After leaving behind her early bands as well as playing along side her musician father, Pete, Sheila Escovedo’s career took a distinctively purple turn in 1983. Having first met Prince in the late 70s after one of her shows with her father, they reconnected in time for her to contribute to a classic Purple Rain era B-side single, “Erotic City” as well as collaborating on her solo debut.
Sheila E. burst onto the pop music scene in 1984 with the 1-2 punch of “Erotic City” as the B-side to one of the biggest hits of the year, “Let’s Go Crazy” and the release of her debut album, The Glamorous Life. Sheila was now fully in the Prince orbit and he contributed heavily to the style, sound and inspiration for her debut. In late ’83 to early ’84, Prince was putting final touches on the Purple Rain album, working on the Apollonia 6 record, The Time’s next album and his Purple Rain follow up, Around the World in a Day. All the while helping his latest protege, Sheila E., get music out to the public.
The music we ended up getting was a concise 6 track LP containing songs written primarily by Prince. Sheila E and Brenda Bennett from Vanity 6/Apollonia 6 were given writing credits on various songs on the album but their actual writing contributions, if any, aren’t well documented. The style of the music is at times a blend of the Minneapolis sound that Prince had helped create, perfect, and bring to the masses, and Sheila’s latin pop. The use of the Linn drum machine, combined with the funk and pop sensibilities Prince could bring to the table, were all utilized on this release. But so was another secret weapon, Sheila’s percussion skills. Considering drums are Sheila’s primary instrument, it would have been a completely missed opportunity if she had not been able to showcase those abilities on a number of tracks on the album. Even though the ubiquitous Linn drum machine is all over the album, Sheila used live percussion on a number of tracks as well. This layering of live and programmed drums was similarly utilized for the Purple Rain release.
The album’s opening track, “The Belle of St. Mark”, as well as the album closer, “The Glamorous Life”, are two of the more upbeat and enjoyable songs on the album. Both were written by Prince although Sheila E. was given the writing credit upon release of the album for these two songs. “The Belle of St. Mark” utilizes the signature drum machine stabs and mechanical hand claps similar to what was heard on “I Would Die 4 U”. It’s the calling card that Prince used at the time, helping those in the know that he was the mastermind behind those song written in that 1983-1984 time-frame. While “Belle” was a top 40 hit for Sheila, it was “The Glamorous Life” that dominated pop, dance and R&B radio as well as MTV in the summer of 1984. Coincidentally enough, this was the same time that Prince was dominating pop radio & MTV with songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack. It certainly felt to me at the time, like his purple badness’s influence was everywhere.
“Noon Rendezvous” is another track from this album that was written by Prince but as it is a ballad, the upbeat and funky Minneapolis sound he is most identified with at this time, isn’t as evident. We were treated to Prince’s version of this song on 2019’s posthumous Originals. It’s a gorgeous track sung beautifully by Sheila and both Prince and Sheila’s versions are standouts on their respective albums. “Noon Rendezvous” closes out the 3 track side A and follows the instrumental jam, “Shortberry Strawcake”.
Side B kicks off with “Oliver’s House”, a song seemingly about hanging with a Richie Rich white boy named Oliver who Sheila either has a crush on or else likes to use him for his toys. Maybe both? This is another song that was written by Prince but credited to Sheila E. on the original release. It’s a decent enough track but it wears out its welcome and doesn’t warrant a 6+ minute run time.
I do enjoy the next track, “Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar”. It’s a lyrically and musically dramatic ballad that features both accordion and violin (hence its musically dramatic stature). Lyrically, it appears as if Sheila is singing the song from the perspective of a put upon girlfriend who is aware of his boyfriend (or husband, not sure) is cheating and accepts that fact as long as he doesn’t wave it in her face and still treats her right when they are together. The songwriting credit was given to Brenda Bennett, who also provides background vocals, however Prince is yet again the songwriter. I think the lyrical content is so antiquated and so dramatically delivered, it ends up becoming endearing in an anachronistic way. However, Sheila has always appeared as much too strong of a person to be believable that she would let a man walk all over her like this.
The album’s final track is the 9 minute extended version of “The Glamorous Life”, one of the best songs of the ’80s and one of Prince’s most enduring “Songs Written For Other Artists” in the same vein as “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Manic Monday”. This was Sheila E.’s first top 10 hit and was rightfully all over MTV at the time.
The song has an infectious groove, memorable lyrics about a woman who seems to be filling her emotionally empty life with materialistic endeavors. Is she living a life above her means to portray someone more glamorous and wealthy than she is? Or is she actually well off? Romantic wealth is what she apparently lacks and wants but instead spends time climbing the social ladder with men that don’t “impress me in bed”. It’s a complex song with a complex theme but also relatable in the Greed is Good era. The song’s length extends to the nine minute mark thanks to a lengthy outro that is highlighted by Sheila’s percussion solo. This solo provided Sheila an opportunity to vamp on stage during live performances, including an opening slot on Prince’s Purple Rain tour. This will always be the signature song that Sheila E. is known for and I can’t think of one better (except maybe “A Love Bizarre”) that combines the talents of both Sheila and Prince to such funky, mesmerizing effect.
The Belle of St. Mark (4/5)
Shortberry Strawcake (3/5)
Noon Rendezvous (4.5/5)
Oliver’s House (3.5/5)
Next Time Wipe the Lipstick Off Your Collar (3.5/5)
The Glamorous Life (5/5)
Prince was so enamored with Sheila E., not only as a performer, but also as a friend and sometime lover, that he continued to work with her throughout the majority of the ’80s. She released two more albums on the Paisley Park label, joined Prince’s Sign o’ the Times and Lovesexy tours and was even engaged to him for a time. Sheila’s career never quite reached the same heights after her Paisley Park years, but she continues to perform and record songs today. She even released a new song, “No Line” featuring Snoop Dogg, in 2019.
The Glamorous Life was another creative outlet for Prince in the ’83-’84 period, not that he needed more outlets for his overflowing musical brain beyond writing songs for side projects such as The Time, Apollonia 6 and The Family, in addition to his own annual album release cycle. Sheila E. is an incredible talent and she really put her own stamp on Prince’s songs with her percussive abilities, stage presence and overall exuberance while performing. I really enjoy her debut album as much today as I did 36 years ago.