Jimmy Wayne – “Sara Smile”
Songwriters: Daryl Hall & John Oates.
The 1970s and ’80s get unfairly maligned as across-the-board musical low points. It’s truth that the ’70s, being the decade that gave us both disco and “Afternoon Delight,” don’t have a lot of defense, while the 1980s music retrospectives that VH1 used to air (before it turned into a celebrity dating channel) brought as many winces as fond memories. Did we really listen to “Never Gonna Give You Up” in an un-ironic way?
But there was plenty of great music from that era, and if a singer wanted to go back 20 or 30 years for a cover, there’s Gram Parsons, Emmylou, Willie & Waylon, Don Williams and Merle Haggard to fall back on. Want to go in a rock direction? Try Tom Petty, Talking Heads or The Pretenders. The point is, if you’re going to make a list of music to cover from that era, Hall & Oates would rank somewhere way, way down the list.
However, if you’re Jimmy Wayne, Hall & Oates is your go-to choice, and “Sara Smile,” the duo’s first Top 5 hit (from 1976), is the song for you. Wayne does it in a very straightforward, almost reverential way, not even trying to turn a ’70s R&B hit into something remotely resembling a country song. Sure, there’s a banjo and steel at the beginning of the track, but that lasts about 10 seconds. After that, the song launches into the world of blue-eyed soul singing and monster ballad guitar solos. Nothing original, nothing creative, nothing country.
To be fair, Wayne sings the song well and throws out more than a fair share of R&B melisma. Hall & Oates are barely audible, so their contribution to the song is negligible (thank goodness for small favors). However, this song, plain and simple, has no business being played on a country radio station as the attempts to make it “sound country” are laughable. This is a ‘Lite FM’ song, and would sound right at home between Michael Bolton and Celine Dion.
There are plenty of ways to take pop songs and countrify them. Both the Derailers and the Be Good Tanyas have made Prince sound like a Music Row songwriter, and Brooks & Dunn excelled with “My Maria.” But if this is what Wayne wants to sing, you have to wonder why he even tried a country music career in the first place.
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