Though far from critically acclaimed during her remarkably consistent and eclectic '80s pop career, Scottish singer Sheena Easton always maintained a solid status as major star. She was largely deserving of her chart success, often making the most out of cookie-cutter pop songs or maximizing distinct melodies with her unique vocal touch. Here's a look at the singer's best songs from the '80s, a list that spotlights one of the few artists to reach the top of all of Billboard's major music charts.
I'm probably one of many who has never quite taken to short hair on women, at least the kind that seems deliberately masculine. But if there's one woman who could pull it off and still look just as beautiful as when she sports flowing locks, it's probably Easton in her early twenties. The funny thing is, I still hadn't reached double digits in age when this tune hit the Top Five, and so my understanding of Easton's singular beauty first manifested itself simply in hearing her sing rather than taking in her stunning looks. This is an elegant, haunting love song, one of the finest James Bond themes, and Easton delivers it gracefully and forcefully. It's mainstream '80s music that communicates some emotion, which was a bit rare for the time.
During the early stages of her career, Easton specialized in breezy, electronic pop that simply can't help sounding quite dated in retrospect. Even so, there's a certain amount of charm to this cheeky rendition of a mildly feminist but rather harmless lyric (it sounds like it should have been the theme to an early-'80s Mary Tyler Moore sitcom the comedienne never had). But even if this one is a bit cutesy for its own good, its strong melody and spirited Easton delivery make it far more memorable than it has a right to be. This is rather disposable, TV commercial-quality songwriting, to be sure, but it is true that its dated aspects are tempered somewhat by Easton's already obvious charisma at this point of her career.
If Easton took a tentative step toward feminism on "Modern Girl," she quickly changed directions on this chart-topping tale of a bubbly, exuberant kept woman who spends her days, essentially, waiting for her lover to return home from the office so she can take on her all-important duties of constantly pleasing him. There's no clear indication that bon-bons are involved, but this is about as far from modern as a late 20th century female entertainer can get, it seems to me. Even so, the song is catchy and deftly displays Easton's versatility as a vocalist. Equally at home with theatrical pop, elegant ballads, peppy aerobics-appropriate ditties, and the near-country pop found here, Easton finds a way nearly always to transcend her material.
It's pretty much impossible to deny that in several key ways, Sheena Easton was an American (well, Scottish, technically) Idol years before the concept took hold on TV and on the pop charts. That certainly doesn't suggest that her talents are insubstantial and superficial but rather that the style of adult contemporary/easy listening featured on this track always seems to function as the most digestible music for a general pop audience. That said, Easton manages to lend a significant amount of personality to this performance that maximizes the fine, even restrained melody. During the first half of the '80s, few singers could match Easton's grasp of the broadly appealing movie soundtrack sort of ballad, and here is distinct proof of that.
With this memorable Top 10 hit from 1983, Easton officially became a thread in the fabric of '80s music, becoming synonymous with the decade's new wave-tinged, ear-candy, keyboard pop of the era like never before. Previously, Easton had straddled genres much more liberally and sometimes randomly, which meant that her body of work so far could seem rather unfocused. Still, even while that eclecticism always drove the singer's sound, this pure pop confection sounds mainstream in the best possible 1983 fashion and therefore results in Easton's most enjoyable offering to date. Again, it helps to be a great singer, but communicating theatrical attitude was another of Easton's strengths, even at this demure, girl-next-door stage of her career.
Of course, that good girl stuff was about to step aside for a more adult version of Sheena Easton, and who would have imagined that Prince had something to do with that? The '80s superstar helped guide her 1984 release, A Private Heaven, not only into edgier, funk-oriented dance-pop territory but also toward a racier and more suggestive image for Easton herself. Lyrically, the song again shows a mildly defiant inclination toward feminism, although Easton played both sides of that issue whenever the occasion called for it. Whatever her intentions, Easton has always been a commanding presence in addition to a strikingly attractive one, and that's what makes her pouty posturing work so efficiently throughout this Madonna-esque rave-up.
The touch of Prince may be all over this one, but that influence may not be as favorable as would be expected. Sure, this sexed-up track hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in 1985, and it remains one of Easton's most well-known tunes, but it probably doesn't belong on the short list of her best, most inspired work. It must receive mention on this slightly longer list because of what it communicates about the ability of pop music to focus on practically anything but the actual music. After all, this isn't even close to Prince's best songwriting, and the central suggestive metaphor in the title is actually less clever than much innuendo hatched in an average schoolyard. This one makes up for its deficiencies almost purely with titillation.
If the quality of Easton's music had dipped a bit by the end of the '80s and her dancing had never been anything more than adequate, she remained, more than ever, one of the most undeniably beautiful female celebrities in the world. No subjectivity there whatsoever. Besides, we are supposed to be talking about music, right? Well, in that case there's not a whole lot more to say about this tune, except that the pop fluff released circa 1989 was frequently much worse. So, looking on the bright side, Easton's vocals are as distinctive and powerful as ever here, even if the songwriting provided for her, which had never been particularly substantial to begin with, had declined. In summary, Easton looks positively stunning in this song's video.