Sade, a Smooth Operator, sings of No Ordinary Love, and Is That A Crime?
Diamond Life, which yielded the popular singles “Smooth Operator,” “Your Love Is King,” and “Hang On To Your Love,” was the album that introduced the band to the world, and my own favorites from the album are “Frankie’s First Affair,” “When Am I Going to Make A Living?” “Sally,” “I Will Be Your Friend,” and “Why Can’t We Live Together?” Most of the songs on the album were written by Adu with Matthewman, and it is an unusually accomplished, distinctly cosmopolitan recording.
“Frankie’s First Affair” is about a charmer who falls in love, someone who now understands the people who had been infatuated with him: “You know now they really did care, ‘cause it’s your first affair...Where is the laughter you spat right in their faces?...It’s your turn to cry.” And in “When Am Going to Make A Living?” Adu sings about the ordinary working world: “They’ll waste your body and soul if you allow them to,” and notes: “See the people fussing and stealing, too many lies, no one is achieving. Have I told you before? We’re hungry for a life we can’t afford. There’s no end to what you can do, if you give yourself a chance. We’re hungry but we won’t give in. Start believing in yourself. Put the blame on no one else.” The song’s last line is “Hungry but we’re gonna win,” and, of course, win she has.
I was never sure if “Sally,” who opened her arms to many young men, was a friend, a social worker, or a sexual exploiter, as described in the song that bears her name—but in light of the male plights Adu describes and the fact that it is Adu singing, I’m inclined to think Sally’s a friend: “Put your hands together for Sally. She saved all those young men...She’s doing our dirty work...She’s the only one who cares...” The intentions in “I Will Be Your Friend” are unmistakable. “I’ll love you for a thousand years,” sings Adu.
It is easy to hear how such a thematically varied work would be welcome in an English world as represented in the Hanif Kureishi/Stephen Frears films My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). In his introduction to a collection of his screenplays, Kureishi has written, “This was the mid-1980s—that fevered time...In London new clubs and restaurants were opening to sell-out crowds. Soho was full of people making pop promos and commercials. Good newspapers and magazines were being started. Parts of London seemed gripped by money madness... Sammy and Rosie Get Laid was an attempt to reflect the fragmentation of that time: a young affluent middle class with 1960s values gentrifying working-class areas; riots and the creation of an unemployed and alienated underclass, necessitating the growth and increasing empowerment of the police; and a Third World Muslim whose country was being Westernized, coming to the West and being bewildered by the spiritual chaos he discovers.” ( London Kills Me, Penguin Books, 1992.) In a journal about the making of Sammy and Rosie published in the same book, Kureishi writes, “I know now that England is primarily a suburban country and English values are suburban values. The best of that is kindness and mild-temperedness, politeness and privacy, and some rather resentful tolerance. The suburbs are also a mix of people...At worst there is narrowness of outlook and fear of the different. There is cruelty by privacy and indifference...My love and fascination for inner London endures. Here there is fluidity and possibilities are unlimited.” ( London Kills Me, p. 163.)
Diamond Life, which sold about six million copies internationally, closes with Timmy Thomas’s “Why Can’t We Live Together?” and the band’s tight groove and the pointed lyrics issue a question and a promise: “Tell me why, tell me why can’t we live together? Everybody wants to live together. Why can’t we be together? No more war, no more war, just a little peace. No more war, no more war. All we want is some peace in this world...No matter, no matter what color, you’re still my brother.”