Santana – Abraxas (1970)
Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! Today we’re going to take a listen to an album that hasn’t been on my list of albums to listen to for long but its impact is hard to overstate, Abraxas by Santana. Many people know Santana for his contribution to Rob Thomas’ song “Smooth” in the late 1990s, and a strong subset of that group probably know about his band that performed at Woodstock in 1969, months after their self-titled debut. Abraxas comes hot on the heels of Santana but it comes with a more refined, artistic style. A lot of the songs could be classified as progressive rock for their stylistic fusion across the record and occasionally odd application of solos and musical composition. Prog usually excludes bands like Santana because they didn’t make a traditional rock sound like Yes or Rush, but, arguably, prog rock is all about pushing the boundaries of what we can call rock. Santana did that really well on Abraxas in between creating some more traditional, face-melting rock songs.
This is a mind-blowing album and I’m genuinely surprised that it’s not often mentioned publicly as one of the heavyweights of early 1970s rock. Everyone knows Santana for their few big singles, but are left out in favor of albums by other groups like Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. Abraxas went platinum five times! How can an album go platinum five times and miss out of the mainstream?! For reference, in 1970, Led Zeppelin III went six-times platinum and Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Let It Be by The Beatles BOTH went four-times platinum. Abraxas outsold Let It Be. Let that sink in for a second.
Santana had their hits, two of which feature on this album, but this whole record is a rock and roll journey that keeps giving. The combination of Latin, jazz, and blues elements with rock make this such an interesting album to listen to and will keep you entranced the whole way through. Each song feels like an independent piece but they all work together to create a cohesive piece of music. The guitar work is nothing short of incredible and I have high praise for the early 1970s sound. There’s a lot of keyboard-forward sound on some tracks that was popular for the time, particularly for groups like The Doors, The Yardbirds, and The Animals, but Santana made the traditional rock sound all their own. It’s a little early to start calling this one of the best albums of the year, but I don’t think many albums will get this close to perfect. Please enjoy the iconic, innovative Santana.
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Singing Winds, Crying Beasts: What a way to start an album! If you’ve never listened to Santana before picking this record up and heard this opening you might think that they were a progressive rock group (more on that later), because the Latin sound isn’t immediately apparent and really doesn’t come up much in this song. I love the titling of the song with what the band ended up putting together. Singing winds represented by the chimes with crying beasts represented by the loud guitar intrusions. This is a creative choice to open an album from a creative band and it works really well. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen: Goodness gracious. Santana turned up the heat with “Black Magic Woman” to create a beautiful Latin-inspired, blues rock song. Some singles are big for a reason, and this one deserves all of its attention. It’s a beautiful combination of a soft samba and a shredding guitar track. The back half of the song is “Gypsy Queen” and doesn’t get as much airplay as the front half, but its volume contributes significantly to the juxtaposition against the quieter “Black Magic Woman.” Smoooooooth. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Oye Como Va: The second big hit off of Abraxas was this song, “Oye Como Va.” Continuing the theme from “Black Magic Woman,” there’s a seamless integration of traditional blues rock elements with Lain backing instrumentation. I’ll highlight the keyboard on this song because it absolutely rocks. Not enough bands give the keyboardist a solo, but the playfulness between the keyboardist, Greg Rollie, and Carlos Santana’s solo afterwards is infectious and they play well off of each other. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Incident at Neshabur: I loved “Incident at Neshabur,” and I’d highlight it as one of two really good hidden gems on the album. This is an instrumental track that plays into the progressive rock realm. The keyboard forward sound and odd times signatures, combined with Santana’s samba sound and a sample of an Aretha Franklin song are a perfect blend of prog rock for me and make this a weird little number. I would have been interested to hear a whole album of songs like this. This is a great hidden gem for anyone interested in a different kind of Santana sound and shows great depth of musicianship on the part of the band. Dad’s Rating 8/10
Se a Cabo: I had to skip over “Se a Cabo” a few times writing this album review because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Objectively, it’s a good rock track that showcases what the band represented with their fusion rock sound. On the other side of that, it doesn’t stand out among the other songs on the record. I think there’s better representations of the ‘Santana sound,’ and “Se a Cabo” gets lost in the mix. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Mother’s Daughter: “Mother’s Daughter” has a whirlwind of an opening that just doesn’t deliver through the rest of the track. I expected a fiery rock song, and while it’s good, it doesn’t live up to initial expectations. It has the same problem that “Se a Cabo” has, it gets lost in the middle of a lot of really good songs. Dad’s Rating 6/10
Samba Pa Ti: “Samba Pa Ti” shows that Santana took inspiration wherever it happened to be found, in this case coming from the jazz saxophone of someone playing outside Carlos Santana’s apartment. They hit the nail on the head trying to make a song that was a cross between a typical Santana-style rock song and a free-form jazz solo. The track is loose and easy going. It’s a very refreshing song in the middle of a complex album and a real joy. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Hope You’re Feeling Better: I’ve never listened to this song before this album review, but it has been on repeat for the past week. This is one of the best hidden gem rock songs on an album I’ve heard yet. It’s a classic rock song that strays from the band’s normal sound, and that may have been what caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting heavy use of fuzz (distortion) knowing Santana’s reputation and legitimately one of the best guitar solos I’ve reviewed. Santana lights up the fretboard on this track. It may be just another classic rock song, but I think this shows how invested the band were in the rock sound, and at the end of the day, they really turned the volume up to 11 here. Dad’s Rating 10/10
El Nicoya: “El Nicoya” is a huge shift away from “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” and I like to think that it shows the other side of the band’s influences. This is a straight Latin song featuring conga drums at the front of the band. When you pair the two songs and think back to the rest of the album where the styles of these two songs were paired together, you come to realize that they did a really good job of putting together styles of music that are fundamentally opposite. Job well done. Dad’s Rating 7/10
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