After the seeming sinking of Sheena Easton’s career in 1987—with non-charting single “Eternity” and subsequent shelving of eighth studio album No Sound But A Heart amid EMI America’s folding into EMI Manhattan—the greatest female singer of the 1980s suddenly was without a home. Well, shit.
Prince had come to the rescue that year with No. 2 hit “U Got the Look,” but overlooked giving Sheena credit as his full-fledged partner on the single—somewhat redeemed by the song’s Grammy nod for Group or Duo… but at best, it was a tentative time for Sheena’s steadfast followers. Was this the end?
Fortunately, not a chance. Great things were ahead: with her second-biggest solo hit ever, a new label and image makeover that marked the ultimate evolution from sweet Scottish lass to sexy siren.
Before the end of 1987, another rescue mission arrived—and boy, was this out of left field. In November 1987, as Sheena shopped for a new record label, she was brought onboard weekly TV drama Miami Vice to play singer Caitlin Davies. Don Johnson, a.k.a. Sonny Crockett was reluctantly assigned to protect the pop star before a court appearance to rat against corrupt music industry honchos.
Miami Vice had slipped from No. 5 to No. 49 over the previous two seasons, and producers were looking for a bump—so decided to find Sonny a wife. Thirty women were considered for the role, including Carly Simon(?!): but 28-year-old Sheena Easton was the victor. By the end of her first guest appearance, the two had fallen in love and were walking down the aisle. Talk about a shotgun romance.
To be fair, Sheena was not much of an actress in her first acting role (the first of many ahead). She was fairly stiff and for a sexy ingenue, her makeup, wardrobe and hair were seriously understated. But ratings soared—meriting a People magazine cover of Johnson and Easton.
Fun factoid: She recorded a minute or so of a cover of “I Got You Babe” in that first episode, which was all-kitsch. Sonny says in the episode, “‘I Got You Babe’? No wonder her career’s in the toilet.” (See clip below.) In total, Sheena appeared in five episodes before she was mercilessly gunned down onstage, while singing “Follow My Rainbow,” a song from her ninth album The Lover In Me, her first for MCA. And despite her, uh, demise in Vice, what a triumph the album was to be.
Back in the real world, The Lover in Me led with the title track, helmed by producers du jour L.A. & Babyface. With one listen, you could tell Sheena was about to blast the charts again, with the song’s kickass uptempo production, absolute killer chorus and a music video that recast Sheena as the wet dream that had been erupting into a froth since 1984’s “Strut.”
In fact, she was such a sudden sexpot that Jack Lalanne & Holiday Spa hired her as a spokeswoman, working out in scant garb with her newly branded persona and likely sending teenage boys into spasms. This… the same Sheena who eight years before was the epitome of the virginal girl next door.
The first time I heard “The Lover in Me,” I was driving on Washington’s Beltway, crying my eyes out after just having split up after a three-month affair with my third boyfriend Doug. I was a big melodramatic mess, whimpering and wailing, as I listened to top40/urban WPGC-FM. As the first line of the song began, I of course recognized Sheena’s voice… I’d already read about her alliance with L.A.&B, and knew their production stamp in an instant. The tears stopped and I exclaimed out loud, alone in my car, “It’s a hit!” So long, Dougie!
Sure enough, “The Lover In Me” peaked at a glorious No. 2 on the Hot 100, becoming Sheena’s second-biggest hit ever, behind debut “Morning Train,” and her seventh (and final) top 10 smash. It also returned her to the U.K. chart top 15, which had dismissed Sheena’s wares since 1983. Remarkably, “Lover” also hit No. 2 at Dance and No. 5 on the R&B singles chart, propelling the album to gold status.
Follow-up “Days Like This,” a similarly cast and wonderfully clever L.A. & Babyface production, inexplicably tanked at top 40, but became a minor R&B hit, reaching No. 35. If there’s one thing that constantly plagued Sheena Easton’s career, it was radio’s follow-through support; she’d score a monster smash, then, with the exception of “Strut” and “Sugar Walls,” typically fail to build momentum.
The third single from The Lover In Me, “101,” reunited her with Prince. The haunting, frantic dance track was hardly a good bet for top 40, but it was a monster at clubs, where it scorched the top 2. God bless MCA, which stuck with the album: “No Deposit, No Return” was released next, but was a no-go on all fronts. “Follow My Rainbow,” the track she sang on Vice (as she took a bullet in the back), reached No. 16 on the Dutch and New Zealand singles charts. It sure didn’t hurt that video clips for “Lover,” “Days” and “101” were just plain hot.
Overall, Lover was a successful bow for Sheena at MCA. It reached the top 40 on the album chart and showed the label’s commitment to aligning the singer with A-listers, including Angela Winbush on the breezy quiet storm ballad “Fire and Rain,” and Jellybean Benitez, who produced jaunty “If It’s Meant To Last.”
As a bonus, to cap a dizzying 1989, Sheena sang again with Prince on lovely piano-driven love ballad sizzler “The Arms Of Orion,” which the two co-wrote for the soundtrack to Batman. It peaked at No. 36 in the U.S., No. 27 in the U.K. and No. 5 in Ireland. Prince and Sheena also co-wrote a song for Patti LaBelle, “Love ’89” and the ridiculous nonsensical B-side “La, La, La, He, He, Hee,” which Prince recorded. Really, he shouldn’t have.
Coming up: 1991’s What Comes Naturally caps Sheena’s 10th anniversary in the music biz.
Below, Sheena singing “I Got You Babe” on Miami Vice. Clip starts at 1:15.