Wednesday , September 22 2021
A new three-disc retrospective displays the versatility of Easton's 1980s output.

Music Review: Sheena Easton – ‘The Definitive Singles 1980-1987’ (3-CD Set)

Despite Sheena Easton’s prolific presence on almost every major chart in the U.S. over the entirety of the 1980s, the Scotland-born vocalist is frequently overlooked in retrospectives of the decade’s defining music. Perhaps it’s because she didn’t continue releasing albums as regularly over subsequent years—her last disc was 2000’s Fabulous. She largely left the public consciousness when Madonna continued to shell out new material without her earlier chart success, and Easton’s frequent collaborator—none other than the late Prince—kept up his usual whirlwind cycle of recording and touring.

Cherry Pop’s new three-CD collection The Definitive Singles 1980-1987, presents all the evidence needed to allay any misconceptions of Easton’s significance as a distinguished singer and diversely stylish purveyor of pop goodness in an everchanging musical landscape. From the nostalgic, innocent strains of “9 to 5 (Morning Train)” to the danceable synth charge of “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair)” and the risqué funk of the Prince-penned “Sugar Walls,” she covered all the bases necessary—and then some—to assure her continued relevance throughout the era of the music video.

Fifty-one tracks comprise The Definitive Singles. Disc one houses 22 single mixes spanning the first half of the decade. Discs two and three boast an assortment of 12” dance versions, soundtrack numbers, and unreleased songs. All of Easton’s charting US and UK tunes are included.

Listening to them as a whole, the proceedings are impressively well-rounded. She established herself early on as an emotionally rich balladeer, and, armed with reflective, ageless fare such as “For Your Eyes Only” (the title theme to the 1981 James Bond flick), “Almost over You,” and “I Wouldn’t Beg for Water,” strikingly conveyed strength, vulnerability, and passion. Conversely, her flair for sass and a spunky attitude were in full view on the anthemic “Strut,” the soulful “Do It for Love,” and an ardent cover of Tim McConnell’s “Swear.”

Easton’s less commercially fruitful entries manifest still her stylistic elasticity, whether it be on the mid-paced, jazzy funk groove of “Back in the City,” the zealous “So Far So Good” (from the movie About Last Night), or the wistful and moody “Ice out in the Rain.”

For longtime fans, however, the true treasures of The Definitive Singles can be found in two never-before released recordings and a wealth of full-length club mixes—some of which make their CD debut here. 1986’s “Anything Can Happen,” cut for (but not included on) her final EMI album, No Sound but a Heart, is a somewhat better fit for Easton than for Patrice Rushen. The latter wound up releasing the track in 1987—with arguably better production. Contrastingly, Easton doesn’t sound as convincing on “Sweet Talker,” which was ultimately released by Angelica Chaplin in a more energetic rendering than the Shep Pettibone-helmed version found here.

The aforementioned No Sound but a Heart LP, from which another Prince-penned gem, “Eternity” (also included) stems, was scheduled for release in ’87, but only ended up hitting record store shelves in a few countries. The album highlighted yet another side of Easton’s vocal abilities, as evidenced here by the unreleased 7” and 12” mixes of the elegantly soulful title cut. Shortly before that period, she lent her touch to the endearing “It’s Christmas All over the World” for the Santa Claus—The Movie soundtrack. The holiday song likely would have raised her profile during a somewhat dry spell, had it been issued as a single in the States.

Almost all of the 12” vocal, dub, and instrumental mixes assembled in The Definitive Singles attest to the wisdom of an age in which remixers had the utmost respect for the essence of the original tracks and embellished them in ways that enhanced their appeal for dance floors without compromising their key ingredients. This is demonstrated in an exemplary fashion on the Club Mix of “Telefone,” The Red Mix of “So Far So Good,” and the previously unissued 12” Remix of “Ice out in the Rain.”

The Definitive Singles 1980-1987 is a compelling set that paints the most most complete picture yet of Easton’s influence and importance in the popular music world at large during her most lucrative years in the industry. Within, one will find no shortage of powerful dance-pop and power ballads alike—with a bright and soaring voice lighting the way.

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About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and SoulMusic.com. A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected]

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