Friday, June 8, 2012

Comebacks I'd Kill For, Part 1: Sheena Easton

Why don't more people talk about Sheena Easton? Why do I never hear her songs anywhere I go unless they're playing on my iPod. Why doesn't she get more love?

It's not like she was a one-hit wonder, or some obscure also-ran. At her peak, she was every bit as huge as Belinda Carlisle, an equally beautiful but less gifted singer. (Fun fact: She was born Sheena Shirley Orr, meaning that she shares a maiden name and a professional surname -- from her first husband -- with two members of the Cars, Elliot Easton and Benjamin Orr, whose band was scoring concurrent hits.)

She went to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 (with 1981's "Morning Train [9 to 5]," which I used to own on vinyl), making her one of the few solo UK-bred female singers to do so; she sang a hit James Bond theme (1982's "For Your Eyes Only," which I also owned on vinyl), and she held her own with Prince (on her Top 10 single "Sugar Walls," and on his, "U Got the Look"). She won the 1981 Best New Artist Grammy; she crossed over into acting (in a multi-episode arc as Sonny Crockett's ill-fated wife on Miami Vice); and she was one of the few artists besides Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers (maybe the only other one) to score Top 10 hits on the pop, R&B and country singles charts.

Despite her considerable success in the U.S. and the quality of her music, somehow the ongoing wave of '80s nostalgia never really swept the Scottish singer, now 53, up and back into mainstream consciousness. She's not even a gay icon, despite releasing a 2000 collection of solid disco covers called Fabulous, which was her last studio album.

Too bad. Easton was a pop rarity: a fantastic singer who probably could have gotten by on her sex appeal alone. If she were a star today, she might be Adele's voice in Katy Perry's body -- or something like that. I remember watching her HBO concert back in the early '80s and actually questioning my sexuality. "Maybe I do like girls, after all...."

That might not be the mark of a great singer (the proof of that is in her music -- see below, or rather, listen), but it's the best evidence I have of her truly transformative power.

Five Amazing Sheena Easton Songs You've Either Never Heard Or Probably Haven't Thought About in Decades

"You Could Have Been With Me" A No. 15 hit that was overshadowed by her bigger aforementioned early hits, this 1981 single was my favorite Easton song for two years (and it made me wish I were the seventh son of the seventh son because she made it sound like such a strange and special one to be), until "Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)," which I loved even more than I probably would have had she spelled the title the way Alexander Graham Bell intended.

"Love and Affection" It would take a strong strong woman to sing a Joan Armatrading song as well as Armatrading, which Easton did, beautifully. Her best work.

"You Make Me Nervous" Like the Armatrading cover, a non-single from A Private Heaven, Easton's only platinum album, which I used to own on vinyl. Twenty-eight years on, it can still work me up into a considerable sweat on the treadmill.

"101" The best of Easton's Prince collaborations, from 1989's The Lover in Me. Sadly, 101 is higher than it got on the U.S. singles chart. I wonder what she would have done with "Nothing Compares 2 U," which made Sinead O'Connor an international star the following year.

"Giving Up Giving In" Her last chart hit in the UK, but, unfortunately, not much of one (No. 54 in 2000).

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