Purple Women: Sheena Easton's '101' Will Always Do

'Purple Women' is a limited tribute series honoring the women who made music and history with Prince during his lifetime. To follow this series and check out the who's who of women on the roster, be sure to visit the introductory page for further information.  

Sheena Easton and Prince as a dynamic duo seemed in the beginning about as random as the spaghetti and orange juice pairing that the Purple One allegedly enjoyed at meal times. Easton, a goody-too-shoes Scottish lass had a towering voice that was fit for torch ballads and Bond theme songs, while Prince smirked and did split dances, bouncing around like the little mischievous purple perv that he was --- the two were on paper as compatible as oil and water. But as a cartoon cat and a dancing dame once claimed, opposites do indeed attract, and it was these differences of style and psyche between Sheena and Prince that ended up working handsomely in their favor.

After the massive crossover success of Purple Rain, Prince could and did do pretty much whatever he damn well pleased, and while he re-arranged band members and sought out new, experimental sounds for follow-up albums, he also expanded his curriculum vitae by writing and producing for a broad, divergent galaxy of women. Prince had nurtured Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6 prior to Purple Rain's success, and while the results were successful, the groups still posed questionable when it came to skilled talent. With Sheena, Prince had found a new kind of muse. Not only did she have the pouty model look down, but she could sing her little rump off, and for icing, she also proved to be a creative partner in crime for Prince, because even as notorious of an independent worker her was, he still encouraged and respected Sheena's input.

For Sheena, Prince 'corruption' spiced up her tame pop act, changing it completely from then on after once the ultimate ode to vagine, "Sugar Walls" was released in 1984. Duets such as "U Got The Look" and "The Arms of Orion", and an earlier version of "Eternity" (more on that later...) followed suit, but "Sugar Walls" remains their most recognizable collaboration, largely because it's the greatest innuendo Prince ever concocted since "Little Red Corvette", and is smutty synth-funk on fiery wheels that only Prince could establish. Glorious and tacky, "Sugar Walls" is and its a classic full stop, but to me, the best of Sheena and Prince's collaborative work resides on "101".

Culled from Sheena's 1989 Babyface and L.A. Reid-produced New Jack masterpiece (not a typo), The Lover In Me, and written under the pseudonym of Joey Coco, "101" is Prince melodrama to a tee. Grim and off-kilter, it fits into the industrial, mechanical dankness of late '80s synth work, and fits in the frame of Prince's turn at soporific, graveyard shift tunes as heard through his Black Album experiments and LoveSexy's "Anna Stesia".

Beginning with thundering shots of guns, "101" slips into an inky synth soundbed that feels reminiscent of the gear grinding construction work of Depeche Mode. Amid its sinister stuttering, the track accumulates into a fit of bluesy rage with Sheena beggin, pleadin', and wailin' to great effect. The lyrics are a far cry from Easton's days of bemoaning long distance love affairs and commuting men on the 9 to 5 train as she plays a woman lonely, heartbroken, and on the brink of a breakdown, ready to take those 101 lighted candles and commit arson Waiting to Exhale style, as she whispers, quite threateningly, "Being without you is murder baby." 

Prince contributed another song on The Lover In Me, the spunky, "Cool Love", and while that's even lesser talked about than "101" and features some great drum effects, it still doesn't possess the naked rawness and originality that "101" embodies.

Even though Prince was at the apex of his career and Sheena delivers a top-notch performance that highlights the prismatic tones and ranges of her voice, "101" never made it to the Hot 100 in the US. It did get some respect on the Dance charts as it found a home at the  #2 position, but the song has since dwindled away from consciousness and isn't mentioned much, if not at all, when we talk about the best of Prince's collaborative works. For shame.

Sheena herself has expressed in the past that "101" is favorite of hers, and features what she considers her best vocal performance committed to record. I'm actually in total agreement there, because though Sheena has had many great vocal moments throughout her career, there is something special about how she delivers each refrain on "101" and how Prince's music --- while sometimes the showstopper in itself --- takes a backseat to allow Sheena's vocals to come surging through. Just blistering good cohesion throughout, and from two dissimilar luminaries no less.

+ For all of the features in the 'Purple Women' series, please visit this source list.
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