Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The timeless tracks of Hall and Oates are often go-to karaoke fodder for non-professionals. They also serve as prime cover material for more seasoned performers. If we asked ten people to name their favorite Hall and Oates song, it is not inconceivable that we would receive ten different answers; throughout their career, they have tallied quite the number of hit songs. But there was a time before their string of gold records. Beyond the oft-covered “I Can’t Go for That” and “Rich Girl” stands “Sara Smile,” Hall and Oates’ first Top 10 hit. It took the duo almost ten years to get into the groove, but this song gave them the momentum they needed.
The prominence of “Sara Smile” covers across a range of genres is evidence of the versatility of its tune, the authenticity of its delivery, and the universality of its message to tell a woman to smile more.
The Bird and the Bee – Sara Smile (Hall & Oates cover)
The Bird and the Bee created a masterful cover album of Hall and Oates hits in 2010. They specifically subtitled it “Volume One”; there is unfortunately yet to be a Volume Two, though a recent cover of Van Halen may give fans hope. Volume One contains many of Hall and Oates’ greatest hits, but “Sara Smile” particularly shines. Their cover starts with a classic opening, but then a sultry female voice kicks in. The background instrumentation is simple: drum and a faint, airy synthesizer. In the chorus, the sound swells with aid from powerful background vocals. Overall, the breathy vocals have ample room to show their range in this song, covering the lowest and highest parts of the song with grace.
Boyz II Men – Sara Smile (Hall & Oates cover)
“Sara Smile” also made the cut on Boyz II Men’s cover album in 2004. Despite adding a sacrilegious “h” to the title, Boyz II Men’s reinterpretation of the song remains faithful to the spirit of the original. The intro is different, utilizing acoustic guitar to set the mood. A syncopated beat features throughout, creating the R&B slow jam vibe that plays to Boyz II Men’s strengths. Going from a duo to a trio allows this version to have an extra level of depth; the runs on words like “forever” and “Sara” have more forceful commitment than the original’s lighter touch.
Jimmy Wayne – Sara Smile (Hall & Oates cover)
For a country flair to “Sara Smile,” Jimmy Wayne delivers. Inspired by the song, Wayne released an entire album called Sara Smile in 2009; it featured this cover, with backup vocals from Hall & Oates themselves. It starts with some quintessential guitar plucking before the intro, and we can already sense the drawl in the opening “hmmm.” The rest of the cover stays faithful to the original, with some fiddle for added ambiance.
Big Mountain – Sara Smile (Hall & Oates cover)
Big Mountain’s version brings an easy listening vibe in their distinctive reggae style. This band had its big break with their reggae cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way” in the early ’90s. A decade later, their “Sara Smile” only appears on various reggae compilation records, making it a bit of a hidden gem. The cover is not over the top, leveraging a tasteful application of the traditional reggae bass guitar and beat. The vocals are firmer and more deliberate, sounding more like “Sara Smile!” than the original’s more whimsical approach, which at times comes off as more like “Sara, Smile?” The electric guitar, teased throughout, asserts itself in a solo that strongly wraps up the cover.
Boney James – Sara Smile (Hall & Oates cover)
In this saxophone cover by Boney James, the instrumentation is the real star. We know that James has chops (he has won four Grammys), but this cover proves that he has the confidence to walk the line between genres and provide his own instrumental vision of a song that originally relies heavily on the vocals. The sass of the saxophone grows bolder throughout, adding trills and riffs for emphasis. The cover includes some vocals to pay homage to the chorus; it wouldn’t be a proper tribute without hearing a call to “Sara” herself.