Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sheena Easton: The Singles Of 1982, Part II | 'Madness Money & Music'

In addition to Sheena Easton's gold-selling second album You Could Have Been With Me, which gained traction at the beginning of 1982, EMI released third LP Madness Money And Music later that year. Notably, it was the first time Sheena stopped pouting and showed us her beautiful smile. So she has teeth, after all!

The first single from MMM, "Machinery," paraded Sheena's musical evolution, with its new-wave uptempo production from Chris Neil—who also produced her first two albums. Unfortunately, radio was not up to the challenge and the single stalled at No. 57 in the U.S. (it grazed the U.K. top 40).

I distinctly recall being home from college for the summer in my bedroom when the song played on the radio—only that once. I thought, "Wow, how fun, how different... um, what the fuck? I don't think I get it..." The dime-store music video that aired on TBS' seminal weekend video show "Night Tracks" did nothing to help its cause. (It finished for the year on my chart, the TTT, at No. 12).

Next up was "I Wouldn't Beg for Water" (note the homemade cover I made for the single in the top image), which remains one of Sheena's most affecting ballads. While it reached No. 19 at AC radio, it again tanked at top 40, peaking at a dismal No. 64 (TTT: No. 6 for 1982).

Ironically—perhaps tragically—Madness also included one of the first recorded versions of the later Grammy-sweeping "Wind Beneath My Wings." In fact, it should have become Sheena's signature song if only EMI had recognized it as a classic and released it as a single, particularly with her sensitive-cum-cloud-bursting delivery—certainly a more effective reading than Bette Midler's 1988 screechy delivery. It remains one of Sheena's followers' most bitter moments.

MMM also showed a more artistic bent to Easton's talent, as her voice continued to develop and she gained confidence as a singer, including a sweet cover of Janis Ian's "In the Winter" and the mystical ballad "Ice Out in the Rain," written by the same team as "Water," which was released as a single in some territories (as was pop "Are You Man Enough").

Locked in my memory: 1982 was the year I first saw Sheena Easton in concert, at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside of Washington, D.C. My best friend Strele and I stayed with my college pal Chris T., and apparently went shopping at Chess King for the perfect outfits (right). My pale yellow shirt has little 45s all over it. Fab!

I remember sitting through the concert, seldom applauding, nearly paralyzed that if I reacted with any emotion, I might miss a moment. I was mesmerized, further dedicated to a lifetime of  what I deemed the greatest singer I had ever heard.

Worldwide, MMM failed to produce a hit with the legs of Sheena's previous two albums. Oh, shit, now what?

Eureka! At year-end came word that Kenny Rogers—who at that point could do no wrong at pop or country radio—had drafted Sheena to duet on a cover of Bob Seger's otherwise forgettable "We've Got Tonight" (he was on Liberty, a sister EMI label), which would be the title track to his 327553218743th album.

Once again, I remember the first time I heard the song on radio, back at college in my dorm room. Expectations were at a peak, as I realized this was the make-it-or-break-it release for Sheena. Uh, when she sang her peak line, "stilllllllllll here we are..." I burst into tears.

Ultimately, the song was an instant smash: No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 1 at country, No. 2 at AC... and No.1 for the year on the TTT. It was also a gratifying pop culture news story that prompted  Sheena's prime-time TV special "Act 1," with guests Rogers, Al Jarreau and Johnny Carson—and featured her singing "Wind Beneath My Wings"—which was awarded three prime-time Emmys.

It all led up to Sheena's massive success for her upcoming 1983 album Best Kept Secret." Stay tuned! Below, Sheena singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" live from "Act 1." Bite that, Bette.