We have been prompted with one word titles this week for Song Lyric Sunday challenge, hosted by our good friend Jim Adams. I have to go with the perennial Santana and “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas. It’s hard for me to believe that this song is over 20 years old already! I hope you enjoy it. I know I never get tired of listening to it.
Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty wrote this with Itaal Shur, a songwriter and producer who has worked with Jewel, Robi Rosa and Maxwell (co-writing his first hit, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” Shur said in a Songfacts interview: “I was already active in the music business. I had some hit records with Maxwell and I was already touring the world with Groove Collective, so people knew me more in the underground scene, but I wasn’t as big as Rob Thomas, of course. My manager at the time told me that Pete Ganbarg, who was working at the time at Arista, he was looking for music for the new Santana record. At the time, I had my own band and was performing a lot around the city. I jumped at it because I grew up with an older brother who hipped me up to classic rock and I always loved Santana.
I went up to the office and I wanted to hear what they had first to see what kind of direction they were going for, and when I went up there I heard the Wyclef track, I heard the Dave Matthews track, I heard a couple of other tracks, and I realized there wasn’t the kind of track that was, in my opinion, a standard Santana groove like ‘Black Magic Woman,’ ‘Oye Como Va,’ ‘Evil Ways.’ So I went home and wrote this track on guitar with all the arrangements called ‘Room One Seven.’ It was about this couple that meet after a long time and have a little tryst in the hotel room.
I brought it to Arista and they loved the instrumental and they liked parts of the melodies, but they didn’t like the lyrics – they thought it was a little too sexual for Santana – so they asked me if I wanted to work with Rob Thomas. I didn’t know him; I’d heard a little bit about Matchbox Twenty. He happened to live at the time in Soho very close to me. He came over and he had already written the verses to the instrumental that Arista gave him. I had a chorus that had the same melody: ‘Room One Seven on the seventeenth floor. Take the elevator and I’ll meet you at the door.’ He didn’t have a chorus, so before he came, I changed the words around to, ‘Give me the ocean, give me the moon, give me something hot to make my body move,’ and this turned into the chorus that we all know.”
Thomas sang lead on this, but that wasn’t the plan. He had never written a song for someone else before, so he jumped at the chance to write a song with Shur for Santana, figuring it would boost his songwriting bona fides. When they finished the song, Thomas suggested George Michael, one of his musical heroes, as the vocalist. Arista Records ended up asking Thomas to do the vocals, and when he did, it was in Michael’s style. “If you listen to the melody and the cadence, it’s an attempt to emulate his style in so many ways,” he told Billboard.
When Thomas launched his solo career a few years later, he once again emulated Michael, who also made the transition from a group (Wham!) to a solo artist.
Many of the lyrics are Thomas’ ode to his wife, the former Marisol Maldonado, who is Puerto Rican. “My Mu Equita” translates to “My Little Doll” in Spanish; Thomas also calls her his “Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa.” Marisol appears in the video.
GQ published an “oral history” satire of this song in 2016, which is filled with confabulations like this quote from Rob Thomas: “I didn’t even know who Carlos Santana was at this point. I actually thought he was the guy that who was in charge of Libya.”
The song’s co-writer Itaal Shur told us: “The guitar solo from my demo, Santana copied that solo, which was a huge compliment and all the breaks were also on my demo. It was really weird, my demo was kind of like a template for the live band to play. They sped up the song two beats: it was like at 1/13 and went to 1/15 and it went from A Flat Minor to A Minor. They played it as a band and recorded it all live, pretty much. Me and Rob, when we were writing the song, the verses were fine, but we went through about four or five changes with the record company; from like, ‘Give me the ocean, give me the moon,’ ‘You’re just like the ocean…’ Pete Ganbarg, who if it wasn’t for him this song wouldn’t have come together because he put me and Rob together, he said some really good comments about the lyrics – he was an English major and really picky about lyrics. It was a really good collaboration.”
This won Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year at the 2000 Grammys. Supernatural also won for Best Rock Album and Album Of The Year. >>
Clive Davis is a legendary record executive who was the mastermind behind this album. Santana had not had a hit since “Hold On” in 1982, so Davis teamed him up with contemporary musicians like Wyclef Jean, Everlast and Lauryn Hill to make sure the younger generation took notice. The result was a wildly successful album that went over well with Santana’s old fans and created a legion of new ones. This was the first single, and it spent 12 weeks at #1 in the US.
Santana has the distinction of waiting the longest between his first charting single and first #1 hit. In 1969, “Tango” hit #56 in the US, and 30 years later this was #1.
The trend of aging rockers calling in hot young artists to give them contemporary appeal became known in the music press as “The Carlos Santana Effect,” thanks to his Supernatural success.
Marcus Raboy directed the music video. He also did the video for the Supernatural track “Maria Maria.”
Looking back on the song in 2020, Thomas told Songfacts: “I believe the best part of the whole process is that Carlos and I have become so close that we communicate just about every day. Always sending silly messages or song ideas or pics from our day. He’s been a great mentor but an even greater friend.”
Thomas found out this had been released as a single when he was standing on a street corner in Manhattan. A convertible full of girls pulled up with the song blasting on the car radio. He knew it was really big when he went to Los Angeles a short time later and encountered Jason Newsted of Metallica coming out of an elevator. Thomas told CBC Radio: “He came out of an elevator and was like, ‘Hey Rob’ – and I’d never met him – ‘Hey Rob, man, love that Carlos song.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, this has gone from New York hot girls to Metallica. There’s something happening here.”
LYRICS Man, it's a hot one Like seven inches from the midday sun Well, I hear you whispering in the words, to melt everyone But you stay so cool My muñequita, my Spanish Harlem, Mona Lisa You're my reason for reason The step in my groove And if you said this life ain't good enough I would give my world to lift you up I could change my life to better suit your mood Because you're so smooth And it's just like the ocean under the moon Oh, it's the same as the emotion that I get from you You got the kind of lovin' that can be so smooth, yeah Give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it But I'll tell you one thing If you would leave it would be a crying shame In every breath and every word I hear your name calling me out Out from the barrio You hear my rhythm on your radio You feel the turning of the world, so soft and slow It's turning you round and round And if you said this life ain't good enough I would give my world to lift you up I could change my life to better suit your mood Because you're so smooth And it's just like the ocean under the moon Oh, it's the same as the emotion that I get from you You got the kind of lovin' that can be so smooth, yeah Give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it And it's just like the ocean under the moon Oh, it's the same as the emotion that I get from you You got the kind of lovin' that can be so smooth, yeah Give me your heart, make it real or else forget about it Or else forget about it Or else forget about it Let's not forget about it Give me your heart, make it real Let's not forget about it Let's not forget about it Let's not forget about it Let's not forget about it Let's not forget about it
Courtesy of Songfacts