Or as it would be better known, Santana’s Greatest Hits. Seriously, bung 2000’s “Smooth” on the end and you’re or more or less set.
In 1969, Carlos Santana (nearly) stole Woodstock. He certainly had dibs on it for a bit. He followed it up with two hit singles and an instrumental debut album. But at just 22 years’ old, Carlos Santana managed to consolidate all that with “Abraxas”.
It starts humbly, with the gentle and inviting instrumental “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts”, but goes in full throttle with the chillingly exciting “Black Magic Woman”, a Fleetwood Mac cover (no, I didn’t know that either). It’s the longest track on the album, and certainly the landmark. It channels Santana’s Latin roots with an unmistakable mix of B.B. King.
By the way, check out this gorgeous recent cover version.
“Oye Como Va” reached the same classic radio anthem status, despite being almost entirely instrumental. Again, it was a cover, this time of Tito Puente, and it’s where the Latin influence shines proudest on the album. “Incident at Neshapur” mixes freeform jazz with some wildly Hendrix-esque mashing, but never forgets where it came from.
Side B begins with “Se Acabó”, a juicy little rock stomper, and “Mother’s Daughter” and the more conventional (but far from dull) “Hope You’re Feeling Better” give the second half of the album a harder rock edge. Still, they’re split against the gorgeous “Samba Pa Ti” (one of Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs) and the gentle Latin beats of “El Nicoya”, which closes the album.
Abraxas has been recognised through the years as a big-balls classic album. The US Library of Congress listed it as culturally significant and preserved it in the National Recording Registry, while Rolling Stone magazine said at the time that Santana “might do for Latin music what Chuck Berry did for the blues”. Which seems reasonable on the back of listening to this.
“Abraxas” has made its mark as an album classic. As it stands, it’s 37 minutes of simply joyful Latin blues rock.