Smooth Operator

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"Smooth Operator"
Single by Sade
from the album Diamond Life
  • "Spirit"
  • "Red Eye"
ReleasedSeptember 3, 1984 (UK)
February 1985 (US)
Recorded1983–1984; The Power Plant
Length4:58 (album version)
4:18 (single version)
Producer(s)Robin Millar
Sade singles chronology
"When Am I Going to Make a Living"
"Smooth Operator"
"Hang On to Your Love"
Music video
"Smooth Operator" on YouTube

"Smooth Operator" is a song by English band Sade from their debut studio album Diamond Life (1984). It was released as the third single from Diamond Life in the United Kingdom as a 7-inch single with "Spirit" as its B-side, and as a 12-inch maxi single with "Smooth Operator" and "Red Eye" on side A and "Spirit" on side B. The song is also more or less the album's title track as the title comes from the first sung line in the song following a spoken introduction.

"Smooth Operator" became Sade's first Top Ten hit in the US, peaking at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks in May 1985. The song spent 13 weeks in the Top 40, and also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for two weeks. Although "Your Love Is King" remains Sade's biggest hit in the UK to date, "Smooth Operator" is the band's breakthrough hit on the US charts, and their most successful single internationally.


Ray St. John, who co-wrote "Smooth Operator" with Sade Adu, was previously a member of Adu's former band Pride, although he was not a member of the band Sade. The pair co-wrote the song in 1982 while still members of Pride, but did not get around to recording it because St. John left Pride shortly after Sade joined.

Sony Music Entertainment holds the license to this ballad.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"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/L.A. 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.

This song is noted for Adu's spoken recitation in the song's introduction. Some radio edits have omitted the spoken introduction, and proceeded with the opening sung line of the title of the album, "Diamond Life". Some radio edits have shortened the instrumental saxophone solo, as well as the first repeat of the lines that come after the chorus portions.


Tanya Rena Jefferson of AXS stated "The warm tonal voice of Sade sings about a smooth operator con artist lover boy. "Smooth Operator" reached number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts in 1985."[2] Sophie Heawood of The Guardian commented "Arguably the band's signature single, the accuracy with which its suave music, complete with sax solo, conveyed the business-class lifestyle of its subject set the tone for how they would be perceived over their entire career. As a credo, 'We move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy' remains revelatory."[3] Frank Guan of Vulture commented " Along with an ace lead saxophone and winding bassline, the secret to success for Sade’s biggest early hit is hiding in plain sight: the heartless playboy traversing cities and continents in search of pleasure that she narrates serves as an allegory for Global Capitalism, but also for herself: her international range and her voice — every time she croons “smooth operator,” there’s a measure of self-reference. Her amoral protagonist’s villainy is rendered in such lovely phrases that the listener can’t help but be seduced."[4]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song was used in the documentary about the rapstar Tupac Shakur in the movie Tupac: Resurrection.
  • The song was featured in 1985 episodes of the daytime soap operas Another World, General Hospital, and One Life To Live.
  • The song was parodied in an August 2009 issue of The Watermark, re-written as "Pool Operator" in order to humorously provide information about the 2009 Pool School class.
  • "Smooth Operator" was lampooned by comedian Lenny Henry as "Lathe Operator".
  • The comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000 referenced "Smooth Operator" while riffing on the short film Why Study Industrial Arts?, during an episode of the sixth season. In response to the phrase "Tool operators", Mike and the Bots begin singing "tool operator" to the tune of "Smooth Operator".
  • The song was featured in the 2005 film Fun with Dick and Jane.
  • The song was used in the movie This Means War.
  • The lyrics "Coast to Coast/L.A. to Chicago" were ranked #1 by on their "20 Worst Lyrics Of All Time" List.
  • The song was used in the BBC puppet sitcom Mongrels, in the episode Nelson The Stroke Virgin.
  • The song is referred to by rapper Rich Homie Quan in his song "Type Of Way."
  • The song is played by the Cleveland Indians when Michael Brantley records a hit.
  • The song was parodied by Colombian comedian Andrés López as "En Bus a Pereira".
  • The song was used by wrestler Rick Rude as his entrance theme early in his career.
  • The song is used in the comedy television series Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell as a sting in a recurring joke about the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the program's sixth season, host Shaun Micallef often says that the audience knows how he feels about Turnbull, then he lovingly gazes at a portrait of Turnbull while the chorus of "Smooth Operator" plays.
  • The lyrics "Coast to Coast/L.A. to Chicago" were referenced in The Strokes' song "Drag Queen" from their 2016 EP Future Present Past. The reference is followed by the lyric "I don't know geography all that well".
  • The term "Smooth Operator" was referenced in a 2016 commercial for National Car Rental.
  • The song was played multiple times in season 12, episode 3 of The Big Bang Theory while Stuart and Denise are in the bedroom.
  • Delinquent Habits have used part of Smooth Operator in the chorus to their song Western Ways.
  • The song was used in the movie "You, Me, & Dupree" with the lyrics sung and altered to "We had some smooth margaritas."
  • Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr is known for singing the chorus of the song over the radio after a good race result.
  • Billions TV show character Chuck Rhodes references to Kate this song when he says “You’re like that Sade song come to life Kate, — ‘Smooth Operator’.”

Track listings and formats[edit]


Chart (1984) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[5] 20
Austrian Singles Chart[6] 12
Dutch Top 40[7] 19
German Singles Chart[8] 11
Irish Singles Chart[9] 17
South African Top 20 [10] 6
Swiss Singles Chart[6] 14
UK Singles Chart[11] 19
Chart (1985) Peak
Canadian RPM Top Singles[12] 5
French Singles Chart[6] 9
US Billboard Hot 100[13] 5
US Billboard Hot Black Singles[13] 5
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[13] 1
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[13] 11

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Jefferson, Tanya Rena. "Sade's 10 best songs". AXS. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  3. ^ Heawood, Sophie (13 March 2012). "Why Sade is bigger in the US than Adele". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  4. ^ Guan, Frank. "All 73 Sade Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best". Vulture. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  5. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). Sydney: Australian Chart Book. p. 263. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. N.B. The Kent Report chart was licensed by ARIA between mid-1983 and 19 June 1988.
  6. ^ a b c "Sade – Smooth Operator –". Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  7. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 42 – 1984". Top 40 (in Dutch). Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  8. ^ " – Sade – Smooth Operator". (in German). Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  9. ^ "The Irish Charts – All there is to know > Search results for Sade (from". (original source published by Fireball Media). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  10. ^ Currin, Brian. "South African Rock Lists Website - SA Charts 1965 - 1989 Acts (S)". Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  11. ^ "Official Charts > Sade". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  12. ^ "RPM Top Singles, June 15, 1985". RPM. Retrieved 25 February 2019. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  13. ^ a b c d "Sade > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 9 January 2009.

External links[edit]