Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sheena Easton: The Singles of 1985-1986 | 'Do You'

In 1984, Sheena Easton was riding a tidal wave of success from platinum top 15 album A Private Heaven, her best-selling ever, with top 10 hits "Strut" and "Sugar Walls." You'd think that at last, she'd catapult to the A-list among pop singers of the '80s, now that she had two Grammys and five top 10 singles in her pocket. She had also evolved into one sexy mama.

Sadly, her 1985 seventh LP Do You not only inexplicably marked a bizarre turn toward a lesbo-punk appearance with an asymmetrical hairstyle that was anything but flattering, while the album, wholly produced by Nile Rodgers from Chic fame, was overproduced to the point that Sheena's vocals became secondary to many of the songs.

First single "Do It for Love" was a fine track, with danceable tempo and a great chorus, but listening in retrospect, it is so cluttered with background vocals and production tics that Sheena is more or less lost in the mix. Radio indulged the release, but it peaked at No. 29 on the pop chart, No. 39 at AC and its remix at No. 21 at dance—not a good sign.

The accompanying music video, meanwhile, was supposed to have a complex storyline that Sheena explained on "Entertainment Tonight," but when all was said and done, it was basically nothing but her performing in a club, while Billy Zane seemingly stalks her and is, for some reason, tossed out of the venue at the end. Huh?

Follow-up "Jimmy Mack," a cover of Martha and the Vandellas' 1967 Motown No. 1 R&B hit, was delightful, with a cute as shit video featuring Sheena in a retro dance sequence (keenly edited, since Sheena herself admits she can't put three steps together). Radio paid it little mind, peaking at No. 69 on the singles chart and No. 30 at dance. Sigh...

EMI was divided on the choice for a third single: either the midtempo "Cant Wait Til Tomorrow" or lush ballad "Magic of Love." I believe they made the right choice with the latter, a wonderfully atmospheric song that possessed an ethereal modern ambiance quite distinctive from her typical AC-type ballads. Again, the video featured Billy Zane, though its slow-mo imagery was a lot of nonsense—with water washing across Sheena's face and a bizarre thematic cross between true love and deception, which had nothing to do with the lyric. The song never charted... anywhere.

There were obvious missed opportunities on Do You: synth-pop "Don't Break My Heart" is cutesy but catchier than "Do It For Love," while midtempo "When the Lightning Strikes," co-written by Dan Hartman, arguably offered the best vocal performance on the disc, albeit so heavily produced. I remember listening over and over to Sheena singing the line, "Call it fascination, with the way our love survives another niiiiiiight..." It was the lowest note she had ever recorded and just filled me with glee. Yep, obsessive... and proud as can be. Do You reached No. 40 on the album chart and sold gold, but it wasn't enough to move her career in a forward direction, for sure.

In late 1985, Sheena contributed a song to obscure British/American holiday flick Santa Claus: The Movie, which starred Dudley Moore and John Lithgow—the soaring ballad "It's Christmas (All Over the World). Just gorgeous, and a return to the pure soprano vocals she was best known for... It never charted, but satiated followers who were afraid that Sheena might be lost to oblivion.

And in 1986, the soundtrack for huge hit film About Last Night, about love and war between a gang of 20-somethings that included Rob Lowe, a budding Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins (trivia: with Catherine Keener as a cocktail waitress), included two Sheena songs, "Natural Love" and appreciable uptempo pure pop song "So Far, So Good," both featured in the movie.

The latter was released as a single (with a music video: Sheena's a redhead!), and came oh so close to making the top 40, peaking at No. 43. Other acts on the ST included John Oates, Jermaine Jackson, J.D. Souther, Bob Seger, John Waite and Paul Davis.

Not the best of times for Sheena, but things were about to become downright dastardly, as her next album was denied release by EMI. It's Prince to the rescue.