Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sheena Easton: Keen Insight From A Smoking Nun Subscriber

Amid last month's Sheenathon, where we highlighted Sheena Easton's career year by year, some revealing commentary was posted by, uh, Anonymous, with fascinating insider scoop.

Obviously Anon worked for MCA and shared some goods about what was going on behind the scenes during three pivotal points in Sheena's career. I've assembled the comments below. Anon, thank you, whomever you are. Much appreciated!

Do You, 1985
This was Sheena's moment to catapult herself to Madonna-level multi-platinum success. So she ditched Greg Mathieson (who in my opinion was her best collaborator, next to Prince) and hired Nile Rodgers to produce. This was a huge score, as he was by far the hottest producer of that time, coming off multi-platinum efforts with David Bowie, Madonna and Duran Duran.

In order to keep Sheena's image current and hip with the likes of her contemporaries (keep in mind both Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were older than Sheena, which her image did not convey), Sheena decided to get a haircut with the lopsidedness of Lauper's one side short and one side longer, and the greasiness of Madonna's, while throwing in a rat-tail.

While the look was cool, it just wasn't Sheena and instead, people thought Sheena was either hooked on heroin or putting on a front to be "hip." Either way, although she looked beautiful on her TV appearances, she was barely recognizable and the confusion tended to alienate her.

My choice of singles would have been to start with "Don't Break My Heart." I think it was the best pure pop song on the album, had the feel of fun of Madonna's "Dress You Up," and was certainly more immediate than "Do It For Love."

After that went top 10—which it would have—radio would have been open to "Can't Wait Till Tomorrow," which was sexy, cool and current. Why it was wasted as a B-side on Do It For Love is beyond me. It also fit the image she was portraying. At this point, with radio familiar with our new Sheena, "Do It For Love" would have been a good choice.

Instead, the label tried to recover her AC fan base by releasing the Motown cover "Jimmy Mack." While a highlight of the album, it was such a mismatch to her image that it left radio programmers scratching their heads.

At that point "Magic Of Love" was a contractual third single that certainly was not going to get the attention of label promotion from a record company already struggling with gaining traction at radio for any of their artists.

Tweener, 1987
While 1987 was not a great year for Sheena musically, her profile was never higher with her much-publicized role on Miami Vice and initial workout commercials.

From what I understand, Sheena was planning on recording a fun, dance/pop album, but got cold feet midway through the project when "So Far So Good" from the movie About Last Night failed to make the top 40.

This was an understandable reaction, since if any Sheena single deserved to be a smash it was that one. Apparently, radio programmers were resisting the idea of Sheena doing dance/R&B. If you watch any interviews from this period, she is rather defensive of anyone who questions a change in direction.

So she scrapped about four uptempo songs she had recorded with Nick Martinelli, including a remake of "Young Hearts Run Free." She also scrapped "Shockwave" and a couple other uptempo songs, including one that was already pressed as a follow-up single to "So Far So Good."

The Lover In Me 1989
Probably more so than any other album, The Lover In Me found Sheena ahead of the pop curve, instead of just behind it. The pairing of LA & Babyface was a forward-thinking move by MCA and Sheena: They were on the top of both of their wish lists for producers.

Originally, The Lover In Me was going to be a full album written & produced by Prince. After getting three tunes in the can, including one never released titled "Jaguar," the album was stalled due to Prince's busy schedule.

LA & Babyface were coming off two huge crossover hits when Sheena began working with them (Pebbles' "Girlfriend," which Sheena woulda killed for, and The Whispers' "Rock Steady"). While MCA was prepping the album, they exploded with hits from Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul and Karyn White.

So Sheena was in a fortunate position of working with the hottest up-and-coming producers of that moment. They also made a concerted effort to record an album that could be worked to R&B radio on its own. *