Genre of the Week: Smooth Operator by Sade


This week’s Genre of the Week celebrates two milestones: The first is the 60th birthday of one of the most famous jazz musicians of all time, Sade. Born in Nigeria, she moved to England as a child, having been raised in Essex. Her jazz career began in the late 1970s and she would later form a music group by 1980. Since then, she has released six albums over the course of 35 years, counting three hiatuses. She resides in Glochestershire living a life as an “hour of fame” flower, reclusive but coming into the limelight when the time is ripe. A website with all the facts about the jazz singer can be cound here.

The second is the 35th anniversary of one of the most popular songs in the jazz music scene. “Smooth Operator” was released in 1984 and made it to the top 10 in several countries; number one in the US under adult contemporary. While the song represents a classic example of contemporary jazz that can be found on radio stations today, the lyrics deal with a “Slick-Jimmy”, who uses women for money, breaking many hearts. According to the wiki source:

“Smooth Operator” is about a fashionable, devious man who lives a jet-set lifestyle. He is popular with women and breaks many hearts. The lyrics “Coast to Coast/LA to Chicago/Western Male/Across the North and South to Key Largo/Love for sale” imply that he uses women to obtain his income. It is also clear that he does not hold sincere affection for these women, as Adu sings near the end, “his heart is cold.” The video to this song reinforces the message and the operator appears to be a professional criminal. In one scene, he displays a gun to an interested customer and in others, he appears to be a pimp. He succeeds in evading law enforcement, who have him under surveillance.

To get a better idea of what the song is about, here is the music video:

Even if Jackie Treehorn manages to get away in the scene, presenting some imorals, the music behind the song creates for a scene in a restaurant or bar where couples come to entertain themselves over drinks and the like.

While Sadie’s song is considered one of the Top 100 of all-time by many and henceforth a Genre of the Week award winner, there have been some variants that were released, all of which have a jazz music setting. The most popular are these two examples:

Smooth Operator by Mario Biondi, released in 2018. This one keeps the lyrics but changes the musical setting to feature a different type of jazz music worth listening to.

Smooth by Rob Thomas and Santana, released in 1999. This one seems to be similar in setting and lyrics as the original by Sade, yet they are not, rather they present “Slick Jimmy Jackie Treehorn” is a different interpretive manner. The song is supported by world-renowned guitarist Santana, who has a solo in this, similar to the saxophone solo in Sade’s version. Rob Thomas is lead singer of Matchbox 20.


And to close the Genre of the Week article, the Files would like to wish Sade a happy 60th birthday and a great career with one helluva smooth song that is 35 years old. Happy Birthday and congrats at the same time to a contemporary jazz great.