Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time
Santana
2010

Carlos Santana has been a cultural icon for 40 years. But how much do we really know about him? Let’s check the record.

Yay! Carlos Santana Fun Facts!

  • Has released more albums than The Rolling Stones, and they had a head start.
  • Wears a stupid hat.
  • Recorded the most popular versions of three Classic Rock mainstays: “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and “Black Magic Marker.”
  • Made a comeback in 1999 with Supernatural, which was kinda cuddly coming from a Classic Rock guy.
  • Rolling Stone ranks him 15th on their list of 100 greatest guitarists, behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
  • I may be looking at the wrong list.

Guitar Heaven is a reinterpretation of 14 “greatest guitar classics of all time,” with guest vocalists (and Yo-Yo Ma?) adding their superpowers to Carlos Santana’s. Now we can learn more about Santana, and the first thing we learn is that he has brain damage. When did T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong” become a guitar classic? It has more sax than guitar. It has more lame than cool. It’s Golden Oldies, not Classic Rock. I couldn’t understand why this number was included until I remembered that T-Rex’s Marc Bolan, like Santana, wore a stupid hat. Oh, OK then.

Then there’s “Photograph.” Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t “Photograph” by A Flock of Haircuts. I would’ve loved to hear what a Category 6 hurricane like Santana could have done with that New Wave dirge. Nor is it “Photograph” by The Verve Pipe. The guitar on that one is as lazy as an afternoon at Starbucks. Santana would’ve turned it into Alien vs. Predator. Alas, this is “Photograph” by No Depth Leppard. If you have to pick something by Leppard, why not “Rock of Ages”? It’s a much tougher song, probably because the lads were imitating someone a lot tougher than them, Joan Jett. Santana sounds bored on this track. Santana smash puny Leppards!

And couldn’t he fight the urge to include “Smoke on the Water”Rolling Stone ranks this immortal doorstop 426th on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” By my math that means there are 425 other songs that are better. “Smoke on the Water” has already been covered by Pat Boone. I believe we can call his version definitive. Stop it!

Shut up and play the music already
Right. OMG! Leading off is the most hilarious song ever recorded: “Whole Lotta Love”! Led Zeppelin’s version enthusiastically rattled along like a Model T on a log road. Santana easily duplicates that effect, brightening Jimmy Page’s sound without blunting the song’s inherent stupidity. (You’re going to give me every inch of your love? You nut!) Santana jettisons the psychedelic on-ramp that Led Zep installed in the middle, but the replacement, a sort of highway rest area, is not an improvement. You’re still waiting for the pistons to start jerking again. Chris Cornell adds his strong yet curiously inexpressive voice, making the whole thing sound like Audioslave if anyone in that band could play guitar.

Next up: The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Santana sizzles in the blues half of this song but loses his way in the jazz half. This from the man who played one of the two guitars on the jazz landmark Love Devotion Surrender…I blame Supernatural. Extra credit to Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots for standing in for Mick Jagger without sounding ridiculous.

Of all the vocalists, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty turns in the best performance. He’s completely convincing on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the music gives him the space he needs – Santana doesn’t fill every microsecond with fireworks. These well-chosen moments of quiet demonstrate what an awesome guitarist Santana is – one of the best in the history of pop. Only his stupid hat keeps him out of the front rank.

My favorite track is Santana and Nas’ collaboration on AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” (Sure, they’ve removed the air of danger, but admit it, after 30 years AC/DC are about as dangerous as The B-52s.) Santana rips the bones from its back. Nas alternates between rapping the lyrics and rapping about Santana.

Anything else any good? No.
Santana purees Creedence Clearwater Revival’s anti-war “Fortunate Son” into a fruit smoothie that suggests The Spencer Davis Group’s pro-sex “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Scott Stapp of Creed handles the vocal on this track, but for once something isn’t Creed’s fault.

Which brings us to Yo-Yo Ma, who adds something to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though I can’t tell you what. He would’ve made more of a difference on the drums. The song is so sluggish you gradually lose the will to live.

And what’s the deal with “Little Wing”? Joe Cocker’s voice is mixed so far into the background, he sounds like Bruce Springsteen. Or was he singing his part from out in the parking lot? This version of “Little Wing” can’t touch Jimi Hendrix’s or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, though it easily outpaces Sting’s La-Z-Boy go at it.

Scoreboard totals
25% of the 14 songs on Guitar Classics rawked (I gave “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” half a point). That’s a solid score in the elite world of Run-DMSteve. A tip of the hat to Santana! Don’t change your evil ways. Baby.

Comments
  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    I checked out this disc and I gotta say, that Santana guy sure knows how to play guitar. He’s no Clapton of course, but quite good in his own inimitable way.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Clapton vs. Santana! Clapton did his best work when he was matched with a comparable guitarist (Duane Allman) or a resident genius (Jack Bruce, Stevie Winwood). Santana never had a guitarist at all like him in his band, but he did record Love, Devotion, Surrender with John McLaughlin, and I think that’s a helluva record. Santana has had a more varied and deeper career than Clapton, but Clapton at his peak has been towering. Santana is Willie Mays, Clapton is Mickey Mantle.

  2. extraspeciald says:

    I’m SpecialD, and I approve of stupid hats.

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