Sade is one of those musicians that comes around only once in a generation. She is strikingly beautiful, glamorous, an image of strength, her voice is instantly recognizable, perfect pitch and soothing timbre, and her band is one of the hottest jazz/R&B bands of the past 75 years.
Sade's music has remained steadily popular since 1984 to the current day. All their studio albums have been certified triple platinum or better in the US, with the exception of 2010's "Soldier of Love," which at this point in time is single platinum.
Before we move on to my Top 25 - these are the songs that just missed the list - but are still all great.
40. Pearls (1992) / 39. Long Hard Road (2010) / 38. Clean Heart (1988) 37. Why Can't We Live Together (1984) / 36. King of Sorrow (2000) / 35. In Another Time (2010) / 34. Never As Good As The First Time (1985) / 33. Give It Up (1988) / 32. Still In Love With You (2011) / 31. Baby Father (2010) / 30. Please Send Me Someone To Love (1993) / 29. Haunt Me (1988) / 28. Love Is Found (2011) / 27. Flower of the Universe (2018) / 26. Kiss of Life (1992)
(Just as a reminder this is all subjective and some people will not agree with this list - this is just one person's viewpoint)
25. Skin (2010)
"Skin" is representative of Sade at her sophisti-pop best and this is 26 years into her music career. How many musicians still sound this fresh and relevant this far into their career?
The song is a classic breakup tune yet done in a cool and calm downtempo so much that it almost feels like an easygoing love song instead of heartbreak.
24. By Your Side (2000)
Sade sings this sophisticated soul infused folk tune with a sincere warmth successfully conveying her message of unconditional loyalty in love (romantic and platonic).
23. Jezebel (1985)
Sade's vocal on "Jezebel" is filled with a mystique fitting for the song's enigmatic and somehow enchanting lyric. It"s nothing short of brilliance how Sade can fashion her voice in such an unassuming manner that it is stunning.
Equally compelling is Stuart Matthewman's understated saxophone solos. He plays with a cool smoothness that reaches in and grabs your soul.
"Jezebel" tells the story of a woman that came from rags to become a prostitute and fought for her place in the world.
22. The Moon and the Sky (2010)
I melt every time I hear Sade sing the opening line, "I was the one," she uses a deeper tone than her normal which works well with her silky smooth style. Sade's voice carries this song with her elegant phrasing, unique timing and graceful coziness which combined brings this song (and all her song's) a dusky sort of glamour.
21. Slave Song (2000)
The bulk of Sade's songs are love songs - good love and sad love songs. However "Slave Song" is a spiritual song that teaches us that even in slavery, even in deep torment we can do good. It is in that good where we find that light, where we reach that light and we find strength and wisdom.
20. Bullet Proof Soul (1992)
"Bullet Proof Soul" is about a one sided love in which Sade loves a man who does not truly love her back. He using her to fulfill his own ego - using love as his weapon by trying to make her believe she could never find anybody better than him. But through the course of this she finds herself and builds a strong and protective 'bullet proof soul" which enables her to move on stronger and better than before.
19. Frankie's First Affair (1984)
"Frankie's First Affair," is another one of Sade's non-traditional love songs. Sade's specialty are those off the edge love songs such as "Smooth Operator," and "Bullet Proof Soul."
"Frankie's First Affair" has a catchy tuneful chorus that stick with you long after the song has finished.
18. Love Is Stronger Than Pride (1988)
Sade's voice is the obvious highlight in all her song's. It's next to impossible not to be enraptured by her dreamy phrasing and articulation.
As with all her song's there is so much more to examine. In this song I am especially enamored by Martin Ditcham's subtle percussive meditations. Ditcham is a prolific session drummer/percussionist, who has worked with artists such as Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and several others.
17. Nothing Can Come Between Us (1988)
"Nothing Can Come Between Us" delivers us a more upbeat Sade and was one of her biggest R&B hits making it to #3 to on the US R&B chart. It even made it's way into the dance clubs.
Stuart Matthewman, who also plays saxophone for Sade, puts in one of his best funk guitar performances. Also notable are the harmony vocals performed by Leroy Osborne. Osborne's voice blends perfectly with Sade's, maintaining a smooth grooveness on a Smokey Robinson-Marvin Gaye sort of vane. Osborne has also done backing or harmony vocals with musicians as diverse as Altered Images, Shakatak, Wham, Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue, and Bananarama.
16. The Big Unknown (2018)
One of Sade's most soulful and powerful vocals of her career. 34 years into her career, at age 59, her voice is as compelling and emotive as it was on her dazzling debut album "Diamond Life." Some would argue that with age and experience her voice has a deeper and increased soulful edge to it.
"The Big Unknown" is featured in the motion picture Widows directed by Steve McQueen (the British filmaker). The film is centered on four women forced to pull off a robbery to pay a large criminal debt left behind by their late husbands. McQueen had conversations with Sade about the movie and asked her to write a song about "loss and survival".
The music video features Viola Wills, the Academy, Emmy, and Tony Award winning actress who stars in the ABC TV drama How to Get Away With Murder.
15. Cherish the Day (1992)
The minimalist music arrangement serves to keep the focus on the song's hidden soulful joy. The song isn't skipping over rainbows or walking on sunshine but is filled with an inbred joy within it's subdued guitar chords and understated rhythms.
A stand out factor of the song is Sade's exotic phrasing and timing. She sings each word with care and spaces her words out with languid effect.
An interest sidenote, this unassuming trip-hop number made it to #23 on the US Dance chart.
14. Is It A Crime (1985)
From Sade's second studio album, "Is It A Crime," successfully builds from a quiet downtempo verse to an amplified wall of sound chorus. Sade's smokey vocal performance demonstrates a raw and soulful power beautifully executed in Sade's inimitable serene style.
Stuart Matthewman's saxophone adds a slightly harder edge to the otherwise magically subdued love song.
13. Lovers Rock (2000)
I did not know that there was a subgenre of reggae called Lovers rock until I began research on this song for this blog post. Lovers rock is noted for its romantic sound and lyrical content. Artists like Johnny Nash (I Can See Clearly Now) and Ken Boothe (Everything I Own) are examples of early lovers rock.
A light Jamaican rhythm backs Sade's sultry and emotive voice. The percussion gives the song a smooth flowing reggae vibe.
If there was any Sade song that could be considered a missed opportunity, it's this one. It's memorable chorus stays with you long after the song has ended. With a length of just under three minutes radio stations would have picked it up right away.
12. Mr. Wrong (1985)
Two things caught me right away on "Mr. Wrong," the cool mood and the lightly tribal percussive sounds. I love the drums and percussion on this song and I am predominantly a fan of the electric guitar. When it comes to electric guitar Stuart Matthewman's understated string bending is wholly effective at elongating his notes and extending the mood of the song.
Best of all is Sade's hypnotic reading of these lyrics. She gives the song an irony filled sort of cool jazz attitude.
11. Cherry Pie (1984)
It's that funk influenced bass line at the beginning that really draws the listener in. Stuart Matthewman's scorching guitar licks enter the mix and the song becomes a hot burning jazz filled soul groove.
"Cherry Pie" received was used as the B-side of "Hang on To Your Love" in Canada giving the song an extra boost on the Canadian market. However, "Cherry Pie" was strong enough to have been an A-side single itself.
10. Paradise (1988)
One of the strongest factors of "Paradise" is the vocal mix. Once again we find Leroy Osbourne singing backup and harmony vocals alongside Sade's voice. His rich voice adds warmth to her cool voice.
"Paradise" is one of Sade's biggest hits reaching the Top 20 in Canada and the US and charting high in Belgium, Finland, France, Netherlands, and the UK. The upbeat rhythmic song was also a hit on the US Dance charts and Adult Contemporary charts as well as #1 on the R&B charts.
9. Feel No Pain (1992)
This song was written in 1992 during a time when the UK was experiencing and economic recession. The prime minister at the time was John majors, the leader of the conservative party, and the unemployment rate was right at about 10%. Sade, whose music is generally not political in nature, made commentary on this painful time in history.
The steady percussive pattern intensifies the hard hitting feeling of unemployment and losing your income.
8. Immigrant (2000)
There is a lot of amazing going on in this song. Let's start with the lyrics. Although it is a hard hitting topic of racism and prejudice, Sade assembled her words with beauty, eloquence, grace, and heartfelt emotion. Just listening to the lyrics and how Sade sings them you can hear her sincerity in conveying a message which is obviously important to her.
Two lines I find especially poignant in addressing this issue at the beginning Sade sings, "Coming from where he did. He was turned away from every door like Joseph," Sade makes the inference that this man who migrated to a foreign land was not welcome by its natives. She compares him to Joseph of Nazareth who wad turned away by the innkeepers who was looking for a place to rest for his wife Mary, who was pregnant with the baby Jesus.
The next line, "He didn't know what it was to be black, 'til they gave him his change, but didn't want to touch his hand," is especially hard hitting. I have seen this happen first hand. Back around 1994 while in line at a restaurant to pick up a to go order, the man in front of me was getting his order. The cashier was a young black male probably around 20 years old. He had the bag of food in his hand to hand over to the man. But the man said, "no put it down." Then he gestured toward a white lady behind the counter and asked her to put the food in a clean bag and then hand it to him. The lady refused so the man left without his food. When I came my turn, I grabbed the young cashier's hand and put my money into his hand and told him to keep the change and that he was doing a great job.
I mentioned earlier that there was a lot of amazing going on in this song. Included in that amazing is the song's seamless vocal arrangement. Once again Leroy Osbourne compliments Sade's lead vocal with his pitch perfect harmonies. Stewart Matthewman took the Sade's and Osbourne's vocal parts and blended them together with a hint of electronic programming which gives the song a slight experimental sound. Sade's lead vocal is precise and lovingly piercing adding to the emotional factor of the song.
The less is more aspect of the musical arrangement is highly impressionable with the thoughtful placement of the delicate chiming piano to the urban hip hop beats giving the song a sophistication that brings the message across loud and strong.
7. Soldier of Love (2010)
Upon the release of Sade's sixth studio album, "Soldier of Love, I was immediately impressed with the fact that the entire core band Sade was still intact. Twenty six years later they are all there; Andrew Hale: keyboards, Paul S. Denman: bass, Stuart Matthewman: saxophone and guitar, and of course Sade. Even some of the regular side musicians were there Leroy Osbourne (backing vocals), Martin Ditcham (drums), Mike Pela (co-produced).
The album is arguably Sade's most successful as far as chart positions. It reached #1 in 14 countries around the world as well as making it into the Top 5 in another ten countries. The album was especially popular in Poland where it was the #1 of 2010.
The song "Soldier of Love," was the album's first single and was a moderate success. The song made it into the Top 10 in Belgium, Finland, and Japan. It was #1 on the US Jazz chart and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
6. Killer Blow (1986)
100% pure jazz!!!
This song was a pleasant surprise find for me when I purchased the soundtrack for the film "Absolute Beginners." I bought it for the two David Bowie songs, "Absolute Beginners" and "That's Motivation." The soundtrack album opened with Bowie's "Absolute Beginners" and after listening to that song "Killer Blow" arrived and I was blown away. As much as I am a Bowie fan, it is the Sade song that became and remains my favorite from the album.
This is one of those rare occasions in which Sade stepped away from her fantastic band and was backed by a different set of musicians. The band backing her is the British jazz band Working Week. The spicy horn chart was composed by Gil Evans
Evans produced and arranged the Absolute Beginners soundtrack as well as the soundtrack for The Color of Money. Early on Evans collaborated with Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Parker. In 1970 he arranged a meeting with Jimi Hendrix to discuss collaborating together on an album. Unfortunately Hendrix died before that meeting ever happened.
5. Hang On To Your Love (1984)
In the United States this is where it all began. It was the first Sade song to be released in the US. It became a huge hit in dance clubs reaching #5 on the US Dance charts.
This sophisticated, smooth and soulful song, which is driven by a thick and powerful bassline, is rich with melody and a post-disco groove that lit up dancefloors across the US.
4. Sweetest Taboo (1985)
Once again Sade (the band) displays their ability to craft a song that is sophisticated yet fresh and filled with youthful mystery. While Sade (the singer) proves her ability to sing in a tuneful manner that is both cool and yearnful.
As per usual, Sade wrote the lyrics.Martin Ditcham, the band's percussionist co-wrote the song with Sade. He composed the soulful slightly sophisto-funk music.
The song was fairly successful reaching the Top 15 in about a dozen countries around the world. In the US it made it to #5 and was #1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart.
Sidenote: In the lyrics Sade sings the line, "There's a quiet storm," several times throughout the song. This is a reference to the Quiet Storm radio format, a smooth groovin' soulful R&B style which has been around for 70 years but became popular in the 1970s with musicians such as Marvin Gaye, The Dramatics, The Temptations, Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight, and a host of others.
3. No Ordinary Love (1992)
Drummer/percussionist Martin Ditcham opens the song with a permeating pulse that drives the mood and rhythm of the song.
"No Ordinary Love" is about an improbable and unusual romance, which seems to be a recurring theme in Sade's songs. Sade does not write your typical, "I love you, you love me, everything is beautiful" love songs. There's always a twist or a catch to Sade's theme of love.
The song's music video is directed by Sophie Miller, who also directed the videos for "By Your Side," "Baby Father," and "Soldier if Love." The video features Sade as an exotic mermaid who morphs into a bride looking for her sailor.
2. Your Love Is King (1984)
In this song Sade combines the sensual with the spiritual. At times the lyrics could almost double as a contemporary Christian tune with lines such as; "Your kisses ring round and round and round my head," can refer to the holy kiss from God which reverberates through to the soul, this ringing around my head.
The line; "Touching the very part of me, it's making my soul sing," represents how God’s love touches the soul and can bring joy to your soul.
The line, “Tearing the very heart in me. I’m crying out for more,” lines up with Biblical teaching that when we face those dark parts of our heart we experience a cleansing, which brings on feelings of joy and freedom. It is a feeling so freeing that you are crying out for more.
Your love is king: God is often referred to as King. Sade has spoken about God in other songs. Never need to part expresses her devotion to God.
"Your love is king, you're the ruler of my heart," in several old hymns, God is referred to as "the ruler."
This song is an ode to joy. It's refreshing and freeing.
"Your Love Is King" was Sade's debut single and one of their biggest hits having reached #2 in New Zealand, #6 in the UK, #7 in Ireland. Despite it's good showing in other parts of the world, in the US it only made it to #54.
1. Smooth Operator (1984)
While it's easy to argue any host of Sade sings could fit the bill of the band's signature tune - "Your Love Is King," "Hang On To Your Love," "The Sweetest Taboo," "No Ordinary Love" are all good contenders. But when it comes right down to it "Smooth Operator" is by far Sade's best known song.
"Smooth Operator" was Sade's breakout hit in the US and was their first song to chart in practically every country in Europe. The song was also #1 on the US Adult Contemporary charts as well as #11 in the US Dance chart. The song was played across the spectrum of various types of radio stations. It was one of the most played songs of 1985.
The song is about a jet-setting international playboy who's playing hearts and breaking hearts across the big casino, night life areas. Mentioned in the song are; L.A., Chicago, and Key Largo.
The lyric is one of Sade's best containing words of clever imagery; "Diamond nights and Ruby light." She mention the classic film, "Streetcar desire," in an unassuming way. She bends the rules of rhyme with lines like "shadow box and doublecross." And inserts clever cliche; "A license to love, insurance to hold."
"Smooth Operator" was written in 1982 when Sade was still with the band Pride. She co-wrote the song with Pride band member Ray St. John. Pride never recorded the song. A few years later Sade records the song with her new band Sade.
Smooth Operator (1984)
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