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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond - Sheena Easton

I have a question for you. Are you resistant to change?

Are you a person who is so set in your ways that you absolutely refuse to change anything about yourself, your surroundings, or your life for that matter?

Or, are you the type of person who embraces changes, and goes out of your way to get rid of everything old to bring in the new.

As far as my own life is concerned, I'll admit that there are some instances in which I'm reluctant to make changes. Not necessarily because I'm stubborn. Most certainly not because I'm one hundred per cent content in my life, because let's face it. None of us really are.

No, I think my biggest challenge to embracing change is the fact that I suffer from a bit of indecision in my life. I'm well-known around my friends and family for being a major flip-flopper when it comes to making decisions. I sometimes second guess, or even third and fourth guess every decision that I make. It can be a potentially annoying habit to overcome.

I see myself wanting to make some changes, but then I think things over, and I wonder, am I making the right decision? And then I think, I'm totally not making the right choice. Seconds later, I think that this choice could be the best thing for me.

And then before I know it, by the time I come to a real decision about what I know it right, the moment has passed, and time has expired, and I'm left not really making any changes at all.

Of course, I'm not painting myself as some indecisive twit who is incapable of making decisions and embracing change. I'm not totally like that. I did make some positive decisions in my life that have helped out. I got healthier, I started up this writing venture, and I'm on the right track. I'm not exactly where I want to be in my life, but I'm getting there.

Perhaps if I weren't so indecisive about certain matters, it wouldn't have taken me this long to make this realization about myself. But, now that I have, I can now begin the process to embrace change even more.

( that I've written that out, I guess all of you out there are gonna hold me to that promise now, aren't you?)

Anyway, that's what this blog post is all about. Embracing change, no matter how shocking or drastic it might be, and coming out of it a stronger person. A person who knows what he or she might want out of life.

Today's subject is a woman who seems to have left the demons of indecision behind in her wake, and who has embraced change completely. Granted, some of these decisions have been met with much criticism from parents groups, and even the people of her birth country, but in her eyes, she kept doing what she felt was best for herself and her career. And really, how could anyone get mad at her for that?

Today's Across The Pond and Beyond subject is singer Sheena Easton.

Born Sheena Shirley Orr in Scotland, on April 27, 1959, Sheena had always had a keen interest in music and singing. When she was only five years old, she sang a song called 'Early One Morning' at her aunt and uncle's 25th wedding anniversary party in front of a group of family and friends. Her early childhood was marked with sadness, as her father died when she was only ten years old. Although her mother worked hard to provide a living for Sheena and her five siblings, Sheena always seemed to speak very highly of her mother, as her mother made sure that she was always there for them whenever they needed her.

It wasn't until Sheena watched the film 'The Way We Were', starring Barbra Streisand that she made the decision to want to pursue a career in singing. Watching Barbra singing at the beginning of the movie while the opening credits were displayed on the screen really got to Sheena, and she wanted to have the same impact with people the same way that Barbra did.

(Ironically enough, Sheena would get her own opening credit moment when she sang the theme to the 1981 James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only'.)

Sheena's hard work in school earned her high grades, which lead to her attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama on a scholarship. She graduated from the program in 1979, choosing to study teaching instead of performing, as Sheena felt the program would help her perfect her singing skills. That same year, she married a man named Sandi Easton. Although the marriage barely lasted a year, Sheena did end up taking his last name and using it as her own professional name. Thus Sheena Orr became Sheena Easton.

As it turned out, 1979 would also be a big year for Sheena in another way. One of the instructors of the school that Sheena attended convinced her to audition for Esther Rantzen, who was the producer of a BBC show called 'The Big Time'.  Way before the days of American Idol and The Voice, 'The Big Time' was a sort of reality show in the form of a documentary film, which detailed the life of an unknown singer hoping to make it big in the world of pop music.

Sheena Easton was chosen to be that unknown.

The show debuted in 1980, and showed Sheena's struggles with making it big in the world of music, which included footage of another singer named Lulu telling Sheena that she would NEVER make it as a singer.

I bet somewhere out there, Lulu is eating her words right about now.

Within a year of the program airing on television, Sheena was signed to EMI Records on a recording contract, and by 1980, she was recording songs for her first album, 'Take My Time'.

Sheena's first single, 'Modern Girl' was a modest hit in the United Kingdom. Released on February 29, 1980, the song came out just before 'The Big Time' aired, and only managed to reach #56 on the charts. After the show aired though, the song was re-released and made the Top 10 in the UK during the summer of 1980 (Top 20 in the United States). In August of 1980, Sheena's second single managed to hit the Top 10 the same time that 'Modern Girl' was still on the charts, making Sheena the first female artist ever to have two Top 10 hits on the same charts.

Now, in the United States, they wouldn't hear Sheena's second single until 1981...but in this case it was worth the wait, as the song became Sheena's first, and as of 2011, only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts.

ARTIST: Sheena Easton
SONG: Morning Train (9 to 5)
ALBUM: Take My Time
DATE RELEASED: May 16, 1980

In the United Kingdom, the song was simply titled '9 to 5', and peaked at #3 there. In the United States, the song title was changed to 'Morning Train' with the 9 to 5 in brackets. The reason? Well, at the same time, Dolly Parton had just released her own song called '9 to 5', for the soundtrack of the movie of the same name which had come out in 1980, and the name was changed in order to differentiate between the two songs. Morning Train hit the pole position on May 2, 1981, and that song became the first of several top ten hits for Easton.

But if you took a look at the video, you'd see that Sheena Easton's earliest works were quite tame and serene in nature. Heck, the whole Morning Train video shows Sheena riding a bicycle through the Scottish countryside and hopping a train. It was a nice video for the early 1980s, but watching it thirty years later, it does seem kind of bland.

Still, the success did put Sheena Easton on the map, and in 1981, Easton won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. By 1982, however, her record sales started to decline, and Sheena was starting to lose her footing on the music charts.

Certainly, Sheena continued to make music, and had a couple of hits in 1983, and earned a second Grammy that same year for her work on a Spanish language duet she sang with Luis Miguel. But it wasn't until 1984 that Sheena made the decision to go a completely different direction. If Sheena was to have any staying power on a music chart that was always changing, she would have to get edgy.

Enter her 1984 album, 'A Private Heaven'.

The first release, 'Strut' was a catchy tune, and became Easton's fifth Top 10 single, and was nominated for another Grammy award for the single.

But then Sheena's second single from the album stirred up a lot of controversy for the singer, and made her the target of parents groups and Tipper Gore.

The song 'Sugar Walls', which came out around the end of 1984/beginning of 1985 was placed on the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Council) list of what they deemed one of the “Filthy Fifteen”, songs that were deemed indecent because of lyrical content. Many radio stations refused to play the song on air, and the music video was banned for a time on MTV, not because of visual content, but because of the lyrics.

I guess this is the time to inform everyone that the song 'Sugar Walls' refers to the walls of a woman's...ahem...private heaven, so to speak. Then again, the song was co-written by Prince (under the pseudonym of Alexander Nevermind), whose own song, 'Darling Nikki' was also on the Filthy Fifteen list, so it goes without saying that the song was dripping with controversy.

Of course, listening to some current songs that are out now, it does make 'Sugar Walls' seem like 'Amazing Grace' in comparison.

Of course, controversy sells, and 'Sugar Walls' ended up peaking at #9 on the Billboard Charts. And Sheena and Prince would work together once again, most notably for the 1987 single 'U Got The Look', prompting rumours of a romantic liaison between the two. Sheena has denied that anything romantic ever went on between her and Prince though.

By 1988, Sheena had changed her image and musical style once more. After a guest-starring role on the NBC drama 'Miami Vice', in which she played Caitlin Davies Crockett (who ended up being killed off five episodes later), Sheena released the album 'The Lover In Me'. This album was flavoured with R&B influences, and was produced by L.A. Reid, Babyface, and John “Jellybean” Benitez. Prince even contributed a song to her album.

In this case, this change proved to be a positive one for Easton. Just have a look at the video for the album's first single, which also happened to be the title track.

This song ended up being a huge hit for Easton. Some may even say that it was a comeback hit for her. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Charts in early 1989, the first time in eight years that Sheena ever had a song chart that high. The song also did very well in the United Kingdom, as well as several other countries. Sheena had a couple of other singles which did very well on the R&B charts, and as the 1980s ended, Sheena was definitely in a good place.

Although her success in the United States seemed to be at its peak as the 1990s began, her popularity in her native Scotland seemed to dwindle, with many people claiming that Sheena had turned her back on her Scottish heritage to become more Americanized. In 1990, Sheena was asked to participate at a music festival in Glasgow, Scotland, and for a while, it seemed as though Sheena was keen to go back to her home country to perform for her fans...

...that is until she greeted the crowd in an American accent, and all hell broke loose. Fans grew rowdy and booed, chucking bottles at her while she was on stage, some of which were filled with urine. I know if I were in her shoes, I definitely wouldn't have appreciated that, and Sheena didn't appreciate it either. She cut her set short, and presumably was the last time that she performed in Scotland for a long time.

By 1991, however, Sheena's success on the pop charts had dried up, and her last Top 40 hit charted that same year. She still recorded music, and her 1993 album 'No Strings' was critically praised, yet made little impact on the charts.

These days, Sheena is keeping busy raising her adopted children, and taking on another career as a voice artist. She was a featured voice in the sequel to All Dogs Go To Heaven, as well as the animated version of the Charles Dickens tale 'David Copperfield'. She's starred in revivals of Broadway musicals, she's done voice work in video games, and she even co-hosted a talk show based out of Las Vegas, the city that Sheena Easton now calls her home.

Hmmm...maybe the crowd back in Scotland circa 1990 did have a point, even if they totally went about it the wrong way.

The point is that while some people may consider artists like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Rihanna to be chameleons in that they're always constantly changing, Sheena Easton is one of those artists that had to do just that in order to survive in an already tough industry. And, just look at some of the accomplishments that she got as a result of these changes.

She won two Grammy Awards, and received five other nominations on top of that.

She's the only artist to have a Top 5 hit on FIVE different charts. In case you're wondering what charts, here's the list below.

POP – Morning Train (9 to 5) – 1981
ADULT CONTEMPORARY – Morning Train (9 to 5) – 1981
DANCE – Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair) – 1983
COUNTRY – We've Got Tonight (duet with Kenny Rogers) – 1983
R & B – Sugar Walls – 1985

She was the only singer of a James Bond theme to appear on screen singing the song. No other artist has had that same treatment. Not Madonna. Not Garbage.  Not even Shirley Bassey!

All this because Sheena wasn't afraid of change. She embraced it, and in many ways, these changes helped her become a better singer and performer.

You see? Change IS good!

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