One of the biggest and most elusive British music acts of all time, but how much do you really know about Sade?
Part one – the 1980’s
by Mark Keen
If you grew up in the 1980’s you would have been aware of Sade reappearing every few years after seemingly disappearing from view. The term ‘low profile’ was invented for her. This has been the modus operandi since then, and a successful one at that. Much like Kate Bush or Enya, Sade has seemingly never really been fashionable or had a high public profile, but still manages to achieve incredible ongoing success. Sade has been described as the most successful solo British female artist in history.
Often written off in the UK as representing 80s music best suited to elevators and wine bars (described as sophisti-pop whatever that is), Sade’s talents were often more appreciated in America where enormous success was achieved. Sometimes it appears that Sade’s career has been defined by her first two big hits, “Your Love is King” (check out the excellent cover by Will Young on The Bridget Jones – Edge of Reason soundtrack) and “Smooth Operator”, two tracks that have arguably dated the most, but perhaps that’s because we are a just so familiar with them. Whilst many of the songs deal with issues of the heart (and heartbreak), there are more serious issues explored such as poverty (the haunting “Pearls” from “The Best Of”), unemployment, prostitution (try “Jezebel” from “Promise”) and even a song about The Salvation Army (“Sally” from “Diamond Life”).
Back in the early 1980s where it all started, I guess the first point to make is that the band is actually named after the lead singer Sade Adu, forming in 1982 out of the remnants of the band Pride. Three members of which were from my adopted homeland of Hull. Sade Adu (born Helen Folasade Adu) was born in Nigeria in 1959 and after growing up In Essex would go on to study fashion design at Saint Martin’s School of Art apparently in the same class as Corinne Drewery from Swing Out Sister (another favourite band of mine).
Sade were quick off the mark with “Your Love is King” a UK number 6 hit in 1984 and making early inroads in to the American charts. “Smooth Operator” was another big hit getting to number 19 in the UK (which seems surprisingly low considering how well known it is), although was a huge hit in the American charts hitting number 5 and was a hit across the world.
However, these two tracks are so well known so check out the lesser hits from the first album which are undiscovered gems, with the video for ‘When Am I Going To Make A Living” showing London in the early 1980s and the American release “Hang On To Your Love”, a more typical 80s video with the band having cardboard instruments to play in a casino.
Sade capitalised on the success of the singles with their debut album “Diamond Life” in July 1984 selling over six million copies peaking at number 2 in the UK and an impressive number 5 in the America and charting in the top 10 in most other countries. It was actually one of the top selling debut albums of the 1980s and set the template for the rest of Sade’s career.
“The Sweetest Taboo” would follow in 1985, later covered by Shola Ama and Glamma Kid in 1999 simply as “Taboo”. You can’t keep a good song down! “The Sweetest Taboo”, which was a memorable if relatively minor hit in the UK (only number 31 – a travesty in my view!), but a huge number 5 hit in the USA. The album “Promise” would follow in November 1985 barely a year since “Diamond Life”. Never would Sade be so prolific. The album hit number 1 in the UK and the USA, where it sold four million copies alone. It would be over twenty years before they hit the number one album slot again in the USA. “Promise” did not include any more big hits. Check out the video for “Never As Good As The First Time” though, my favourite. You can’t beat black and white videos, which feel so timeless, and Sade shows her skills on horseback.
Before the release of the next album, Sade had a part in ‘Absolute Beginners’, a feature film directed by Julian Temple, who had directed “The Smooth Operator” video, released in 1986. Whilst the film was a flop (and I have never seen it), it nevertheless had a high profile at the time as it starred David Bowie (also singing the theme song) and Patsy Kensit, later to find fame in the pop group Eighth Wonder and more recently in Emmerdale.
The campaign for the new album, “Stronger Than Pride”, would get off to a quiet start in 1988 with the release of “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” which missed the top 40, probably due to the very languid, but bewitching, pace. This started a number of videos directed by Sophie Muller who most recently worked with Kylie on her last few single releases. There are certainly similarities with this video also filmed on the beach like “Golden“.
Things perked up with the more energetic “Paradise” which scraped into the top 30 in the UK (number 29) but was more successful in the USA (number 16). However, it remains one of their best known hits.
The album “Stronger Than Pride” would appear in May 1988, hitting the top 5 in both the UK and the USA. The remaining singles “Nothing Can Come Between Us” and “Turn My Back On You” did not trouble the charts, but again the following video is worth a peak, with Sade hitting Las Vegas.
Things would then go quite for a few years until the dawn of the 1990’s and the release of one of Sade’s most well known songs and videos, “No Ordinary Love”.