Top 10 Santana Songs
Musically, Santana were both part of and far removed from the San Francisco music scene they emerged from in 1967. They had hippie idealism down — their long, flowing jams were a defining part of the era. But they infused almost every one of their classic songs with driving Latin rhythms fueled by frenetic percussion. After a long period of experimental albums, mystical solo records by leader and guitarist Carlos Santana and commercial inactivity, a new version of the group rocketed to the top of the charts in 1999 in one of music’s greatest comebacks. Our list of the Top 10 Santana Songs grabs a little from both periods.
“Hope You’re Feeling Better”
One of Santana’s toughest rockers from their early-’70s peak period, “Hope You’re Feeling Better” was released as the third single from the band’s hit second album. It’s one of two Abraxas songs penned by keyboardist Gregg Rolie, who’d later form Journey from the same San Francisco scene that spawned Santana.
The lead single from the band’s third album is more R&B-based than most of the songs found on its first two LPs (no surprise, since “Everybody’s Everything” was actually borrowed from an obscure soul tune from 1967). In addition to the Tower of Power horns, who blast into the song like a raging storm, 17-year-old Neal Schon makes his debut, playing the guitar solo. A few years later, he and keyboardist Gregg Rolie would leave Santana and form Journey.
“The Game of Love”
Three years after Supernatural re-lit Carlos Santana’s star wattage (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Santana Songs), the guitarist returned with the same guests-swamped formula for Shaman. It worked: The album debuted at No. 1. Its best song, “The Game of Love,” features Michelle Branch, a super-huge pop hook and the warmest and most fluid guitar Carlos Santana guitar solo in decades.
“Samba Pa Ti”
The only song credited solely to Carlos Santana on 1970’s great Abraxas album is also one of his most gorgeous instrumental pieces. “Samba Pa Ti” has been well covered over the past 40 years, with other artists adding their own lyrics to the song, which has popped up in everything from books to TV shows.
“Jingo” started life as a song called “Jin-go-lo-ba,” which appeared on Nigerian percussionist Olatunji’s terrific 1959 album Drums of Passion. Like other world-music songs Santana covered in the ’60s and ’70s, their take on “Jingo” injects some San Francisco rock aesthetic into the universal groove. But the rippling percussion still drives the song … at least until Carlos Santana rolls in with an exquisite guitar solo.
After 17 years away from the Top 40, Santana hooked up with a bunch of old friends (like Eric Clapton) and new superstars (like Dave Matthews) for the Grammy-hogging Supernatural — the group’s first No. 1 album since 1971’s Santana III. The ubiquitous hit “Smooth” (featuring Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas) stayed at the top of the chart for three straight months and on radio playlists even longer. It made Santana relevant again, and bigger than ever.
“Oye Coma Va”
Latin-music legend Tito Puente wrote and recorded “Oye Coma Va” in 1963, but it’s Santana’s souped-up version from their second album, Abraxas, that most people know. Santana actually stick pretty close to Puente’s original melody, replacing the mambo-style horns with searing guitar lines and rich organ fills. They ended up taking the song to No. 13 — not bad for a song sung in Spanish and inspired by a composition dating back to the ’30s.
The song that made Santana stars at Woodstock also ignites on record, ending their self-titled debut album with a six-and-a-half-minute explosion of percussion and searing guitar. “Soul Sacrifice” became a symbol of the group in its early days, encompassing Santana’s Latin groove with big, fat organ fills and their leader’s piercing guitar solos. It surges like few other songs from the era.
Santana’s first big hit — it climbed to the Top 10 around the same time the Woodstock movie broke the band — was one of two cover songs on their self-titled debut album (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Santana Songs for the other one). But like most of the songs they covered, “Evil Ways” was a relatively obscure number before Santana transformed it into a monster rock hit complete with room-shaking organ and guitar solos.
“Black Magic Woman”
Fleetwood Mac wrote and recorded “Black Magic Woman” in 1968, when they were still a cult British blues band. Two years later, on their second album, Santana pumped a Latin groove into the mix and took control of the song. For years it was their biggest single — reaching No. 4 — until “Smooth” made it to No. 1 during 1999’s comeback (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Santana Songs). It remains one of the most representative pieces of their signature sound.