/produced the brooding dance number ‘101’ (UK#54), whilst ‘Days Like This’ (UK#43) also added to the album’s favourable reception back in Britain. Before the end of ‘89 Easton had contributed vocals to the Prince hit ‘The Arms Of Orion’ (UK#27/US#36/OZ#88), lifted from the ‘Batman’ soundtrack.

Easton recorded a reasonable facsimile of a Taylor Dayne album for her next effort ‘What Comes Naturally’ (OZ#35/US#90), featuring the hit title track which climbed to #19 in the U.S. in early 1991, soon after bolting to #3 in Australia. I recall seeing Sheena Easton in a promotional appearance on TV’s ‘Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’, and I remember wondering if she was the same Sheena Easton that had worn a green jumpsuit on the morning train a decade before - remarkably she was - though soon after the Scottish lass would become a U.S. citizen (from 1992).

Sheena Easton then took a mighty big leap of faith in her own vocal talent, with the 1993 album ‘No Strings’, featuring Easton doing her take on a line-up of pop standards. From all reviews Easton did a stellar job and did each and every classic due justice, but it didn’t win much support from MCA and consequently missed the charts altogether. She returned to the earlier song mix of up tempo pop offset by teary ballads, on her next album ‘My Cherie’. The title track owed much to the melodic style of ‘9 To 5’, but the single and album both failed to chart, indicating that the music buying public circa 1995 were not willing to return to Sheena Easton circa 1981. The only album to surface during the next five years in the Scottish diva’s name was the oddball compilation mix ‘Body And Soul’ in 1997. She had also continued a sporadic acting career throughout the 90s, appearing in the film ‘Indecent Proposal’, and various television series including ‘Body Bag’ and ‘Highlander’. Easton also performed in the Broadway production of ‘The Man Of La Mancha’, the stage revival of ‘Grease’, and the seasonal concert tour ‘The Colors Of Christmas’ with artists such as Roberta Flack and Melissa Manchester (see future post).

A more self assured Sheena Easton resurfaced for the 2000’s ‘Freedom’, the album’s sound and performer’s image hinting that Easton had found a level of personal freedom in her own career, free of the compromises perhaps made under the influence of other parties gone past. Her most recent album, 2002’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, saw Easton move to the Universal label. Easton played shows regularly in Las Vegas during 2003/2004. During 2005 she played the Narrator in a stage production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Easton still tours regularly in balance with raising a family.

With global record sales exceeding 20 million, Sheena Easton can rightly lay claim to being one of the most successful solo female vocalists of the last 30 years. She also has the unique honour of being the only artist in the history of the U.S. Billboard charts to have scored a top 3 hit on Adult Contemporary, Dance, Pop, Country and R&B charts, emphasising her versatility and talent as a vocalist.

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