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Celebrating Santana's 10 greatest hits of all time

With the 45th anniversary of Woodstock on August 15-17, 2014 already past, here’s looking at one of the acts from that legendary three-day music festival in Upstate New York. Santana brought to the crowd their unique brand of Latin rock.

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Lula78632 via Wikimedia Commons

Carlos Santana is the visionary, the frontman with the soulful guitar, surrounded by, without question, the most talented array of musicians ever assembled in pop/rock music history. There has never been a tighter band, before or since, with such intense rhythms, beats, and energy. Santana's music is one of a kind that crosses all boundaries and music genres. Once you hear it, you’ll never forget their sound. It's like getting a good dose of medicine for the soul.

What is truly remarkable about Santana is their incredible longevity that certainly had its share of immense growing pains over four decades. It was the formation of the band's unique diversity right before Woodstock that lead to their stellar performance at this legendary music festival which launched them into mega-superstardom.

In 1999 Santana made an amazing comeback that had one of the longest delays between #1 albums, according to the Guinness Book of World Records (2005). Naturally with all the great music Santana has put out during the last forty years, with their singles and albums, it was a difficult task to choose their top 10 songs for your enjoyment.

“No One to Depend On” (1972)

One of two charted singles from their third album titled appropriately enough, "Santana III." This song was more of a staple on FM radio stations, which catered to a more album-oriented listener, as opposed to the commercial Top 40 air play rotations on AM radio throughout the ‘70s. This single got its share of both formats, a worthy accomplishment for its time. As you will find on virtually all of Santana's music, there is a lot of Carlos' exquisite guitar work and fiery percussion on “No One to Depend On.”

“Everybody's Everything” (1971)

This is another of the charted singles from the album, “Santana III.” It features the teen sensation of Neal Schon on guitar. He was only 15 years old at the time. It is Schon who' featured on lead guitar in this recording. There is a lot more rock influence that would later show up in the music of Journey. Tower of Power is prominently heard on horns as well as Gregg Rolie's fine work on keyboards. “Everybody's Everything” is reminiscent of other songs popular during its day such as “Get It On” by Chase. Incidentally, a year after the release of this album, Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie left Santana to form the rock/pop band, Journey.

“The Game of Love” (2002) (feat. Michelle Branch)

From the album “Shaman” the single was released in 2002 on the heels of the massively successful “Supernatural.” There is a great mix of Carlos's and Michelle's guitars. Michelle Branch is the featured vocalist that has become somewhat of a trademark with Santana in their more current recordings due to its rhythms. “The Game of Love” won a Grammy Award for "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals" and reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

“Europa” (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)” (1976)

If you want to hear Carlos' passionate guitar work throughout an entire song, this is the one for you. This sensual instrumental from the “Amigos” album is considered one of Santana's most popular songs. “Europa” is still a staple on contemporary smooth jazz radio stations getting massive airplay.

“Evil Ways” (1969)

Their first Top 40 and Top Ten hit single in the U.S. that reached the Billboard Hot 100 charts at #9. It's also from their first self-titled album “Santana.” Keyboardist Gregg Rolie sings lead with Santana providing background vocals on “Evil Ways.” Back in the day when there were two distinct radio listeners, FM for progressive rock and AM for the Top 40 radio-friendly songs, two versions of this song were actually being played. An edited version was featured on AM radio and on FM it was played with its full introduction, organ instrumental, guitar improvisation, and no fade outs at the end. Of course today FM is the dominant place for listeners, while AM is now relegated to talk radio shows.

“Maria, Maria” (2000)

2008 marked the celebration of 50 years for the Billboard Hot 100 charted songs. Billboard compiled a list of its Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs. It featured Santana's song “Maria, Maria” coming in at #96. It also placed at #2 on their list of Billboard Hot 100 Latin Songs of All Time. From their mega-selling album “Supernatural” the song features The Product G&B, an R&B duo. This is the second #1 single from that album which stayed at the top of the chart for 10 weeks. It won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

“Oye Como Va” (1970)

It’s been featured a number of times on the hit TV show, “Dancing with the Stars” during their Latin dance routines, especially the cha-cha-cha. The title “Oye Como Va” is colloquial Spanish for "hey, what's up" or "how's it going". Originally the song was written and composed by the mambo and Latin jazz musician, Tito Puente in 1963. Santana's cover version comes from their second successful album “Abraxas.”

NPR included the song from its numerous arrangements, remakes, and various tempos in their "NPR 100: The most important American musical works of the 20th century." Overall, it's a song that is unforgettable, because of its classic rhythm and tempo of cha-cha-cha. Even though this song has been covered by Latin musicians in the last forty years, it's Santana's version that is the most widely recognized.

“Soul Sacrifice” (1969)

If you want to see music history in the making, here is their performance of an instrumental piece from the “Woodstock” documentary film that helped catapult Santana into the higher stratosphere of superstardom. Sadly, we do not hear this kind of fiercely tight musicianship in today's music whatsoever due to high-technology massively taking over. The most famous part of the song, and in the film, is the drum solo by their drummer, Michael Shrieve. “Soul Sacrifice” is featured on their debut album “Santana.”

A reissue of the 2004 Legacy Edition features the entire "live" Woodstock set. The editing of the crowd, the drummer, and the other musicians in this Woodstock documentary performance gives it that frenzied excitement when you see it to the end. An absolutely unforgettable performance!

“Black Magic Woman” (1970)

One of two cover songs featured on this top 10 list, it was originally written by Peter Green for Fleetwood Mac. It had minor success on the charts in the U.K. Santana's version is a medley from the 1967 “Gypsy Queen” with Gabor Szabo. You can hear a mixture of jazz, Latin rhythms, and Hungarian folk music. The single is from their #1 album “Abraxas.” “Black Magic Woman” is one of Santana's biggest hits. This version is now used as a music video game in “Guitar Hero III” and “Guitar Hero: On Tour.”

“Smooth” (1999) (feat. Rob Thomas)

What the Woodstock music festival and film did for Santana at the start of their career, the “Supernatural” album and this #1 single took them to a whole new level for the 21st century. It's the first of many featured artists to perform alongside Carlos Santana. Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty wrote the song originally intended for George Michael.

When Carlos heard the demo by Rob, he wanted him for the final version instead. “Smooth” was the first chart-topping song for Santana's long-standing career since “Black Magic Woman” peaked at #4 in 1971. The song won three major Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. From the Billboard magazine rankings of the top songs over the first fifty years of the Hot 100 singles, “Smooth” was ranked as the number-two song overall, second only to “The Twist.” It is the number one rock song in the history of the chart.

Santana has proven to the world they can go the distance in the highly competitive and ever- changing music industry. They have been fortunate enough to have massive hit singles, albums, and concerts. Always experimenting and exploring new musical avenues that were not as commercially successful for them initially, but have stood the test of time to this very day.

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