We look back at the 1981 solo debut of Stevie Nicks and the U.S. debut, that year, of Scotland's Sheena Easton with Cincinnati’s singer, songwriter and pianist Melissa Claire, who released her 5 song debut EP Imperfect Timing last year.
By Warren Kurtz
On March 29, Stevie Nicks will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo performer. She had already been inducted in 1998 as a member of Fleetwood Mac. Her solo career began in 1981, with a string of four songs from her debut solo album Bella Donna. For her first single, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” she was joined by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell recently joined Fleetwood Mac. 1981 also marked the U.S. debut of Scotland’s Sheena Easton. Her UK song “Nine to Five” was retitled in the U.S. to not be confused with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” which was also in the U.S. Top 40 when Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” debuted. “Morning Train” was the first song on the U.S. version of Sheena Easton’s debut album Take My Time. She had four songs in the Top 40 for 1981 and won the Grammy for Best New Artist. Last year, Cincinnati’s Melissa Claire, inspired by Stevie Nicks, released her outstanding debut EP, which begins with an original composition, also named “Morning Train.”
GOLDMINE:In concert I have watched you perform Fleetwood Mac songs as a duo with Tim Sylvester. These songs seem to take you in a musical trance, as my wife Donna and I witnessed, in watching Stevie Nicks live with Fleetwood Mac.
MELISSA CLAIRE: As a child I remember hearing Stevie’s voice on the radio. Her sound was bold, beautiful and unique. Her music captured my attention and later I would listen to her CDs often. There always seemed to be one of Stevie’s songs playing in the distance, whether I was driving or if I was somewhere else. Her music corresponded with where I was at in my life. She is the main reason I broke into songwriting and how I stylistically compose a piece. Along with her fashion, translucence and brilliant detail, Stevie is considered one of my all-time favorites.
GM: Her album Bella Donna was such a hit, with a string of four singles reaching the Top 40, concluding with “After the Glitter Fades.” The third single is a big favorite of mine, Donna and our daughter Brianna, “Edge of Seventeen,” which I just learned after Tom Petty’s passing that the title was inspired by a misunderstanding of Tom Petty’s wife’s southern accent by Stevie, when she told Stevie that she and Tom had been together since the “age of seventeen.” The second single was one that Donna and I loved hearing when we were a young married couple, living in Dallas, “Leather and Lace,” as a duet with Texan Don Henley. The flip side of that single was “Bella Donna,” which I know is another of your favorites.
MC: On the album cover, Stevie appears in an elegant dress in soft violet lighting. A white macaw is perched on her hand, with white roses at her side as she stares straight into the camera lens. What an image! On the song “Bella Donna,” the dominate piano leads as Stevie sings a story of bravery, destiny and sacrifice. Like the phases of the moon, her feelings are ever changing. Although she is loved, she keeps sailing without anyone’s full affection.
Flip side: Bella Donna
A side: Leather and Lace (duet with Don Henley)
Top 100 debut: October 24, 1981
Peak position: 6
GM:Like you, Sheena Easton’s debut was when she was in her early 20’s with a collection of songs beginning with one named “Morning Train.” In her song, the guy took the morning train and would come back to her each evening. The classy flip side of this gold pop single, “Calm Before the Storm,” showed that Sheena could deliver variety and would hopefully achieve longevity, which she has.
MC: On “Calm Before the Storm,” her lyrics bring attention to the delicate conversations we have with ourselves when wrestling with decisions of the heart. She is accompanied by a rainy night jazz piano where listeners get a personal look into Sheena’s thoughts inside her lonely hotel room. Her voice, both beautiful and captivating, regretfully says in her last line, ‘I know I'll never, ever, touch you again’.
Flip side: Calm Before the Storm
A side: Morning Train (Nine to Five)
Top 100 debut: February 14, 1981
Peak position: 1
EMI America 8071
GM:Three more singles followed in 1981 of which the biggest hit was “For Your Eyes Only,” which reached No. 4. It was the title song from that year’s James Bond movie starring Roger Moore. Brianna’s favorite Sheena Easton song is from another film, starring another British Moore actor, Dudley Moore, in Santa Claus - The Movie, where Sheena powerfully sang, “It’s Christmas All Over the World.” I also remember the day Donna came home and told me she heard a new duet version of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.” The duo was Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, which would reach No. 6 on the pop chart and No.1 on the country chart.
GM: Imperfect Timing (Airwave Productions) EP was my favorite EP of 2018. Here are my notes on each song.
“Morning Train” kicks off this entertaining, high quality, five song EP. Melissa’s vocals deliver vocal power, clarity and beauty. All five songs on Imperfect Timing are composed by Melissa and its producer Adam Scovanner. This “Morning Train” relationship faces a bit of needed distance and change, but there is still hope. She sings, “You’ve got to understand I still want you as my man” and offers to explain, “if you meet me halfway on the next morning train.” Electric guitars and mandolins from Adam Scovanner, Rick Leighton and Mike Landis provide an exciting break.
“Melt” begins with piano touches from Melissa. She delivers eerie emotional anticipation as she sings, “I can’t wait to melt your heart.” Her voice reaches the Faith Hill power range at the end of the bridge. Harold Kennedy plays all the electric and acoustic guitar parts, experience he gained as a touring member of Montgomery Gentry’s band, which was on his mind when this song was recorded, just a few weeks after Troy Gentry sadly passed.
“Space” reveals Melissa’s age as she sings “22 is hard enough,” reminding listeners of the great range of relationship songs on Adele’s hit album 23 that fans embraced. The song style is reminiscent of a Martina McBride hit. Ben Walkenhauer’s soprano saxophone brings a refreshing countermelody, in line with the key ingredient that we heard from Tom Scott on Wings’ 1975 gold single “Listen to What the Main Said.”
“Want to Be” has a steady keyboard backdrop from Adam Scovanner and he joins vocally for a few of the lines, recalling the Kid Rock duet “Picture.” The slight echo effect on Melissa’s vocal in the chorus is a refreshing key element, adding a bit of power when she sings, “It’s over now.”
“Little Girl” contains lyrics that reflect on innocence, “Little girl in the blue dress dancing in the street, spending your young years so happy and free.” The little girl is “picking up coins near the city mine.” The composition is possibly the one most inspired by Stevie Nicks. This version of “Little Girl,” longer than 2017’s CD Baby radio edit single, allows plenty of time to feature the historic final recording of Tim Goshorn on a variety of exciting guitar parts. He first gained recognition as a member of the Pure Prairie League on their 1978 album Just Fly. He passed away in 2017.
MC: Thank you. I have such a big smile on my face right now.
GM:You put a lot of smiles on people’s faces and touched their hearts with that wonderful version of Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” that you performed live last month at a Christmas concert. What do you have in store for 2019?
MC: Well, I am a new Goldmine subscriber and I am reading the January 2019 issue with your article, “The Flip Sides of Cher.” I used to dress up as Cher when I was very little. I wore the long black wig and all. I still have those pictures. As of right now, I am working on new music projects with Tim Sylvester in his Thundertone studio. I can’t wait to introduce the product once it is finished.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.