Sade – Smooth Operator
A license to love, insurance to hold
Melts all your memories and change into gold
His eyes are like angels but his heart is cold
No need to ask, he's a smooth operator
In the 80s there were certainly many female singers who were able to seduce with their music, their voice and their talent, but there was one in particular that was really from another planet. Very elegant and endowed with unnatural grace, very sweet and sensual movements, magnetic eyes, and of course voice and talent beyond imaginable. Born in Nigeria and raised in England, this icon of the 80s and not only took very little time to establish herself on the music scene, also thanks to the refined atmosphere of her songs, which were always on the border between pop and jazz. We are of course talking about a princess of the 80s, Sade.
To be sure, when the first video came out, in February 1984, the term Sade meant the group of which she, known as Sade Adu, which is a shortened form of her full name, was singer and leader. The first video was Your Love Is King, and it was a resounding success across Europe. In those months Sade, or rather Sade as a group, were focused on making their debut album, the beautiful Diamond Life, which came out in July, after a second less fortunate single titled When Am I Going to Make a Living. The release of the album was supported by the third single, released in mid-September, which remains a masterpiece not only of Sade’s career, but of all the whole 80s: Smooth Operator. By the way, the title of the album derives from a verse of this song.
The song is beautiful, and it’s really hard to tell if it’s a very refined pop or a jazz made more accessible and upbeat. The story tells of the gloomy plots of a western male who moves in the shadows between secret agreements, probably crimes, and broken hearts. Yes, because the protagonist is also a gigolo, love for sale from coast to coast, LA to Chicago, as the text says, but his heart his cold.
A seductive and sophisticated man who has loved in seven languages, who moves in space with minimum waste and maximum joy between city lights and business nights. Fascinating, isn’t it? Sade, along with guitarist Ray St. John, who also played with her in other previous bands, had also been able to write wonderful unforgettable lyrics, as well as irresistible music. And let’s not forget the evocative power of the first lines of the song, spoken rather than sung by the hypnotic voice of Sade.
So, we shouldn’t say that Smooth Operator is a love song, if we read the lyrics, but it’s a fact that it is still considered one of the most romantic and sensual songs of the whole 80s. Certainly part of the success of this song was also due to the video, shot by the great director Julien Temple, who for years had been moving in the London post-punk environment, and had shot for example the videos of See You and The Meaning of Love for Depeche Mode, Come on Eileen for Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and Do You Really Want to Hurt Me for Culture Club. He also worked with David Bowie, and in a couple of years he will de the director of Absolute Beginners, where Sade also acted.
The video really manages to recreate and show the atmosphere of the song: in a refined nightclub, Sade sings with her group while between the tables an obscure gentelman makes arrangements with other people for his next criminal actions. Of course, in the meantime, he also manages to show up on a romantic date. Temple also shot a longer version of this, which was over eight minutes and was really a mini-movie, a bit like Michael Jackson did with Thriller for example. In this mini-film we also see chase scenes, and in the end the protagonist also meets a bad end. Heaven did not help him when he fell, to put it in the song’s words.
Smooth Operator, which was at the top of the charts all over Europe in the last months of 1984, became the signature song of Sade, and remained forever in the memories of all of us dinosaurs. Sade has carried on a wonderful career in England, where even today, in her sixties, she is a beautiful and very elegant lady, and is a beloved and influential protagonist of English music and television.