World’s Worst Songs: Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”
Based on the hit streak Sheena Easton ran up during her first three years on the radio, it seemed a sure bet that she would be singing pop songs and power ballads now and forever, amen. But Sheena, we hardly knew ye.
Sheena’s 1984 began with the little-noticed single “Devil in a Fast Car,” and our little girl was growing up: “I want a lover who can hold on tight til I just can’t take anymore.” That summer, she hit the top 10 with “Strut,” a hook monster that made her desires clear even as it tried to deny them (and is the best record she ever made). At some point in 1984, she attracted the attention of Prince, then riding his own rocket to stardom thanks to Purple Rain. He wrote and produced a song for her that followed “Strut” into the top 10—despite being one of the World’s Worst Songs.
The writer and producer credits on “Sugar Walls” belong to one Alexander Nevermind, but even if you didn’t know who Nevermind really was, you could figure it out based on its percussion and electronic effects, and the way he has Easton sing it, alternately cooing and whining and breathing heavily. Prince’s attitude toward sex is often juvenile, and never more than here, thanks to the title metaphor, which wouldn’t be considered clever in a junior-high boys’ locker room: “Temperatures rise inside my sugar walls,” and all of the talk about coming inside of them. “Sugar Walls” is supposed to be sexy, but it’s almost precisely the opposite.
Coming (hey, Beavis, he said “coming”) as it did at the height of the mid-80s mania over explicit lyrics, “Sugar Walls” was guaranteed to cause controversy. It made the Parents Music Resource Council’s fabled “Filthy Fifteen” list of terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad songs, one of only five that was getting anything like mass radio airplay. Some radio stations refused to air it as a result. If they had refused on aesthetic grounds before the PMRC fuss, it would have represented the kind of victory art just doesn’t win very often.