​Sade's Best 15 Songs Ranked

As the singer and her eponymous group approach the 40th anniversary of their debut album, we're ranking the highlights of their catalogue

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Nov 17, 2023

Few artists have managed to achieve stardom with a single name: Prince, Madonna, Adele, Cher, Bono. And then there is the original smooth operator herself, the barometer of cool, the one and only Sade. Rarely called by her English birth name as a child growing up in Nigeria, Helen Folosade Adu was soon shortened from Folosade to Sade by locals. It stuck.

After emigrating to England alongside her mother and brother, Sade nurtured a passion for songwriting and eventually found herself performing vocals for a North London Latin funk band called Pride. When the industry caught on to her talent, she was flooded with offers to go out on her own. She only acquiesced once she was able to bring along bandmates Stuart Matthewman (saxophone), Andrew Hale (keyboard) and Paul Spencer Denman (bassist).

The group collectively went by the name Sade, and brought their unique mix of jazz, soul, downtempo, and R&B to the fore. Sade's songwriting, as well as her effortless elegance and sumptuous voice, propelled the group to fame shortly after the release of Diamond Life in 1984, and she's been revered ever since.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Sade's debut album, it seems fitting to look back on some of the best songs from group's inception in the '80s to its established next chapter post-millennium.

15. "Maureen"
Promise (1985)

Before we dive into the drama of romantic relationships, it's nice to give a little shout to one of Sade's songs about platonic friendship. "Maureen" is a catchy song that relies heavily on nostalgia and explores how friendships change over time. 

14. "Fear"
Promise (1985)

Sade dallies in Spanish on "Fear," which tells the tale of a matador and his lover. The drama is palpable and makes for a welcome escape to another world of danger and intrigue. It's a welcome exploration of another language and its storytelling techniques.   

13. "Keep Looking"
Stronger Than Pride (1988)

Sade's third album provided five singles — but, surprisingly, this song wasn't one of them. But what "Keep Looking" missed out on critically, it makes up for in snappy affirmations that encourage the listener to keep their head held high and an eye out for the next big thing. It's a succinct pep talk in 5:21 minutes.

12. "The Sweetest Taboo"
Promise (1985)

Who doesn't love a little forbidden fruit? "The Sweetest Taboo" is a playful song about falling in love with someone who might not necessarily be the right fit but is too tantalizing to pass up. Losing yourself to Mr. Wrong never sounded so right. 

11. "Like a Tattoo"
Love Deluxe (1992) 

The song has a little autobiographical content, as it details a conversation between Sade and a former solider. It deals with mature themes with a deft touch, as the instrumental takes a backseat to allow the lyrics to do the talking. The song and its warnings of war feels sadly appropriate, given today's current state of affairs.   

10. "King of Sorrow"
Lovers Rock (2000)

"Will I disappoint my future if I stay?" The pivotal question raised on "King of Sorrow" goes largely unanswered as Sade dubs herself the monarch of her own demise. For anyone who has ever fought their own "private war." this is your anthem.  

9. "Cherish the Day"
Love Deluxe (1992)

Sade's minimalism really shines on "Cherish the Day." The outline of a prayer brings an added devotional element to the song that underscores the depth of love. The lyrical repetition also weaves a gentle cocoon of self-affirmations; simplicity is sometimes the best recipe. 

8. "Feel No Pain"
Love Deluxe (1992)

Blues, funk, anti-capitalism: "Feel No Pain" has it all. Here, Sade is at her most socially conscious, detailing the story of a family laid off by hardship and how society, as a whole, should be held to account. It is a beautifully rendered rallying call that continues to be relevant today more than three decades on.

7. "Jezebel"
Promise (1985) 

"Jezebel" is the story of an empowered sex worker put out in the '80s — a perspective that's way ahead of its time. Sade centres the humanity of the titular Jezebel and her fierce pride, dazzling beauty and tenacious spirit. It doesn't hurt that the saxophone solos are wonderful, too.

6. "Kiss of Life"
Love Deluxe (1992)

The "kiss of life" — sounds wonderful, no? This song is one of Sade's enduring love songs, which elicits warm fuzzies on every play. It's a playful soul-funk number that plays on the celestial intervention of love and the full-body buzz of finding your one and only. It's a classic for a reason.

5. "I Couldn't Love You More"
Love Deluxe (1992)

Valentine's Day and all of its pomp couldn't pack the half the same punch as this song. Despite its overt romanticism, it eludes any corny Hallmark moments. "If everyone in the world / Could give me what I wanted / I wouldn't want for more than I have" is the very absence of materialism. Sade brings authenticity, tenderness and confidence. Leave the chocolate to melt along with your heart.

4. "By Your Side"
Lovers Rock (2000)

The opening track on Lovers Rock, "By Your Side" is the slow-burning success of Sade's discography. It has gained popularity since being released in 2000 and remains a fan favourite. Musically, it feels a little more palatable for modern audiences, but Sade's voice remains the grounding presence that brings the song home. It's a loving, sonic embrace. 

3. "No Ordinary Love"
Love Deluxe (1992)

At this point, much of Love Deluxe has appeared on this list — and with good reason. "No Ordinary Love" is the anthem of broken hearts the world over. Sade's understated vocals somehow draw out the pain even more, casting a beaming spotlight on the enmeshed nature of two people falling in and out of love. The song builds beautifully with steady guitars and cascading vocals. It trails off as she sings, "Keep flying and I'm falling / And I'm falling" — a devastating self-realization brought to life. 

2. "Smooth Operator"
Diamond Life (1984)

This song dates back to the singer's pre-Sade days, as it was co-written with former bandmate Ray St. John during the Pride days. That lineup never got around to recording the track, but it finally made an appearance on Sade's 1984 debut. "Smooth Operator" helped Sade gain traction internationally, bringing her newfound fame and fortune. The story of a man who places "high stakes making hearts ache" is tantalizing, even tempting, when sung by Sade. It's seduction at its finest.

1. "Your Love Is King"
Diamond Life (1984)

Sade might not be who she is today without "Your Love Is King." The song was the group's first single and charted within the British Top 10 shortly thereafter. It established Sade as the new kids on the block with old school chops. It is so quintessentially Sade, from the unmistakable opening saxophone to her timeless sultry vocals, that it remains the group's defining moment.

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