Prince and Sheena Easton Find Themselves in ‘The Arms of Orion’
Unlike many of the artists with whom Prince worked in his life, Sheena Easton had a successful career before they met. Four years after her breakthrough 1980 hit "Morning Train," they began a collaboration that resulted in several songs, including two Top 10 hits ("Sugar Walls" and "U Got the Look"), another that broke the Top 40 ("The Arms of Orion") and a fourth single that nearly topped the Dance chart ("101").
Given his habit of working with unknown acts – or building bands from scratch – how did he wind up singing with someone who had an established track record? It started in 1984 when they were both recording at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound and shared an engineer, David Leonard.
As Easton told the Windy City Times, she came into the studio one day and Leonard said, "Prince sent over a track for you. We saw you on The Tonight Show the night before and Prince said, 'Ya, I gotta write something for that girl.' And so he sent over 'Sugar Walls,' and it was one of those things where it was like, 'Here it is. If you want to do it, here's my number.' Then when we worked in the studio, we got along really well. We cracked each other up, we made each other laugh."
Even with lyrics that were controversial enough to earn it a spot on Tipper Gore's "Filthy Fifteen," "Sugar Walls" peaked at No. 9. It appeared to be a one-off, but then "U Got the Look" appeared three years later on Sign 'O' the Times. Easton credited Prince with suggesting that she should write songs, although he wouldn't mince words with his critiques.
"I'd be that girl walking around with a little notepad writing down ideas and notes," she said. "He'd always grab it out of my hand and ruthlessly make fun of me and say, 'That's crap,' 'That's a good chorus,' or 'That verse sucked,' or 'You should finish that one.' We ended up writing a few things that way."
While the first song credited to the two of them, "La, La, La, He, He, Hee," was a deliberately silly piece of fluff that wound up on the b-side to "Sign 'O' the Times," "The Arms of Orion" was a ballad that featured the two singers trading lines in the verses and harmonizing on the chorus.
"I sent him the lyrics to 'The Arms of Orion,'" she continued. "He really liked it, put music to it and it ended up being on the Batman soundtrack. I'm totally into the stars. Right outside my bedroom window, right over my front guest house, you looked right into Orion. I loved the concept of two lovers apart, looking up at the same stars and wishing they could be together."
Hear Prince and Sheena Easton Perform "The Arms of Orion"
"The Arms of Orion" turned out to be Easton's second-to-last hit, with 1991's "What Comes Naturally" reaching No. 19. Still, the chemistry they displayed on record – as well as Prince's own history – led to inevitable rumors that they were a couple. She always denied them.
"You know, I didn't know him as well as people would make it out to be," she said. "People thought, 'Sheena Easton and Prince — they must be having an affair.' But I did know him well enough to know he loved to write and produce."