30 Years Ago: Sheila E. Releases ‘Romance 1600′ Album
It would be pretty hard to replicate the run of creativity that Prince experienced in the early ‘80s. In addition to releasing his own string of classic albums, the Minneapolis genius played a pivotal role on albums by a string of proteges, including the Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6 and the Family.
Perhaps the most self-sufficient of those proteges was the Bay Area’s Sheila Escovedo. Even before Prince came into the picture, she was a prodigious percussionist, having played alongside legends like Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. Her debut single, 1984’s “The Glamorous Life,” was a top 10 pop and R&B hit, and skyrocketed to the top of Billboard’s Dance/Disco chart as well. The album of the same name was a gold-selling success.
Sheila E.’s second album, Romance 1600, was released barely a year after her debut. Prince once again had a heavy hand in the creation of the record. While his contributions were not originally credited on the album sleeve (all tracks are listed as being written and produced by Sheila), it has been widely acknowledged in the years since that Prince handled most of the songwriting, production and musical duties. His voice can also clearly be heard on two tracks: ”Toy Box” and the album’s biggest single, “A Love Bizarre.”
“Bizarre” was an aggressively funky dance workout in its album version, which stretched out for 12 minutes. A tight edit was released as Romance 1600’s second single, and just missed the top 10 on Billboard’s pop charts and peaked at No. 2 on the R&B chart, becoming Sheila’s biggest hit on that list. Part of the reason for its success was its featured placement in the film Krush Groove. Starring Sheila as a love interest to Blair Underwood, and also featuring a who’s who of mid ‘80s hip-hop (Run-D.M.C., The Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow), the film became a cult classic. To date, it’s Sheila E.’s only major film appearance.
Watch Shelia E.'s "A Love Bizarre" Video
The rest of Romance 1600 strikes a solid balance between the pop-rock instincts of Prince’s Around the World in a Day (his then-current album) and the big band horn-spiked funk of his next project, Parade. Sheila was able to infuse the album with a bit of her own flavor, though. The instrumental “Merci for the Speed of a Mad Clown in Summer” and Romance’s first single, “Sister Fate,” both featured sizzling percussion work (particularly on the timbales) from Sheila. The latter track’s video also stoked the flames of innuendo; featuring footage from Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” it gave credence to rumors (later confirmed) that the two were a couple.
Other highlights included the sensual slow jam “Bedtime Story,” the poppy title track and the song “Yellow," the melody of which would later be recycled on Prince’s Diamonds & Pearls album track “Strollin’.” Romance 1600 was certified gold five months after its release, by which time Sheila was on her first headlining tour. Although her later albums featured more personal input (and significantly less from Prince), they were not as successful. She continues to record and also has played alongside a who’s who of pop music, from Ringo Starr to Pharrell Williams. In 2014, she published her autobiography, The Beat of My Own Drum.
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