If Sheena Easton followers thought that her 1981 debut was superlative—with No. 1 “Morning Train,” top 20 “Modern Girl” and Oscar-nominated “For Your Eyes Only”—1984 was destined be the consummate treat.
This was inarguably the peak year of the pop singer’s career, with two top consecutive top 10 singles from her masterpiece platinum-selling album A Private Heaven, her highest-charting LP ever at No. 15, garnering another Grammy Award nomination, three 12″ remixes, and to boot, her first collaboration with Prince.
Even reviewers, who were typically dismissive of Sheena, rallied for Heaven. Cashbox wrote in October 1984, “Virtually unlimited talent, Sheena Easton is at her absolute best. A Private Heaven is solid, punchy, techno-pop production with dramatic ballads. A dazzling new album.”
Webbie Allmusic offered, “Taking on a notably sexier stance and wetting her feet in funkier repertoire, A Private Heaven expands on Easton’s trademark light pop. The lively “Strut” and provocative “Sugar Walls” serve as two of the set’s strongest offerings. Snappy, jazzy “Back in the City” and memorable ballad “Hard to Say It’s Over” are ultimately as strong.”
Meanwhile, Easton’s image continued to evolve away from the winsome young lass into a sexy siren. She grew out her hair, painted on lipstick, shortened the skirts and offered music videos that showed a little giddy-up in her step (albeit, as lame as previous clips).
First U.S. single “Strut” was an instant success, catapulting to No. 7 on the Hot 100, while scoring in Australia, Canada, Brazil, Germany and South Africa. (In the U.K., “Back in the City” was initially released, but since her move to the States, the country banned her from the airwaves).
“Strut” also reached No. 6 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play chart, and it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Pop/Rock Performance By A Female (Tina Turner won).
But this was just the appetizer for the impact that “Sugar Walls” would ultimately deliver. The controversial single aligned Sheena with Prince (credited as Alexander Nevermind) for the first of three hit singles (“U Got the Look,” “The Arms of Orion”), reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100. It also reached No. 1 at dance—and astonishingly, became an R&B smash, peaking at No. 3.
Unfortunately, EMI screwed up again at this point. Instead of releasing the absolute finest single Sheena Easton ever recorded, melodramatic break-up ballad “Hard To Say It’s Over,” which she performed on “Solid Gold” and perhaps never looked more beautiful—with a segment possessing the gusto of a music video (pics on left)—the label decided to follow “Strut” and “Sugar Walls” with bombastic oddball rock-dance track “Swear,” which is at least amusing with a white-girl rap from Sheena (and yet another bad video). But was it a radio hit? Not a chance.
As peerless as “Hard To Say” was, A Private Heaven contained two outright stinkers: the irritating jerky “You Make Me Nervous” and frantic, almost shrieky “Hungry Eyes,” which sound as if they were deliberate efforts to indulge Japanese audiences (the latter was released as a single there).
Making up for those two train wrecks was lovely, understated Joan Armatrading cover “Love and Affection,” so gentle and vocally credible, which demonstrates that above all, aside from remaining au courant, Sheena indeed possessed the finest vocal prowess of any female singer of the era.
Next up: Instead of further momentum, Sheena’s career derails with Nile Rogers’ creative but overproduced Do You.