Although Santana's Supernatural features such pop stars as Dave
Matthews, Lauryn Hill and Eric Clapton, the veteran record-company president
who helped the band make the album likens it to the no-name, low-budget
horror flick "The Blair Witch Project."
"The word of mouth is the number one [thing] on this album," said Arista Records President Clive Davis, who signed Santana to Columbia Records in the late 1960s, when he was president of that label. He hooked up with the Latin rock band again three decades later for an album that has returned Santana to the pop charts in a big way.
"We just started hearing ... all summer that it made ... every dinner
party, every lawn party, every family outing, whereby they put it on,
and they just loved each cut," Davis said. "When you've got that combination
of great reviews coupled with hits coupled with word of mouth, that's
what keeps building it. Nothing more than that."
But, Davis continued, "It's certainly not an accident."
The buzz reached its height Thursday, when the single "Smooth"
excerpt) climbed to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles
chart, becoming Santana's highest-charting single ever. That fulfilled
bandleader Carlos Santana's desire for a hit, which led him to sign with
After years of less-accessible, new-age-influenced albums, Santana and
his wife decided to work with Davis again "so that we could get into radio
again, because radio is the frequency that a lot of young people are
tuning in to," the guitarist said shortly before the album came out.
Santana said he believes people are in need of spiritual healing, and
he sought airplay not so much to sell records, but to carry his message
of universal love to more listeners.
To get that airplay, Davis, who is credited as co-producer with Santana
on Supernatural, said he told the artist, "The best way to approach
this would be for you to do half the album in a vintage way vintage
meaning the 'Oye Como Va' way, so that each of your hot Latin or
Spanish-language cuts would be really in the best of that tradition
looking obviously to expose it to the incredibly musical virtuosity
that you've got, but also really looking to be on the radio with every
"Oye Como Va" (RealAudio
excerpt), a Tito Puente cover from Santana's Abraxas
(1970), was one of the early-'70s Latin-rock staples that sealed Santana's
reputation. It was also one of the band's last giant pop hits.
"[For] the other half of the album," Davis recalled saying from his New
York office, "I'd ... suggest collaborations that made sense for something
that would be special."
The album's commercial success has been driven by "Smooth," a sultry,
Latin-flavored cut featuring Matchbox 20 singer Rob Thomas. Its sexy
video, starring Santana's fingers, Thomas' face and the bellybuttons of
a harem of women, is in heavy rotation at MTV and VH1.
The song has transcended radio formats. According to this week's issue
of the trade magazine Radio & Records, "Smooth" is the most-played
track at adult-alternative stations in the U.S., ahead of songs by the
much younger Melissa Etheridge and Sugar Ray. It's also #5 on the Hot
Adult Contemporary chart, where its competitors include pop upstarts
Tal Bachman and Lou Bega; #9 on the Rock chart, sandwiched between veterans
Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty; and #9 on the Pop chart.
The album is #5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and has sold
more than 1.2 million copies.
"['Smooth'] is the number one most requested record in the studio at the
moment," said Julie Stoeckel, music director at San Francisco's KLLC-FM,
which identifies its format as adult top 40.
"The juxtaposition of Carlos Santana's signature guitar licks and
contemporary artists such as Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 ... makes him more
accessible to our listeners, who might not otherwise know him or embrace
him," Stoeckel said. "I think 'Smooth' is going to be around for a while.
It's just getting started."
Rich Westover, Arista's national promotion coordinator, said getting the
song on the radio involved the usual courting ritual phone calls
and visits to stations, "getting them to listen to it, to like it and
believe in it." A memorable melody helped, he said.
"I actually heard people singing the ['Smooth'] hook to program directors
to show how it's stuck in our heads," Westover said.
Arista first pitched the song to rock stations, then it moved on to
mainstream and adult-contemporary stations, Westover said.
In an unusual move, Arista next plans to push two more singles while
still working "Smooth." "Maria Maria" (RealAudio
excerpt), produced by rapper Wyclef Jean of the Fugees, has been
sent to R&B and hip-hop stations. "Put Your Lights On" which
hip-hopper Everlast wrote after a recent heart attack and recorded with
Santana is going to alternative radio.
Davis said Arista also is contemplating pitching the spicy "Corazon
Espinado," with Mexican rock superstars Mana, to Latin stations.
"We want every format to be a part of this," he said.
The big-name guests have helped. "Love of My Life," featuring rock
bandleader Dave Matthews, and "The Calling," with Santana's classic-rock
contemporary Eric Clapton, are getting regular play on rock stations
such as KFOG-FM in San Francisco.
"The tracks that we play off this feature the artists we play
Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Matchbox 20," KFOG DJ Annalisa Parziale
said. "A day doesn't go by without someone wanting to hear some new
Santana," she added. "The album is sensual, spiritual and stellar."
The album also fits neatly into a pop environment in which five of the
top six songs on the Billboard Hot 100 including "Smooth,"
Ricky Martin's "She's All I Ever Had" and Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos"
have Latin roots.
"Latin stuff has been really big here," said Brian Davis, an assistant
buyer at the Amoeba Records store in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury
district. "[Supernatural has been] in our top five every week
since it's been out. ... It seems like everyone's buying it. Everyone
who's not buying electronica is buying Santana."
Though Santana is no stranger to success, he hadn't had a top-10 single since his cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" reached #4 in 1971. That was the era of Santana (1969), which is certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America,
and the quadruple-platinum Abraxas.
In the 29 years between Abraxas and Supernatural, the band
which has been a steady concert draw all along saw seven
studio albums turn gold or platinum.
But much of Santana's more recent music leaned toward less-accessible
new-age jazz. It didn't do as well among rock record buyers.
"There was certainly a latent interest," Davis said, "because in the same
way that he would sell out Radio City [Music Hall in New York], if
[audiences] heard something that stoked their interest, they would
certainly buy it. To sell a few million, you need hits. Without hits,
you can't do it. It sounds simplistic, but that's the answer."