Released: September 1970
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 88
Certified 4x Platinum: 11/21/86
Carlos Santana is one of the three new guitarists who border on B. B. King's cleanliness. His only two contemporaries are Eric Clapton and Michael Bloomfield, but Santana is playing Latin music and there are no other Latin bands using lead guitars. The paradoxical thing about Santana has been their acceptance by a teenybop audience that digs Grand Funk and Ten Years After when they should be enjoyed by people who are into Chicago and John Mayall.
The heart of Santana is organist Gregg Roli and bassist Dave Brown, who hold the rhythm together over which the percussion can jam and bounce. Timables, congas (Puerto Rican) and drums take off on Brown's rhythm and then Santana himself comes in to make his statements on lead guitar.
Carlos Santana is a Chicano and he loves the guitar, which has always been used heavily in Mexican music. He has perfected a style associated with blues and cool jazz and crossed it with Latin music. It works well, because the band is one of the tightest units ever to walk into a recording studio. Of white bands, only Chicago can equal their percussion, but Chicago is held together by horns, while Santana is held together by timbales and congas.
"Oye Como Va" is the highlight of the album. It's only weakness is that Roli's fine organ has been mixed too low. This is a different trip for Santana, much more into the styles of the younger Puerto Rican musicians in New York, like Orchestra DJ and Ray Olan, and father from the Sly trip that dominated their first album. Unless you really dig Latin music or some fo the middle period work of Herbie Mann and the Jazz Messengers, you may not enjoy this cut or the album at all.
Abraxas is one of the new independent productions for Columbia done at Wally Heider's studio, and bass player Dave Brown did much of the engineering. The album he has helped to come up with may lose Santana some of their younger audience, but is bound to win them respect from people interested in Latin jazz music. On Abraxas, Santana is a popularized Mongo Santamaria and they might do for Latin music what Chuck Berry did for the blues.
The major Latin bands in this country gig for $100 a night, and when you see them, you can't sit still. If Santana can reach the pop audience with Abraxas, then perhaps there will be room for the old masters like La Lupe and Puente to work it on out at the ballrooms. But for now, Abraxas is a total boogie and the music is right from start to finish.
- Jim Nash, Rolling Stone, 12-24-70.
Carlos Santana and his band play a hard-edged amalgam of rock and Latin music. As with anything stylized, its point can be missed. Heard casually, it leaves the impression that rhythm is everything, but that's not quite the case. Santana is an excellent guitarist, producing a sound almost as clean as Michael Bloomfield's and moodier than just about anybody's Gregg Roli's organ work seems to hold the band together -- and it is together, one of the tightest rock bands in the country. Given that kind of backdrop, the drums and more exotic rhythm instruments can go freewheeling along, and they do. Santana obviously doesn't care avidly about vocals, using them only to separate the jams, but the vocals are actually pretty good.
Santana's moody guitar works best in "Black Magic Woman" -- listen to it carefully sometime. Roli's organ is best spotlighted in "Hope You're Feeling Better." The whole band seems to work best with "Oye como va," which is less rock and more Latin. This was the first time I had listened intently to Santana's music (for some reason, I tend to half-listen to music with Latin rhythms), but it won't be the last.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 6/71.
- Billboard, 1970.
On the debut most of the originals were credited to the "Santana Band"; this time individual members claim individual compositions. Can this mean somebody thought about these melodies (and lyrics!) before they sprung from the collective unconscious? In any case, they've improved. And in any case, the best ones are by Peter Green, Gabor Szabo, and Tito Puente, none of whome is known to be a member of the Santana Band. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
This is where it all began -- the quintessential Latin-rock milestone laid the groundwork with moody, mystical arrangements ("Singing Winds," "Crying Beasts"), soaring guitar solos ("Samba Pa Ti"), funky beats ("Oye Como Va"), superb production and the best big percussion section in the business. Carlos created a rhythm and zone few artists have since equaled -- it's pulse-pounding get-on-your-feet-and-move music, and it makes a devil out of you. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Santana were the pioneers of Latin rock, and their polyrhythmic stew combined with Carlos Santana's intense Bolero-like guitar soloing made them heroes to the progressives of every race in the late sixties and early seventies. Abraxas, their second album, was where they really came into their own -- the percussive forays, hypnotic guitar, and Latin rhythms inaugurated on their debut were driven to new heights by an expanded rhythm section and more focused songwriting. Santana, who were an oddity in 1969, became popular with Abraxas and brought the simmering sounds of the Latin ghetto into the mainstream. But along with it, they also carried hints of very professional-styled white rock, mostly courtesy of keyboardist Greg Rolie (who later went on to form Journey), who wrote the more conventional rock ballads like "Mother's Daughter" and "Hope You're Feeling Better." This gave Santana the proper mix of ethnic influences to be successful on virtually every level -- both as a pop success and as progressive innovators.
In the midst of the swirling Afro-Cuban rhythms that adorn Abraxas, there are traces of blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock. A perfect example is their adaptation of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman" -- in the hands of the Mac it was a conventional blues, but in the hands of Santana it became a strenuous exorcism of raw passion and intensity. The guitar solo burned all over the airwaves for months, sealing Santana's fate in classic-rock heaven for ever after. "Oye Como Va," a cover of a Tito Puente song, was similarly transformed into a hammering riff complete with greasy organ learned in the dives of Oakland where the band earned its chops. Not surprisingly, it followed "Black Magic Woman" up the charts. Almost as if to ascertain its basic garage-band origins, years later, Olympia indie-punk realists Beat Happening would lift the riff exactly for "Redhead Walking."
The songs "Incident at Nashabur" and "Samba Pa Ti" were Santana's attempts at straight-up progressiveness, in this case the kind of noodling fusion that was being practiced by people like John McLaughlin, Weather Report and Herbie Hancock (all by-products of Miles Davis's innovations on Bitches Brew, actually). Over outstretched polyrhythms provided by the band's well-stocked percussive section, guitars and keyboards construct a mosaic of percolating precision, Santana himself would pursue this direction further, both within the band construct as well as with people like McLaughlin and Buddy Miles. However, it's questionable whether he would ever match the Latin jazz-rock fusion perfected on Abraxas.
The cover was quite an eyeful as well, with its slightly more-obscene-than-National Geographic nude woman reclined on the cover and liner notes like "we called her bitch and whore," which made a few hippies horny back in the day and proved that these were definitely the days before Carlos Santana's own conversion to Sri Chimnoy -- which is probably why Abraxas is the group's best album: It's a sinner's serenade as hot-blooded as a Latin sundown, a regular pagan's feast.
Abraxas was voted the 85th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.
- Joe S. Harrington, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.
"Black Magic Woman," the Top Five hit from Abraxas, is definitive Santana: Afro-Latin grooves and piercing lyrical psychedelic blues guitar. It was a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song written by one of Carlos Santana's guitar heroes, Peter Green. The album's other hit was also a cover: Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."
Abraxas was chosen as the 205th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Fusing African and Latin rhythms with rock and roll more successfully than probably any other recording artist of his day, Carlos Santana's second album, recorded at Wally Heider Studio in San Francisco, woke the world up to the potential of music that crossed genre and territorial boundaries.
The follow up to Santana, the band's hugely successful debut album, Abraxas is a mesmerizing record, with subtle, laid back grooves melding effortlessly with modern rock and all performed with a Latin twist. African rhythms are in abundance on songs such as "El Nicoya," while the Latin sound is ever present on tracks like "Samba Pa Ti." But the pure rock sound is never far away either, with "Hope You're Feeling Better" amply illustrating Santana's dexterity with a rock-styled guitar riff.
Abraxas also features two of Santana's best known tracks, "Black Magic Woman" by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green -- who also played informally with the band -- which blends seamlessly with "Gypsy Queen," written by Gabor Szabo, one of Santana's heroes, and Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va." Both songs were big hits in the US, reaching Number Four and Number 13 respectively, while the album topped the US charts and stayed there for an impressive six weeks. In the UK the album peaked at Number Seven.
As of 2004, Abraxas was the #48 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
Santana did did the scene proud, crafting a sophomore record that voyaged beyond rock into jazz and salsa on the beat of a pounding Latin heart. Despite being the face of the band, Carlos and his impeccable guitar were merely components in a supremely gifted outfit, and on Abraxas, each member of the band made his presence felt. Gregg Rolie supplied the articulate, seductive organ grooves that made "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" instant radio classics, and composed the stomping rockers "Mother's Daughter" and "Hope You're Feeling Better," with Carlos' signature riffs soaring high above. Bassist Dave Brown and drummer Mike Shrieve laid the bedrock of what was quickly becoming one of the tightest rhythm sections known to man, and paved the road for the exuberant timbals and congas of Mike Carabello and Jose Areas.
Upon the release of Abraxas, Rolling Stone opined that Santana "might do for Latin music what Chuck Berry did for the blues." When the album rode to No. 1 on the back of the tightest grooves the rock establishment had ever heard, it seemed even that prediction was somewhat modest.
- Matthew Oshinsky, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.
With the introductory single "Evil Ways" and this explosive follow-up album, Carlos Santana and his namesake band made the crossroads of Latin dance music and rock into one of the most happening spots in the musical universe.
It was a zone of endless roiling percussion, magical extended guitar journeys, and rhythm that swayed like the hips of Mother Earth herself. If, as some in the press enthused, Santana was bringing revolution, it was with a sound as old as the hills. Tito Puente's "Oye como va," one of two chart-topping hits here, turns on a steady, effortlessly synchronized son montuno rhythm played exactly the way the Latin dance bands of the '50s did it. Except where Puente's brass usually saunters in to relieve the vocalist, Santana's version busts out the guitar like a streak of blue light, spinning a melody that fills the air with psychedelic flowers.
Likewise, the other FM favorite, "Black Magic Woman," fully integrates "rock" and "Latin" into one mighty pulse. Elsewhere on Abraxas, the group stretches in ways far more imaginative than the '90s jam bands ever did (for proof see the instrumental "Incident at Neshabur," a suitelike showcase for the oscillating organ of Gregg Rolie).
Key to the enterprise is Santana, whose guitar has limitless powers of persuasion. Unlike those axmen who lean on the instrument's stun-gun attributes, Santana treats his guitar as a spirit vessel, fashioning long sustained tones into laser beams that cut right into the center of the music. Later, during the lean years of the '80s, the guitar and the percussion were the main reasons to listen to his bands. Here, though, Santana can practically coast, because everything's clicking.
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
"Black Magic Woman," the Top Five hit from Abraxas, is definitive Santana: Afro-Latin grooves and piercing psychedelic blues guitar. It's a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song written by Peter Green, one of Carlos Santana's heroes. The other hit: Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."
Abraxas was chosen as the 334th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
Main Page | The Classic 500 | Readers' Favorites | Other Seventies Discs | Search The RockSite/The Web