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Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Smooth Operator"

Sade - Smooth Operator (1984)

/Coast to Coast L.A. to Chicago/ Ummmmm....

Using the Single edit, not the full 8 plus minute long video. The long play version includes a spoken word section over the intro and a full on Latin jazz ending. I like it, but it's not the version that people know, or the version that the book mentions. 

Alright, trying to listen to this song fresh, and not as the easy listening, WASH-FM pablum it has become. First thing I notice is the beat: congas over a drum set giving us a slow swinging Latin beat. It's the kind of beat you see people dancing to in a movie where the woman is actually looking out into the crowd for the male lead and as soon as he is spotted the male dance partner melts into the crowd so that she can walk across the dance floor towards the male lead seductively.

Helping the beat along is a bass that occasionally breaks out of the simple and beat pattern to follow the vocals and bring some bottom. Then out of nowhere, halfway through the song, the bass takes the first solo. It's up high on the neck, so you can be forgiven for thinking guitar, but I've watched more than a few live versions now, and it is the bass player. Good solo, nothing out of the park other than it is a bass solo, but I appreciate the fact that he doesn't just parrot and of the already existing melody lines. The second solo immediately follows the first and is the sax player. Again, he doesn't play anything we've heard before, which I love. I'm not a real fan of the sax, so take with a grain of salt my opinion that through the first part of the song, the sax is over utilized and repetitive. After the solo though, the sax does what accompaniment instrument should do, which is find interesting places to drop a few sounds then back away. I still think he plays too much, but at least it's different and not the same things over and over again.

During the solo break, we can hear an electric guitar that doesn't seem to make any other appearance until the very end of the song. The little riff makes the solo section seem faster and speed right by. The fact that Sade Adu isn't singing takes away the smoothness and together with the speed feeling, the solo section is like a whole different song in the middle. There's a keyboard hitting chords during the majority of the song, the could be adding to the Latin feel by hitting those chords along with the congas, but they really don't, so it just adds to the smooth soul sound instead.

Vocally it's a song about a gigolo plain and simple. Because one of the lines includes the phrase " for sale." I immediately think of the Cole Porter song Love for Sale from The New Yorkers. It's sung by a street prostitute offering her wares. I know it's a man in Smooth Operator and a woman in Love for Sale, but I'd like to think there's a connection there; if you make it long enough and stay safe, you may be able to graduate to Smooth Operator.

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