The year is 1967, and Carlos Santana forms his Latin Rock band at the height of the flower power revolution in San Francisco. After a couple of rough years, they got their big break, and were the only band to play at Woodstock without releasing a record. But, their performance went down in history, and the band never looked back. Twenty-three studio albums and 90 million record sales followed.
There have been over 70 members of the band since its inception, with Carlos remaining at the helm throughout. But, despite all the personnel changes, you can instantly tell you are listening to a Santana track the moment you hear that heavenly guitar.
In over five decades, Carlos and his bandmates have gifted us with an amazing catalog of timeless songs. So, here are what I consider to be the best in my list of the top 10 Santana Songs. Enjoy.
- Top 10 Santana Songs
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- Top 10 Santana Songs – Final Thoughts
Top 10 Santana Songs
Soul Sacrifice (1969)
It’s no exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for their appearance at Woodstock in 1969, Santana would not be the household name they are today. At the time, they hadn’t even released an LP. And, they were only on the bill because their manager had other bands playing at the festival too.
Santana closed their Woodstock set with “Soul Sacrifice.” It was this performance that put them on the musical map. It’s an instrumental track featuring amazing guitar interplay between Carlos and Greg Rollie. As well as infectious conga drums and an incredible drumming performance from the writer of the song, Mike Shrieve.
The song was never released as a single. But it appeared on the Woodstock soundtrack album. That helped propel the band to a wider audience and dramatically increase sales of their debut album. “Soul Sacrifice” was quite literally where it all began.
Evil Ways (1969)
“Evil Ways” was released as a single in 1969. It was Santana’s first Top 10 hit, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song is from the band’s debut album, Santana, which was released in the same year.
It was the band’s first real hit and cemented the Latin Rock groove that would become their signature sound. The song was included in Santana’s Woodstock set and went down so well that the band released it as a single shortly after.
The lyrics of the song are about a cheating woman who has to change her evil ways before the protagonist will have anything more to do with her. The song has been covered by many other artists. And it has been featured in many movies, television shows, and commercials. Its enduring legacy has ensured its place as a staple of classic rock radio and a permanent fan favorite.
Black Magic Woman (1970)
“Black Magic Woman” was originally written by Fleetwood Mac guitarist and singer Peter Green in 1968. The song became a hit for Santana in 1970 when they released their version as a single. The song reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is considered one of Santana’s signature songs.
Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman” features Carlos Santana’s distinctive guitar playing, which is heavily influenced by his Latin heritage. The song’s melody is built around a repeating guitar riff which is accompanied by a driving Latin percussion section. Carlos Santana’s guitar solo in the middle of the song is widely considered one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
It’s a perfect showcase of his virtuosity…
The song’s lyrics describe a mysterious and seductive woman who uses her sexuality to control men. Although “Black Magic Woman” was written by Peter Green, it was made famous by Santana’s version. The song has stood the test of time, and it’s still considered one of the greatest Rock songs of all time.
Oye Como Va (1971)
Santana had a real talent for taking someone else’s song, making it their own, and turning it into a hit. Originally, “Oye Como Va” was written by the Latin jazz musician Tito Puente in 1963. But, it became a hit for Santana in 1970, when they included it on their album Abraxas. The song reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is undoubtedly one of the most popular Santana songs.
Santana’s version of “Oye Como Va” is a prime example of the band’s ability to blend Latin rhythms with Rock and Jazz. The song features a driving, danceable tempo alongside a combination of electric guitar and percussion that creates a distinct Latin-infused sound.
Furthermore, Carlos Santana’s guitar playing is particularly noteworthy on this track. His solo adds an extra layer of energy and excitement to the proceedings. The lyrics of the song, written in Spanish, are about enjoying life and dancing to the rhythms of music. And the title translates to “Listen How It Goes.”
Everybody’s Everything (1971)
This is one groovy track from start to finish. The band brought in the Tower of Power horns section as guest musicians on the track to amazing effect. There must be 11 or 12 musicians all playing on this one, yet at no point does it sound too busy.
As the song title doesn’t appear in the lyrics, fans refer to this one as “Time for you to all get down” after a line in the song. And that’s just what you feel like doing when you hear this track. It’s a joyous celebration of life, encouraging the listener to dance and let their spirit be free. And that is enough of a reason to include it among the Top 10 Santana songs.
No One to Depend On (1971)
This largely instrumental track was the second single released from Santana’s 1971 album Santana III. By this stage in their career, the band had evolved into what’s considered by fans to be their ultimate line-up.
Carlos and Neil Schon tear it up on guitar alongside percussion geniuses José Chepito Areas and Mike Carabello. Gregg Rolie is hammering the keyboard and singing, with bassist David Brown and the legendary Michael Shrieve drumming his heart out.
And what a combination that was…
The track starts slowly. But it builds into a crescendo of audio heaven with so much going on from all sides. You almost hear something new every time you play it. Look out for the back-and-forth duel between guitars and bass that holds the second part of the track together. Incendiary stuff, indeed.
It wasn’t one of the band’s best-selling singles, peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. But, if you want to hear the best version of Santana at the peak of their powers, “No One to Depend On” is a wonderful place to start.
Samba Pa Ti (1973)
“Samba Pa Ti” is a track taken from their 1970 album Abraxas which, for some reason, it wasn’t released as a single until 1973. It failed to chart in the US but broke into the Top 40 in the Netherlands (#11), Germany (#33), and the UK (#27).
It’s another instrumental track written exclusively by Carlos Santana. He describes it as the first song he could call his own. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of music, with Carlos’s virtuoso guitar soloing the whole way through. There is backup from the rest of the band, but it’s minimal at best, allowing Carlos’s heavenly riffs to take center stage.
It’s the kind of song that gives you goosebumps if you love the electric guitar. Santana’s mastery of his instrument is on full display here. Check out “Song of the Wind” from their 1972 album Caravanserai for a similar display of guitar wizardry.
She’s Not There (1977)
Originally written by British Rock band The Zombies in 1964, Santana included a cover of the song on their 1977 album Moonflower. As they have managed to do throughout their career, Santana demonstrated their ability to take someone else’s song and make it their own by adding their unique sound to the mix.
From the opening riff and Latin beats to the awesome guitar solos that pop up throughout, there’s no question that this has now become a Santana song, even if it’s a cover. The song was a reasonable hit for the band peaking at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and making the Top 10 in multiple European markets.
This classic Santana song featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty on vocals was released as a single in 1999. It became a massive hit reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks. Amazingly, this was the band’s first #1 in the US. The song was the lead single from the album Supernatural. It won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
The song combines elements of Rock, R&B, and Salsa…
It has a catchy, upbeat tempo and a memorable chorus that helped make it a massive commercial success. The lyrics of the song speak about a woman who is so smooth, the protagonist will do almost anything to make her his woman.
“Give me your heart, make it real, or just forget about it” is a line that is imprinted in the consciousness of anyone who was around at the time.
“Smooth” became Santana’s biggest hit song and helped to revitalize the band’s career. It’s one of the most commercially successful songs of all time, having sold over four million hard and digital copies worldwide. Additionally, it continues to be played regularly on radio stations to this day.
Maria Maria (2000)
From the smash hit album Supernatural onward, Santana collaborated with many different artists to create crossover hits. And, 2000’s “Maria Maria” was one of the most successful. Here, he teamed up with Wyclef Jean and the Hip-Hop duo Product G&B to create a sound like nothing he had done before.
The track features a Wu-Tang Clan-inspired melody. And it sampled the drum beat from “God Made Me Funky” by Herbie Hancock’s band The Headhunters. Carlos chips in with some beautiful acoustic Spanish guitar before letting rip with some electric chops for good measure. He even spits a few rhymes.
The Hip-Hop/Latin guitar crossover wasn’t perhaps to the taste of traditional Santana fans. But, it proved hugely popular amongst a wider audience. Following hot on the heels of “Smooth,” the other smash from Supernatural, it spent a staggering ten weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has sold over 2.6 million hard copies and over a million digital downloads.
Need More Great Music from Great Musicians?
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Top 10 Santana Songs – Final Thoughts
As I’m sure you will agree, Santana has done as much as anyone to shape music in one of its most vital eras and beyond. He is a true musical pioneer. Carlos is always looking to push the envelope and challenge the idea of what Rock music can be. Hope you enjoyed our selections. And please feel free to suggest any tracks you feel deserved a place on this list in the comments below.
Until next time, happy listening.