Sheena Easton's debut album was called Take My Time, but truth to tell, the Scottish singer didn't need to take much time to leave international audiences spellbound. Now, the original version of that 1981 album - it had been retitled as Sheena Easton for the North American market, resequenced and sans two tracks - has returned in a splendid CD/DVD Deluxe Edition from Cherry Red's Cherry Pop imprint.
Long before reality television was de rigeur, the teenaged Sheena captivated U.K. audiences via her appearance on the BBC documentary series The Big Time. The episode chronicled her audition for EMI (arranged by the BBC) and encounters with seasoned showbiz vets including a supportive Dusty Springfield and a less-than-impressed Marion Massey, manager of Lulu. The audition led to an initial signing for two singles, and producer Christopher Neil was tasked with selecting the right songs. His golden ears paid off with the two songs he picked for the young starlet with the distinctive yet malleable voice: "Modern Girl" and "9 to 5."
Dominic Bugatti and Frank Musker's "Modern Girl" was chosen as Sheena's first single. Bugatti tells Adam Mattera in his comprehensive liner notes that producers (and legendary songwriters) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller considered the tune for Elkie Brooks, but when they requested a lyric change, the songwriters wisely declined. Sheena would bring it to life as they envisioned. The combination of the singer's youthful yet confident voice with the burbling, lightly disco arrangement and the subtly feminist message ("She don't build her world 'round no single man/But she's gettin' by, doin' what she can...") caught on. "Modern Girl" was released prior to The Big Time, plateauing at No. 56 on the U.K. Singles Chart. (Her disappointment at its chart fortunes was captured by the documentary crew, leaving viewers to wonder if the up-and-comer would make it after all.) Once the program aired, "Modern Girl" began its ascent, eventually reaching No. 8 in the U.K. and No. 18 on the U.S. Hot 100.
"Modern Girl" climbed the U.K. chart at the same time as Florrie Palmer's "9 to 5," making Sheena only the third female artist to have two songs in the U.K. top ten at the same time. The bouncy anthem with its modern-retro feel - swooning background singers, handclaps, an impossibly catchy chorus, and an ebullient lead vocal - would propel Easton to international superstardom. There was a minor bump in the road when Dolly Parton released her own, different song entitled "9 to 5," but a simple title change rectified that. The newly-retitled "Morning Train (9 to 5)" made it all the way to No. 1 on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1981 (and numerous other international territories), making Palmer the first British female songwriter to have a U.S. chart-topper and launching Sheena's career in earnest.
Though those two hits would naturally be the centerpiece of the full album, Easton and Neil saw to it that the balance of the LP was far from filler. Florrie Palmer teamed with Dominic Bugatti for the touching "When He Shines," delivered with just the right blend of vulnerability and power by the singer. In the song, the singer works through her affection for a flawed man she doesn't quite understand. (The verses are somewhat redolent of Stephen Schwartz's "I Guess I'll Miss the Man" from his musical Pippin.) Palmer reveals in Mattera's liner notes that the song, originally recorded by Palmer on a Hansa B-side, was inspired by her second husband's bipolar condition; he later committed suicide. Sheena treated the song with the sensitivity it warranted.
A couple of well-chosen covers were revitalized by Sheena. Phil Pickett's "Don't Send Flowers" had been previously recorded by the band Sailor while D.B. Cooper, James Lance, and Tony Riparetti's edgier, rock-oriented "Prisoner" was introduced by Sue Saad and The Next (and later recorded by Uriah Heep). Gleaming, uptempo cuts (Phil Palmer and Paul Bliss' "Take My Time," Mick Leeson and Peter Vale's "One Man Woman," Palmer and Vale's "Voice on the Radio") fit Easton like a glove, but the album also allowed her a chance to stretch out vocally.
Frank Musker and Garth Murphy's admonition to "Cry" ("...wash out your heart/Hang your life out to dry and make a new start...") was later recorded by Tanya Tucker, who realized the heartbreaker's potential in the country arena. Musker and Bugatti's "So Much in Love" presented Sheena with a prime slice of smooth R&B, or blue-eyed soul. (The duo would record it themselves on their 1982 AOR album The Dukes.) She was inspired to one of her most affecting vocals on Peter Vale and producer Christopher Neil's piano-driven ballad "Calm Before the Storm," offering a one-two punch near the album's close as it preceded Vale and Mick Leeson's dramatic "No One Ever Knows." (Sadly, "No One Ever Knows" and "When He Shines" were cut from the North American album release.)
A generous seven bonus tracks have been appended to Take My Time: four largely atypical non-LP B-sides (the haunting "Paradox," the ethereal, acoustic folk-tinged "Moody (My Love)," the drum machine-flecked "Summer's Over," and driving "Right or Wrong," only the latter of which would have fit comfortably on Take My Time) and three previously unreleased tracks. These comprise the instrumental backing tracks for both "Morning Train (9 to 5)" and "Modern Girl" and one studio outtake with Sheena's vocals, Leeson and Vale's upbeat, catchy "Have You Heard the Rumour." The accompanying DVD, helpfully presented in Region 0 NTSC (playable worldwide), includes the memorable promotional videos for "Modern Girl," "Morning Train (9 to 5)," "One Man Woman," "Take My Time," and as a special bonus, the alluring Academy Award-nominated James Bond theme "For Your Eyes Only."
The Deluxe Edition of Take My Time is housed in a six-panel digipak with a 28-page full-color booklet designed by Chris Lupton, boasting Mattera's definitive liner notes (drawing on interviews with personnel including Christopher Neil, Dominic Bugatti, Florrie Palmer, and Peter Vale) as well as numerous photographs of the artist. Simon Murphy at Another Planet Music has remastered the audio from the original tapes.
Cherry Pop's remastered and expanded Take My Time is a classy tribute to an enduring artist. It's available now at the links below; a vinyl edition of the remastered original album is also coming tomorrow, March 24.
Sheena Easton, Take My Time: Deluxe Edition (EMI LP EMC 3354, 1981 - reissued Cherry Pop CRPOPD248, 2023)
- Don't Send Flowers
- Take My Time
- When He Shines
- One Man Woman
- Morning Train (9 to 5)
- So Much in Love
- Voice on the Radio
- Calm Before the Storm
- Modern Girl
- No One Ever Knows
- Paradox (EMI single 5042, 1980)
- Moody (My Love) (EMI single 5066, 1980)
- Summer's Over (EMI single 5114, 1980)
- Right or Wrong (EMI single 5166, 1981)
- Have You Heard the Rumour
- Modern Girl (Instrumental)
- Morning Train (9 to 5) (Instrumental)
- Modern Girl
- Morning Train (9 to 5)
- One Man Woman
- Take My Time
- For Your Eyes Only