The buxom blonde in stiletto heels cat-stalks a young man through an abandoned warehouse. Her shiny black dress looks as if it were made out of LPs that had been heated, then poured over her every curve. After cornering her prey, she sinks her bicuspids into his neck until he croaks. Then she hangs the body with hundreds of others in a basement morgue. This gory five-minute video goes with the song Night Moves, though its star, Marilyn Martin, 32, could call it Career Moves. After 14 years in the business, her first video from her debut album has made her one of MTV’s latest rock vixens. But don’t let her seductive facade fool you. It’s all dress-up to this coal miner’s daughter who lives in a plain three-room apartment in the San Fernando Valley. “Music gives me the opportunity to be something I’m not ordinarily,” she says. “I don’t think of myself as a femme fatale. I clean my own house, you know?”
Martin’s career has been on an up escalator since 1983, when she was hired as a backup singer for Stevie Nicks. That’s when she traded in her faded jeans for a more upscale image, appearing onstage in beaded lace dresses that she borrowed from her flamboyant boss. Before joining Nicks, Martin sang backup with ex-Eagle Joe Walsh’s band. “With Joe, I dressed like one of the guys,” she says, “but with Stevie, I had to look great.” Martin—all 5’2″ of her—got noticed, all right. Phil Collins chose her as his partner on the smash duet Separate Lives. “Marilyn has a great voice, and I felt we had a good blend,” says Collins, adding, “Also, she is very beautiful.” When told to dress casually for the Separate Lives video, Martin asserted that her days of looking funky were long gone. Instead, she donned a tailored black jacket with matching tights and a T-shirt with no bra underneath.
Though Separate Lives spent four months on the Top 10, Martin was frustrated by the swampy love ballad. The video let her show off her 34-22-34 dimensions, but not her full vocal range. “People think it’s Crystal Gayle singing,” she says. She feels better about Night Moves, which she belts out with the power of an air raid siren. “I wanted people to know that I’m a belter as well as a balladeer,” she says.
Martin’s parents showed some foresight about their daughter’s vampy future when they named her after Marilyn Monroe. Growing up in Tennessee and Kentucky, where her father was a miner and truck driver, Martin knew nothing about the glamorous life. But after high school she became a backup singer with a bar band, the Caldwells. Martin wearied of singing other people’s hits while touring military bases and beery roadhouses for three years. “It was awful,” she recalls. “Female singers had to run back to the bus to avoid the military boys.”
In 1975 Martin became lead vocalist for another band, the Rhymes. To save money, she agreed to be roommates with the group’s lead guitarist, Greg Droman. The arrangement was platonic. “We’d come home after our respective dates,” says Martin, “and say, ‘Hey, how was yours? Wait till I tell you about mine!’ ” Then one night, five months later, the roommates decided they were madly in love with each other. They married within a month.
After two years on the road, Marilyn and Greg settled down in Akron, Ohio, where they played local clubs. But in 1983 their quiet life ended. They won spots in Joe Walsh’s band, which was touring with Nicks. When Stevie heard Martin’s backup vocals, she flipped—and hired Martin for her band, too. After the tour, Marilyn and Greg moved to L.A. He got work as a recording engineer, while she sang backup on such hits as Kenny Loggins’ Footloose and Tom Petty’s Don’t Come Around Here No More. In 1984 Atlantic Records president Doug Morris heard her in the studio with Nicks; she sent him a demo tape and he gave her a contract.
Being in demand has left Martin feeling like a vampire after sunrise. Exhausted, she reclines on her living-room sofa, trying to keep her pink-eye-shadowed lids from closing over her luminous brown eyes. “I’m beat,” she says. “Between my work and Greg, I don’t have time to do anything.”
Martin has just finished performing in Europe and Japan and will soon complete the third video from her debut album. In the meantime her second solo video, Move Closer, has hit MTV. It should have the same effect as Night Moves, since it lets Martin model a skintight, slit-to-the-crotch, blue leather dress—all the while crooning, “Move your body real close, until we feel we’re really making love.” Feminist groups may find Martin’s lustful image questionable, but hubby Greg, who saw his wife go from “one of the guys” to a bloodsucking vamp, takes it all with a shrug. “She’s not sleazy,” he reasons. “Just a bit of a ham.”