Open thread July 5, 2019 Dan Crawford | July 5, 2019 8:36 pm Tags: open thread Comments (1) | Digg Facebook Twitter |
Great song. Fascinating story.
” How the Santana and Rob Thomas Song ‘Smooth’ Became as Essential as Sex
The song turns 20 on June 29, 2019. The people who made it happen explain how the song came to life, and why, according to Santana, it “belongs with something that people need every day.”
“I listen to it, and it’s like, ‘Oh! it’s like a song!’” says bassist Benny Rietveld. “We were used to just recording jams.”
“The only thing that I remember is just trying to get it to feel right,” adds drummer Rodney Holmes. “Just doing your job: You show up at the studio, you’ve learned the music. So now, it’s ‘Let’s execute.’ And that was it.”
Simple in theory. Yet it’s worth pausing for a moment to point out that the musicians on “Smooth” are not exactly a gaggle of toothless vagabonds, busking for quarters. They are elite, hall-of-fame-level players with eye-popping resumés and decades of experience. This is perhaps an obvious point, but it’s also one of the most important—and overlooked—aspects of the song’s success.
Consider, for example, keyboardist Chester Thompson, who played with the precision-funk outfit Tower of Power for years before joining Santana’s band; or trumpet player Julius Melendez, who spent a decade in the U.S. Navy band before a stint with the Grateful Dead; or Rietveld, who in the 1980s toured around the world with Miles Davis.
All the calculated machinations and luck and chemistry powering “Smooth” up to this point would have meant nothing without this trove of talent. Santana’s musicians weren’t just hired guns. Through years of playing together, they’d developed little cues and signals and in-jokes—a whole dialect whose phrases and fragments are sprinkled throughout the song. This is apparent when the entire percussion section, acting with one shared brain, pulls back the timing on the iconic introductory drum fill, almost like a slingshot. Or listen to how the bass and keys seem to coquettishly beckon you forward, or how the track sustains its precise momentum, even as its outro explodes into unbridled chaos.
“We play like there’s no tomorrow,” Santana says. “We play like if you’re gonna get a heart attack by getting to that note, then gosh darn it, get the heart attack. But get the note.”