Santana feat. Rob Thomas – Smooth

First Hit #1: October 23, 1999

The ’90s end with Smooth, taking the slightly annoying frontman of Matchbox 20 and putting him in front of Carlos Santana’s typically pretty fantastic guitar work. It’s one of those songs that seems somewhat cynical on the surface. Latin pop was huge in ’99, and this is certainly putting Santana’s Latin side at the forefront. Matchbox 20 was popular too, though not at the same level – though it garnered a certain degree of critical backlash and Rob Thomas was probably best in small doses – I appreciate how much distortion he’s buried in during the verses, he can get really grating if left unchecked.

But, for something that could easily be cynical, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Smooth. The lyrics are certainly goofy, but they’re also oddly quotable and kind of fun. The Latin influence is certainly a big movement at the time, but Santana knows what he’s doing and he’s pretty damn great on guitar – which really drives the song, whether or not we have Thomas there or not. It’s certainly watered down Santana, and even arguably watered down Thomas, and that’s part of the reason it could become such a massive hit. Smooth is, in a way, a testament to the power of great mediocrity. No one element is the best of its ilk, and it doesn’t really go too far outside of the norm, but it’s well done enough in its many disparate elements that it can appeal to lots of people.

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3 Responses to Santana feat. Rob Thomas – Smooth

  1. RBerman says:

    Several notable things about this song beyond its chart longevity (12 weeks at number one, an amazing 30 weeks in the top ten):

    First, Matchbox 20 were huge in 1997 and 1998, but the “single must be available for sale” rule kept them, and everyone else from the “alternative rock” world, off this chart at the time it mattered most. As a result, this track is the first evidence we’ve seen (at #1) that that whole musical movement existed.

    Second, we see how quickly Rob Thomas jumped ship for a solo career. I never understood either the immense enthusiasm for him that turned into the massive backlash of which you spoke. He’s a decent rock vocalist with a Jim Morrison pout that I guess did something for some people, one way or another.

    Third, Carlos Santana seems like a guy who plays for fun, whether or not anybody is listening or buying. Somebody probably noticed that Latin music was gaining steam, and Santana amiably agreed to record another album populated by guest stars from the hoary Eric Clapton to the then-unknown Cee-Lo Green. For whatever reason, this track with Rob Thomas was the one that caught fire. Good for Santana. I’m a guitarist myself, and I’ve appreciated his work for years, so I don’t begrudge his success on this track, even though it seems more like Rob Thomas f/ Santana than the other way around.

    The lyrics are a pleasant enough mix of passion and fidelity, with a brief allusion to Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrOu0oc9aB4) in the first verse to tie into the Spanish/Latin theme of the music.

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