Distinctively emotive, soul-inspired vocalist Sam Smith was among the most commercially successful artists to arrive during the early 2010s. Prior to his breakthrough at the age of 21, the London, England-born singer and songwriter balanced study with music, sang in choirs and in bands, and performed in musical theater productions. He developed a passionate approach to singing exemplified by his favorite artists at that time: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Chaka Khan. He was barely out of his teens when, in late 2012, he appeared as the featured vocalist on “Latch,” the fourth single by production duo Disclosure. A loping mixture of U.K. garage and contemporary dance-pop, the song went to number 11 in the U.K. Over in the U.S., it took significantly longer to take hold but eventually hit number seven there and was certified platinum three times over.
The singer’s debut solo single, released in February 2013, took a more tempered path. Produced by the favor-returning Disclosure, “Lay Me Down” recalled the stripped-back material that had proved successful for Adele. Only three months later, producer/songwriter Shahid “Naughty Boy” Khan followed his Emeli Sandé-fronted U.K. Top Ten hit “Wonder” with “La La La,” featuring a powerful lead vocal from Smith (who had just finished a series of dates in support of Sandé). It was an instant number one U.K. hit. In October 2013, Smith issued the Nirvana EP, which included an acoustic reading of “Latch,” and by the end of February 2014 he was back at the top of the U.K. chart with “Money on My Mind,” which inventively married his relaxed vocal with a frenetic beat. Smith’s debut full-length, In the Lonely Hour, was released that May in the U.K., and topped the album chart. It arrived in the U.S. the following month and peaked at number two there. The singles “Stay with Me,” “I’m Not the Only One,” and “Lay Me Down” hit the Top Ten in both the U.K. and U.S. In the Lonely Hour led to awards from organizations as varied as the BRITs, the Grammys, Billboard, and BET. It was the second best-selling album of 2014 in the U.K. and U.S., behind only titles by Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.
In 2015, Smith recorded another Disclosure collaboration, “Omen,” eventually placed on the duo’s Caracal. Smith also earned the high honor of being chosen to record the theme for a James Bond film. “Writing’s on the Wall,” recorded for the Spectre soundtrack, was the first Bond theme to go to number one in the U.K. An expanded version of In the Lonely Hour, the “Drowning Shadows Edition,” was released that November with new material and previously released stray tracks added to the original album content. Following Golden Globe and Academy Award wins for “Writing’s on the Wall,” Smith spent most of 2016 and early 2017 in the studio recording his follow-up album with previous collaborators Jimmy Napes and Steve Fitzmaurice. “Too Good at Goodbyes,” the lead single from his second album, was issued in September 2017. The ballad went to number one in the U.K. and the Top Five in the U.S. just prior to the release of The Thrill of It All the following month. ~ James Wilkinson & Andy Kellman