Classic Album Series #1: Sade – Diamond Life


  • Released: 1984
  • Genre: Smooth Soul, Pop-Jazz
  • Label: Epic (UK), Portrait (US)


Sade Adu studied fashion at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. She was trying to become a menswear designer but was doing some modeling on the side to make ends meet. Adu, who was born in Nigeria and brought up in Clacton, was invited to become a backup singer for the band Pride in the early 80s. In 1982, three of the original members of Pride – Stuart Matthewman, Paul Spencer Denman, and Paul Anthony Cook – left the band and brought Adu with them to become their lead vocalist in their new band, Sade.


Sade’s introduction into the music industry was more by fortune than by design. That said, she was an avid music fan and had cited Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday as big influences. She frequented the then-trendy nightclubs of Soho, which was where she was ‘discovered.’ In reference to her musical influence, her frequenting Soho, and her “husky and restrained” voice, Paul Lester called Sade the “Wardour Street Billie Holiday” in a review for Diamond Life for the BBC.


I rekindled my love for this album during dinner in a cozy restaurant in the Beyoğlu neighborhood in Istanbul just over a year ago, where the whole album soundtracked a fantastic meal. Often dismissed as ‘dinner party’ go-to music, Diamond Life is all that and a whole lot more. Soul Train suggested that Diamond Life showcased Sade’s soulful vocals and the mellow, jazzy and uptempo rhythmic grooves of the band.


A total of four singles were lifted from Diamond Life out of nine songs. There was no denying the standout track, Smooth Operator, with its infectious samba-laced rhythms and bluesy sound. The song was based on a wealthy man who lived a jet-set lifestyle and broke many women’s hearts, feeling little guilt. The uptempo Hang On to Your Love became America’s introduction to Sade. The lyrics told a story about maintaining a relationship during troubled times. Your Love Is King became a much-admired love song, while When Am I Going To Make A Living was a standout song for the mainstream audience.

One of the album’s greatest strengths, however, was the depth of the album. The four singles could have easily been substituted for any of the remaining five songs on the album. In discussing the singles on the album, Lester suggested that, “four more of the total nine could easily have been lifted off for release, especially Frankie’s First Affair, I Will Be Your Friend and Sally, which helped posit Diamond Life as the missing link between torch ballads and trip hop.”

My favourite tracks remains Cherry Pie, which is also the longest song on the LP running for just over six minutes. Sade’s remake of Timmy Thomas’ 1972 song Why Can’t We Live Together remains a Balearic classic to this day and competes with Cherry Pie for a close second spot on the album.

Unlike many albums from the 80s, Diamond Life does not sound outdated. Sade’s strong R&B and jazz influence is evident throughout the album. Writing in The New York Times, Stephen Holden described Diamond Life as fitting into a genre called ‘pop-jazz.’ He acknowledged the simplicity of that term when describing Diamond Life as “a cross between the rock-jazz of Steely Dan and the West Indian-flavored folk-pop of Joan Armatrading. Smoldering Brazilian rhythms blend with terse pop-soul melodies and jazzy harmonies to create a sultry, timeless nightclub ambiance.”


The album sold more than six million copies worldwide. It won the Brit Award for Best Album in 1984 and was nominated for two MTV Awards the following year. It hit the top of the charts in seven different countries and sold four million copies in the United States alone. These sales figures were lower than contemporaries such as Whitey Houston and Anita Baker. Stephen McMillian implied that Diamond Life was a grower rather than an instant hit with fans. He suggested that “because Sade’s music was more jazzy and tailored for adult contemporary audiences, it took time for some younger listeners to catch on.” More than 30 years later, Diamond Life still receives the credit it deserves, and is a worthy introduction to this series of ‘classic albums.’


Written by: Ross Genower

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, and Soul Train


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