Friday, October 21, 2011

Sheena Easton: The Singles Of 1983 | 'Best Kept Secret'

In 1983, Sheena Easton recognized that America was a better bet than the U.K. to move her music career forward. She not only relocated to Hollywood, but shifted her label alliance with EMI and management to the States. As her Scottish accent waned, however, so did the Brits' affinity. Considering Easton a traitor, after seven top 40 hits up through 1982's "Machinery," radio there ceased granting her airplay (with the exception of 1989's L.A. & Babyface-produced "The Lover In Me," which reached No. 15). That also meant cutting ties with longtime producer Christopher Neil.

Fortunately, following her renewed success with the career-reviving No. 6 pop smash "We've Got Tonight"—which gave Sheena the rare feat of a pop artist also topping the country chart—she was primed for success with release of fourth album Best Kept Secret.

First single "Telefone (Long Distance Lover Affair)" was a joyous bubbly uptempo synth-dance track, which became her fourth top 10 hit—following "Morning Train," "For Your Eyes Only" and "We've Got Tonight." The song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance (trumped by Irene Cara's "Flashdance," which I couldn't argue with). The song also became Sheena's first 12" remix dance single, extended to 6:08—which, in those days, meant the intro was stretched, with an added instrumental section. I spent a weekend in Washington, D.C., and found the 12-inch vinyl single at a record store in Georgetown. True joy...

"Telefone's" follow-up "Almost Over You"returned Easton to familiar AC territory. The stellar heartbreak ballad rallied to No. 4 at AC and a respectable No. 25 on the Hot 100. (On my TTT chart, "We've Got Tonight" was 1983's No. 1 and "Telefone" No. 3. "Almost Over You" was No. 2 in 1984.)

While Sheena may have had the greatest pop singing voice of the era, she was certainly never renowned for her music videos. The fairly ridiculous black & white "Telefone" was set in a gothic mansion alongside Frankenstein and Dracula, where she is ultimately lifted to ecstasy by a giant King Kong paw. The video has the production savvy of a college undergrad's thesis project.

The clip for "Almost Over You" was beautifully set in a misty brick-walled apartment with Sheena at a piano (pretending to play) as she laments her lost love... all very melancholy... until she pushes her video game-obsessed ex's giant floor console ("Sini-Star") out the window(?!) It borders on the absurd.

But there was one ideal outlet to see Sheena in action: As any early '80s music fan knows, the syndicated "Solid Gold" was in high gear and Sheena was a favorite of the producers, season after season—not only singing her hits, but any number of album tracks.

It's here that we followers kept up with her constantly evolving hairstyles (including the poodle stage by 1983), while obsessing on Sheena's signature mannerisms: her proclivity to snap her neck back for drama, pumping her arm to and fro and frequently pursing her lips.

Mind you, VCRs were not yet commonplace, so you had to live in the moment... and then reflect. There was no living the performances again and again on your TiVo (praise god in the millennium for Youtube; they're all there).

Following the successful "Almost Over You," the third single from Best Kept Secret, synth-rocker "Devil in a Fast Car," was a curious choice, when the album had better tracks, like clever giddy pop "I Like the Fright" and lush power ballad "Don't Leave Me This Way."

As usual, EMI seemed to regard Sheena as a B-level act, seldom strategizing for greatest success (recall the previous blog post, where the label neglected to release "Wind Beneath My Wings"). "Devil" flopped, peaking at No. 79. But there was still plenty of success ahead for Easton, as her most successful album was released in 1984.

Coming Monday: Sheena sings in Spanish!