Though there have been many line-up and sound changes over the years, Carlos Santana has remained the leader and his guitar the distinct sound. For over five decades Santana has been recording and releasing singles that jump and dance across styles, genres, and even cultures all the while retaining the feel that is quintessentially Santana. No matter what song, album, or year you know it’s a Santana song with the first note of his searing guitar. If we were to measure the polarity and talent of 1970’s guitar players like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck,,Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and so one, Carlos Santana stands side by side with all of them.
10) Soul Sacrifice
The song that started it all never officially charted but it was the band’s epic performance of this track at the original Woodstock festival that catapulted them into the limelight. Watching and/or listening to the performance footage shows you why. From the percussion groove that starts it all off to the booming bassline to the kit work of Michael Shrieve the song simply will not let you stop nodding your head. Go ahead. Try it. We’ll wait.
Recorded and released as part of Santana’s 1981 album, Zebop!, “Winning,” features the distinct vocal talents of Alex Ligertwood who sang for the band off and on during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Originally written and released by Russ Ballard, Santana’s version of the song reached number 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It is also one of the few songs featuring Carlos playing a Fender Telecaster giving him a slightly different tone that his usual Paul Reed Smith guitars.
8) No One To Depend On
Off Santana III, “No One To Depend On,” has a few things going for it. First the track is mostly instrumental showcasing what is considered to be the “classic” line-up of the band. Along with Carlos we hear Neal Schon, later of Journey fame, on guitar. We also hear José Chepito Areas on percussion, Gregg Rolie on Keyboards and vocals, David Brown on bass, Michael Shrieve on drums, and Mike Carabello on percussion. Second it features an outstanding back and forth between guitar and bass, which is not something you hear all that often.
7) She’s Not There
The opening keyboard and bass riff sucks you so far in to this Latin beat that the drums almost seem superfluous by the time they enter. Off 1977’s album, Moonflower, this cover of The Zombies’ hit single reached No. 27 on Billboard. Oh and guess what? There’s some ripping guitar solos scattered throughout the 4-minute song. Didn’t see that coming did you?
6) Everybody’s Everything
Another track off Santana III, “Everybody’s Everything,” reached No. 12 on the charts. It might have been named Everybody’s Gonna Dance Their A*ses off because this sucker is a smoking groove from beginning to end. And that scorching guitar solo? It’s not Carlos. It’s Neal Schon. It was a shining example of the musicianship that flowed throughout the Santana experience. Santana’s “Everybody’s Everything,” has always been a longtime favorite jam session number for legions of blues rock guitarists over the past forty years.
5) Maria Maria
The first No. 1 hit on this list, “Maria Maria,” is a perfect demonstration of Santana’s genre defying abilities. Featuring The Product G&B, an R&B duo associated with Wyclef Jean. The second single off 1999’s Supernatural, “Maria Maria,” became an international number 1 hit, sitting atop the charts for weeks and weeks. It even made Billboard’s All Time Hot 100 Top Songs. Many of Santana’s old time fans were not happy with Santana’s crossover into the pop world. However, Santana’s guitar work on the record clearly demonstrated that “Maria Maria,” was still a work of substance and immensely enjoyable.
4) Oye Como Va
Going back to the early days of Santana, this Tito Puente cover was recorded for the band’s second album, Abraxas. Released in 1970, the song reached No. 13 on the Hot 100 and shot Santana to fame. Pretty impressive for what is essentially a cha-cha-cha rhythm.However, on Santana’s version, the band replaced Tito’s Puente’s horn section with rock guitars and the Hammond B-3 Organ. What is most significance about Santana’s recording is the popularity that his version of “Oye Como Va,” brought to the legendary Tito Puente. And in some ways, Santana probably gained many of Tito’s fans himself.
The first single off Supernatural, “Smooth,” features the vocal work of Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20. An instant hit, Smooth spent 30 weeks on Billboard’s Top 10 and contributed to Supernatural selling over 30 million copies around the world. The collaboration with Thomas was the first of many successful match-ups between Carlos’ guitar and various pop or rock singers. If you like Carlos’ guitar, and you obviously do, then you’ll be happy to note that he essentially never stops soloing the entire song.
2) Evil Ways
You know the song. You’ve heard it hundreds of times on the radio. It was the band’s first hit, reaching No. 9 on the charts in 1969. The combination of rock sensibility with Latin percussion and rhythms would serve as a highly potent brew for the band and it was this debut album that cemented that sound. Two other things to note about this track: awesome use of cowbell and the jump to a heavy groove at the guitar solo. I mean why settle for Carlos’ amazing sound and style when your rhythm section can tear it up at the same time? Unfortunately the radio edit fades us out a little early but there are plenty of live versions that give it all.
1) Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen
A cover of Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman,” was recorded for Abraxas and featured Gregg Rolie on vocals. Reaching No. 4 this song and sound might be the most iconic of the 70s era Santana. Technically this track is a medley of Green’s song and Gábor Szabó’s instrumental “Gypsy Queen,” which is heard in the intro and the end of the version released in 1969. Some later version omitted these sections but it is the Abraxas edit that stands as the major hit for the band.
Top 10 Santana Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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