’80s Divas: The Sheena Easton Edition
She took the morning train goin‘ anywhere … and went to No. 1.
Mysteries abound when it comes to ’80s music (like what did Prince really have against “to,” “for” and “you”?), and some of the biggest head-scratchers involve the largely forgotten Scottish beauty who took the “Morning Train” to global superstardom in 1981.
Why doesn’t anyone talk about Sheena Easton anymore?
Why do I never hear her songs anywhere I go unless I’m playing them on Spotify?
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 number one 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. Then she sang a hit James Bond theme: 1982’s “For Your Eyes Only,” which I also owned on vinyl. Two years after her 007 alliance, she held her own with Prince, on her Top 10 single “Sugar Walls,” and on his, “U Got the Look.”
The 1981 Best New Artist Grammy winner would later crossed over into acting (in a multi-episode arc as Sonny Crockett’s ill-fated wife on Miami Vice), and by mid-decade, he was one of the few artists besides Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers (maybe the only other one) to score Top 10 hits on Billboard 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 has never really swept up Easton, now 60, and whisked her 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. But if she coasted on anything, it was a voice that could have rivaled any top diva of the day for sheer belting prowess.
Make no mistake, though. Even for a gay boy like me, Easton’s way with a close-up didn’t go unnoticed. I remember watching her HBO concert special back in the early ’80s and actually questioning my sexuality: Hmm … 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), but it’s the best evidence I have of Easton’s truly transformative power.
Five Amazing Sheena Easton Songs You Probably Haven’t Thought About in Decades
“You Could Have Been With Me”
A number 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 remake, this was a non-single from A Private Heaven, Easton’s only platinum album, which I used to own on vinyl. Thirty-six years on, it can still work me up into a considerable sweat on a treadmill.
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 UK chart hit, but, unfortunately, not much of one (number 54, in 2000).