Sheila E. Encores With Prince for ‘A Love Bizarre’
The seductive “A Love Bizarre” became one of percussionist/vocalist Sheila E.’s best-known tracks and one of the most memorable songs to emerge from the army of Prince protégés.
Released as a single in November 1985 and peaking on the charts in late-winter 1986 (around the same time that Prince was beginning to grease the promotional wheels for Parade), the tune narrowly missed the Top 10 on Billboard’s pop chart, landing at No. 11, and it became the highest-charting R&B single of Sheila’s career, landing at No. 2. Perhaps most impressively, “A Love Bizarre” became the second track of Sheila’s to top Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play list, following her debut single, “The Glamorous Life."
Although Sheila Escovedo had cut her teeth in the Bay Area music scene and toured as a featured player with Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie (even appearing as the latter’s love interest in the video for “Running With the Night”), the talented drummer didn’t break through to the big time until aligning herself with Prince. Although the two (according to Sheila’s memory) originally met in the late '70s, they weren’t aligned professionally until the summer of 1984, when Prince wrote and produced most of her first album, The Glamorous Life. The title track was a Grammy-nominated Top 10 smash, the album went gold, and Sheila found herself taking her timbales and tambourines on the road with Prince, serving as a support act during 1984-1985’s Purple Rain trek.
During an early-1985 tour stop in Atlanta, Prince and Sheila laid down initial tracks for “A Love Bizarre," and the song wound up on Sheila’s second effort, Romance 1600. The single “Sister Fate” was released in late-summer 1985, and fizzled on the charts. “A Love Bizarre” was issued several months after Romance 1600 arrived on record store shelves and wound up helping carry Sheila to gold-selling status for the second time.
Watch Sheila E. Perform "A Love Bizarre"
As was the custom for most Prince-related side projects, the Purple One mostly hid his involvement in the project. “A Love Bizarre” is actually the only song on Romance 1600 that bears a writing credit for Prince. He performs all non-percussion instruments on the track aside from Eddie Mininfield’s saxophone, and while “Bizarre” is not officially credited as a duet, Prince and Sheila sing in tandem for almost the entire song.
When released as a 45, “A Love Bizarre” had to be cut from its album length of 12 minutes to a more manageable three-and-a-half minutes. Another chunk of it appeared as the single’s B-side, listed as “A Love Bizarre, Pt. 2." While on the promotional trail supporting Romance 1600, Sheila and her band stopped at the major televised musical variety shows to lip-sync their hit. Dressed in Paisley’s finest and performing expertly intricate choreography, the crew appeared on Solid Gold, Soul Train and American Bandstand, where they told Dick Clark that the costuming inspiration was gleaned from the film Amadeus. They also performed a live rendition of it on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
While Prince was in the South of France filming Under the Cherry Moon, Sheila also found herself behind the camera for a feature film. The 1985 movie Krush Groove was a film loosely based on up-and-coming record label Def Jam (fictionalized as “Krush Groove Records”) and its founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Sheila portrayed a character named “Sheila E.," who vies for the affection of Krush Groove Records head Russell Walker (played by Blair Underwood). Sheila received top billing in a cast that also included hip-hop legends Run-D.M.C., the Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow (not to mention a scene-stealing performance by a teenage LL Cool J), and she told the Red Bull Music Academy that the cast of hip-hop upstarts wasn’t always kind to her.
“I came in as a musician -- Sheila E., with all my people and the band, and a lot of the rappers there... Their situation was a little bit different. At one point we were shooting 'Love Bizarre' and the audience -- it’s supposed to be in a club scene --- they’re all extras. ... At the end of 'Love Bizarre,' no one clapped.”
The film grossed 11 million dollars at the box office and has become something of a cult classic. Despite performing “A Love Bizarre” in the movie, Sheila opted not to include the song on the film’s soundtrack, instead contributing the song “Holly Rock” and appearing alongside much of the film’s cast on the title track/theme song. The scene from the film in which Sheila performs “A Love Bizarre” was ultimately used as the song’s official video, with some cuts from the movie’s dramatic scenes spliced in.
When Sheila joined the Revolution in 1986, this provided ample opportunity for she and Prince to perform “A Love Bizarre” the same way it was recorded. It became a highlight of the Parade and Lovesexy tours. It was performed sporadically by Prince (sometimes with or without Sheila, depending on when she drifted in and out of Prince’s circle), and appeared in pre-show “sampler sets” up until a month before Prince’s passing. It remains a staple of Sheila’s live sets to this day, and is certainly a highlight of her enviable catalog.