One of the biggest breakout UK artists of this year is undoubtedly Sam Smith. You can’t go anywhere without hearing his name, or covers of his songs, and he’s gathered fans both in the UK and the USA – impressive for a new singer! His solo debut number 1 hit ‘Stay With Me’ was the song that brought him into the spotlight, and now sits at number 17 in our charts, totalling an impressive 24 weeks in the top 40 so far. So let’s take a look at it!
‘Stay With Me’ is a mid-tempo ballad in 4/4 time with soul and gospel influences. Musically it’s incredibly simple, revolving around a Am7-F-C chord progression through the whole song, with a structure of Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Chorus/Chorus. The production is bare at first, with just vocals, a kick drum and piano chords, then builds to include backing vocals, an organ, and even a string section. You can really hear the soul influence in the vocal melody, the use of organ and Sam Smith’s lyrics, and the gospel influence with the gospel choir backing vocals. Lyrically, the song is a heartfelt plea to a lover to stay with him.
So what’s so special about this very simple song? I think Sam Smith’s voice and performance carries a lot of it, he has a rich, soulful tone, a wide vocal range, and puts a lot of emotion into his singing, which suits this song. (The gospel choir also beefs the song up, so kudos to them too!) There’s also an interesting angle in the lyrics, where he says that it’s not really true ‘love’ between him and the other person, but he still wants them to stay so he doesn’t feel alone – that kind of emotional honesty and rawness makes an impact. It’s very much from the soul tradition of simple heartfelt lyrics and big vocals. But perhaps what also makes this stand out is the fact Sam Smith is a man – we’re used to these songs being sung by ‘divas’ like Adele, but when a man comes out with soulful songs, raw emotion and a big voice, maybe it’s more unexpected and so we notice it more! Well, if this starts a soul revival, and the beginning of a tradition of male soul divas, then I am all for it. Gender (or indeed anything else!) should be no barrier to musical style.
Favourite lyric – ‘Why am I so emotional? No it’s not a good look, gain some self control’