When Prince Wrote Sheena Easton’s Favorite Song
Prince's discography is dotted by collaborations with assorted female muses, many of whom drifted out of his orbit just as suddenly as they appeared. But in Sheena Easton, he seemed to find a truly kindred spirit — or at least a reliable interpreter for his music, as evidenced by the numerous times they recorded together over the years.
Their partnership continued during the sessions for Easton's ninth studio album, 1988's The Lover in Me, which found her grappling with a surprising lull in her commercial fortunes. After climbing the Top 40 with her 1984 release A Private Heaven — largely thanks to the success of the Prince-penned single "Sugar Walls" — she barely scraped the Top 40 with its follow-up, 1985's Do You, and her next planned effort, 1987's No Sound But a Heart, saw its U.S. release scuttled altogether.
Easton was in need of a comeback with The Lover in Me, in other words — and she didn't hedge her bets, working once again with an array of top-shelf collaborators that included producers du jour Babyface and L.A. Reid as well as Prince. Working under the pseudonym Joey Coco, Prince contributed the tracks "Cool Love" and "101," the latter of which became the record's third single and a major dance hit.
"When you work with Prince, he's one of those kind of guys that likes to keep you off guard. You'd get the phone call saying 'Hey, come down to the studio. There's something I'd want you to hear,'" Easton recalled in a 2012 interview. "Then you'd get down there, like with '101,' and he'd play it and I'd be like, 'I don't know' and he'd say, 'Well, just go and sit and listen to it a little bit.'"
That loose-limbed approach, in this case, led to at least one off-the-cuff moment that Easton said stayed in the final recording even thought it wasn't written or planned the way it went down. "There's this part in there where I kinda go off-melody and I just start taking higher and higher," she pointed out. "He says, 'Well, that's not the right melody but we're keeping that and we're gonna work with that.' And so it's one of those things that's really organic — just a great moment in the studio."
While "101" received a healthy amount of club play, it didn't put much of a dent in the Top 40, and The Lover in Me performed respectably without putting Easton back on top of the charts. Her next LP, 1991's What Comes Naturally, landed her a Top 20 single with the title track, the record itself barely scraped the top 100 of Billboard's album chart. By the middle of the decade, she'd moved beyond her pop ambitions, focusing on older demographics and other world markets. Still, even years later, "101" remains a personal highlight for the singer.
Watch Sheena Easton Perform "101"
"Of all my songs I've ever done, that's my favorite," Easton admitted. "I love that track. It was one of those great in the studio moments of my life."