Future Retro: Sheena Easton, “Fabulous”

Written by Future Retro, Music

SHE’S A MODERN GIRL (na na na na na)

Back in the neon-colored days of the ’80s, Sheena Easton ruled the Adult Contemporary charts with a well-manicured fist. Sheena first began her ascension to fame on the BBC television show The Big Time, a documentary-style program chronicling an unknown singer’s attempt to achieve success in the music industry. Sheena was selected as the program’s subject based on her talent and her potential to become a singing star. EMI Records believed in her enough to give her a recording contract and a producer. Sheena spent the next several months being followed by cameras as she set out to create her very first single, “Modern Girl.”

Despite the television exposure, it wasn’t until “9 to 5,” Sheena’s second UK single, that her career finally started to take off. The song went to #3 on the UK charts, prompting its release in other countries. “9 to 5” was renamed “Morning Train” in the U.S. to avoid confusion with Dolly Parton’s song of the same name. Regardless of its name, “Morning Train” went all the way to #1 in the U.S. “Modern Girl” was re-released in the UK after an initially disappointing debut and eventually climbed into the Top 10. “Modern Girl” was released as her second U.S. single and topped out at #18. Within months the Scottish newcomer had two huge hits on the charts in multiple countries. These accomplishments were followed by the Academy Award-nominated James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only” which peaked at #4 in the U.S. and #8 in the UK. All of this led to a well-deserved Grammy for Best New Artist of 1981.

SHE’S GOT THE LOOK

Unlike many other Grammy winners, the supposed “Best New Artist jinx” didn’t seem to apply to Sheena. She continued to deliver numerous hits throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s. In 1983 she landed several huge hits, including the dance track “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair),” the #1 country/pop duet with Kenny Rogers, “We’ve Got Tonight” (a Bob Seger cover) and “Almost Over You,” which rose to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts.

After working with Prince in 1984, Sheena began changing her sound and image. Some fans felt it was a natural progression while others felt it was calculated to boost sales. Regardless, the image shift led to her biggest-selling U.S. album, A Private Heaven. The album spun off the sassy (and some say trashy) hits “Strut” (a top ten smash), “Swear” and the now-infamous Prince tune “Sugar Walls,” a song about Sheena’s delicious baked goods. In spite of the controversies, or perhaps because of them, Ms. Easton had reached the zenith of her career.

As the decade progressed, subsequent hits became fewer and further between. The 1985 album Do You (produced by Nile Rodgers) yielded the minor hits “Jimmy Mack” and “Do It For Love.” The soundtrack to the film About Last Night included the memorable but marginally successful track “So Far, So Good.” In 1987, The Purple One helped Sheena bounce back with the crucial duet “U Got the Look.” It heck-a-slammed its way to #2. They walked in, you woke up.

Sheena returned to the charts briefly in 1988 when she unleashed “The Lover In Me,” the title track to her first album for new label MCA Records. “The Lover In Me” sashayed its way to #2 in the U.S. Other singles from the album, however, didn’t fare nearly as well. In 1991, Sheena charted her last top 40 single “What Comes Naturally” which made it all the way to #19. Follow-up singles and albums failed to chart, or were not released in the U.S. at all.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS

In November 2000, Sheena made a big comeback attempt by returning to the dancefloor. Fabulous is an album packed wall-to-wall with Sheena’s modern versions of many disco classics along with a few well-known ’80s tracks thrown in for good measure. Fabulous attempts to appeal to at least two distinct generations of music lovers: One section of the intended audience are the ones who are old enough to remember the original, iconic versions of these songs, while the more commercial aspirations of the album are aimed at younger fans who are less familiar with these songs or even with Sheena herself. These updates attempt to retain the energy of the originals while also employing modern beats and technology. The result is that many of them sound fresh to the ears, regardless of what decade you last entered a discotheque.

Nearly the entire album is comprised of covers. Sheena has always been able to embrace any genre she chooses and she proves it here by tackling a diverse array of songs. Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle’s beloved ’80’s ballad “On My Own” becomes a mellow, grooving duet for Sheena and her producer Terry Ronald. A light dance/pop treatment is injected into Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The Deniece Williams song “That’s What Friends Are For” blows through like a welcome summertime wind. Originals like “You Never Gave Me a Chance” and Sheena’s take on The Three Degrees classic “Giving Up Giving In” (the album’s first single) help round out the project and keep it from sounding too much like a typical retro party compilation.

In Japan, the CD contains two bonus tracks, including a remix of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and a cover of the Teena Marie song “I Need Your Lovin’.” Fabulous is one of Sheena’s most consistent and interesting efforts in recent years.

FABULOUS TRACKS

“Love is in Control” (download)

Sheena’s got her finger on the trigger and she ain’t letting go. The album’s second single, released in 2001, is a thumping remake of the early ’80s Donna Summer classic. Sheena keeps her vocals at a seductive mid-tempo which makes her the central, shining part of this swirling, techno-heavy opus. You better raise your heart up high!

“Don’t Leave Me This Way”

OK, so Sheena is no Thelma Houston, but few of us are. In spite of this, she and her producer manage to pull off a nice, percolating version of this stone-cold, passion-laden disco classic. A hot remixed version of this song would have done this project a lot of good had it been released as a single.

“Never Can Say Goodbye” (download)

Written by Clifton Davis and first released in 1971 by The Jackson 5, “Never Can Say Goodbye” arguably became best known from the hit Gloria Gaynor version in 1974. It’s a nice fit for Sheena’s upbeat style and exuberant vocals. The production is suitably over the top (in the best way possible) to make for one of the album’s guiltiest pleasures.

THE COMEBACK KID

Fabulous was not officially released in the U.S. but still managed to find its way into the eager hands of Sheena’s most devoted American fans. However, it was much more of a success in Australia, Japan and London. In these countries it was given a proper release and promoted with multiple remixes by the likes of Joey Negro, Almighty and Sleaze Sisters. Sheena also appeared on television and at gay pride events where disco-hungry fans were thrilled to have their favorite Scottish chanteuse back in such a high energy format. Purists will undoubtedly prefer the original classic versions of these tracks but Sheena has used her unique vocals and some hot producers to put her own stamp on these tried and true dancefloor stompers.

WHAT CAME NATURALLY

Oh, Sheena Easton, how much fun you made the ’80’s! Who can forget your delightful accent, mind-spinning changes of musical genre, risque lyrics, well-acted music videos and mysterious relationship with Prince. Most of all, you had the fiercest hairdos this side of Olivia Newton-John.

Crossing back and forth among styles as diverse as Adult Contemporary, Pop, R&B, Country and even more Adult Contemporary helped earn Sheena fiercely devoted fans and a closet full of awards and hit singles. One of the things that made her stand out the most among a crop of off-the-shelf pop divas was her great voice and her willingness to try a variety of musical ideas.

Here’s hoping Sheena gets yet another chance to make a well-deserved comeback. When it comes to an artist this talented, we never can say goodbye. No, no, no!

Fabulous is available at Amazon.

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FABULOUS LINKS

sheenaeaston.com

sheenaeaston.co.uk