May 19 – Fresh Spins : The Deep End

Is 64 the new 44? Judging from Susanna Hoffs, it might well be. Nothing about Hoffs appearance suggests a 64 year-old. Nor does her energy level. A year and a half after her album Bright Lights and only a couple of months since her first novel, This Bird Has Flown, came out, she’s back with another album – The Deep End.

Like most of her best work since The Bangles, it consists of only cover songs. Unlike her great works with Matthew Sweet (the Under the Covers series), many listeners – at least those old enough to remember her as the lead Bangle – may not recognize most of the tunes, since with an exception or two, she veers more towards modern songs from less-than-high-profile artists this time around rather than classic rock and pop standards. This has pros and cons attached. It certainly seems more like a coherent solo album than a collection of covers to me here, and I would assume many other listeners. The downside is that some of those classics were classics for a reason – they were brilliant songs. Some of the 13 here probably fall somewhat short of that.

Thematically it’s a love album, but one split between songs of lost love and lovers left behind and new love and the giddy feeling of looking for it. Soundwise, it’s coherent but varied. Allmusic describe it as “baroque folk”; bits of it seem quite country-ish (like “Pawn Shop” with its pedal steel guitar), others seem made-for-Quiet-Storm type radio. All the songs are played impeccably. No wonder. It was produced by Peter Asher, friend of Paul McCartney and hitmaker with Peter and Gordon, and she has a number of high quality session players like guitarist Waddy Wachtel, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar. Curiously Hoffs herself only sings; perhaps disappointing since she is a much more than proficient jangler of the Rickenbacker guitar. A number of the songs have tasteful string arrangements; “Only You” has a slightly odd, Medieval Faire-style trumpet appearing. Hoffs voice is still fine, not deteriorated any over time. But both the Bangles and the excellent works with Matthew Sweet do show that sometimes Susanna benefits from having someone singing along with her.

The album starts off boldly, with probably the best-known song on it – “Under My Thumb” , the Rolling Stones classic of misogyny. She turns the tables, makes it a feminist anthem and a bit perkier than the original. However, tackling a classic rock tune like that takes commitment and somehow, she seems to be a bit lacking in passion and conviction on it. It gets a bit better on the much less recognized, country-ish title track, originally by Holly Humberstone. She covers Squeeze’s “Black Coffee in Bed” and Yazoo’s “Only You”, as well as one by current Man of the Hour Ed Sheeran (“Afterglow”) but the highlights are ones which are obscure and she really turns into her own creations, most notably the upbeat, retro-’60s pop-sounding “Would You Be So Kind” (originally by Dodio), with some interesting time changes built in, the tasteful admonition to “move on, don’t be afraid” on Phantom Planet’s 2020 “Time Moves On” and “Say You Don’t Mind.” That is a lively and likable pop tune which sounds quite Beatlesque; something that would have fit in with the Rubber Soul era Fab Four. Perhaps that’s not so surprising when you learn it was written and originally performed by Denny Laine of Wings (and the Moody Blues before that) and put out by him in 1967. It’s the one song on here that screams “hit” to me and could easily have been that for the Bangles 35 years ago had they attempted it.

Early reviews elsewhere seem favorable for Hoffs. Allmusic give it 3.5 stars, describing it as “a blend of old and new…skilful and handsome”, while Ultimate Classic Rock note that she shines on cover songs, right back to things like Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” for an Austin Powers movie. They figure “this latest trip into others’ songs is yet another delight and demonstration of good taste and guts.”

Here, I’m coming to agree with those assessments. At first listen, I rather thought “Afterglow” should have been the title track, not “Deep End”; the songs seemed to be a little on the laid-back side and at times just missing a dash of passion. Pleasant but a bit restrained. But upon a few more listens, the songs start to embed themselves in your consciousness and take on their own characters. It’s not as good as her best work with Matthew Sweet covering, well, covers, but it is a nicely-picked and played selection of songs that all have worth (oddly the Stones track is probably the “clunker” in the group) and do indeed show her ability not only to sing, but to pick quality songs. As such, she might remind you a bit of that other Peter Asher colleague of years back – Linda Ronstadt.

I give it 3.5 jangly Rickenbackers out of 5. Not a classic, but a fine likable pop record



April 25 – The Boss Overcomes A Quick Session To Make A Great Record

After over 30 years performing, 13 studio albums, several of them selling well into the millions and numerous world tours, it’s understandable that an artist might want to shake things up a little and not get too comfortable in a routine. And that’s just what Bruce Springsteen did this day in 2006 with the release of We Shall Overcome : The Seeger Sessions. It was a tribute to great folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, and shake things up for Bruce it did.

Seeger of course was a renowned folkie in the ’60s who made the old spiritual “We Shall Overcome” a popular rallying cry and wrote a number of hits for other artists like “Turn Turn Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer.” But he also sang many old traditional tunes, and that was the part of his career The Boss wanted to highlight.

The title track had actually been recorded for a 1997, multi-artist tribute to Seeger. Apparently he mentioned doing more and with some encouragement from his daughter, curiously enough, decided to make a full album. He and his wife Patti Scialfa (of his E Street Band) rounded up a number of local session musicians, who dubbed themselves the Sessions Band, including trumpeter Mark Pender who’d played on Max Weinberg’s Tonight Show Band and violinist Soozie Firschner. They got together for just two brief sessions and recorded live. Springsteen himself at times played mandolin, tambourine and organ besides his regular guitar.

The standard edition of it (a double LP or single CD) contained 13 songs often performed by Seeger, although surprisingly enough, not written by him (although a few had been modified from their original form by Pete). They included old chestnuts like “O Mary Don’t You Weep”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, “John Henry” and even “Froggie Went A-courtin’”. It also came out in some deluxe versions which included a DVD and a few extra tracks like “Buffalo Gals.”

You can be forgiven if you didn’t notice it when it came out; Columbia didn’t release any singles off it and hence radio more or less ignored it utterly. But reviewers didn’t, and by and large it got raves. The Guardian and Rolling Stone both graded it 4-stars, Pitchfork 8.5 out of 10; Entertainment Weekly an “A-”. Uncut called it “a great teeming flood of Americana…a powerful example of how songs reverberate through the years.” Pitchfork declared it “a boisterous, spirit-raising throwdown on which The Boss tackles the tangle of war, strife, poverty and unrest without sacrificing joy.” Although there were a few dissenting voices, like The Observer which deemed it “too corny.” Later on, allmusic graded it 4.5-stars noting how quickly it was made and that it “does indeed have an unmistakably loose feel” but was still “unique” because “he has never made a record that feels as alive as this.”

Perhaps the most important opinion was that of Pete Seeger himself. The singer who was 86 at the time called it “a great honor. He’s an extraordinary person as well as an extraordinary singer.”

As for the public, considering how odd it was compared to most of his releases and its lack of single, it did quite well. It reached #3 in the U.S., Canada and Britain and actually went to #1 in Italy. The album was certified gold in both the states and Canada and an impressive double-platinum in Ireland. What’s more, it won Bruce his 14th Grammy, this one for Best Traditional Folk Album… which surprisingly he’d won once before, for The Ghost of Tom Joad in 1997.

April 25 – Bridwell’s Band Galloped To Winning Reviews

Happy birthday to one of the best “young” American musicians around these days, Ben Bridwell. Ben turns 45, which gives you an idea of how these days rock & roll is more a middle-aged man’s game than a young ones! Bridwell is the voice and driving force behind the great Band of Horses, a band nicely summed up by allmusic as “indie rockers who separated themselves with rootsy twang, gorgeous slow burn songs and lush reverb-drenched production.”

Bridwell was born and had his childhood in the Columbia, SC area but was relocated with his mom to Tucson as a teen. There he made friends with a couple of people at a pizza shop and they chased the dream of music stardom to the northwest, settling in Olympia right around the tail end of the Seattle grunge movement. There they formed a band, Carissa’s Weird, in which he played drums (briefly) and bass before the guitarist, Mat Brooke, taught him to play guitar. Simultaneously, Ben started his own record company, Brown Records to put out their records and hopefully get other indies just enough notice to be signed to bigger labels. “That’s always been my calling, spreading the bands I liked that people hadn’t heard,” he said years later.

While Carissa’s Weird didn’t do much outside of attract a modest following around the Puget Sound, it helped Bridwell develop his playing and writing skills and it folded before long, leaving him to start a new band – Band of Horses.

At a time when we were all down, he picked himself up, higher than anyone thought he could,” Brooke said about him, adding he was “extremely proud.” Brooke joined Band of Horses for their first album (2006’s Everything All the Time, on the iconic Seattle label, SubPop) but left soon after citing a desire to try other musical styles without clashing with Bridwell.

Other members have come and gone, but Bridwell’s been the guiding light for Band of Horses, being the vocalist, primary writer and guitarist through the years and their six studio albums to date. The most successful was 2010’s Infinite Arms which hit the top 10 at home and in Canada. Arguably the best one though was 2007’s Cease to Begin, their first to chart and a dreamy southern-fried rock album that Rolling Stone suggested for “those who prefer their indie rock with a big dose of beauty”. It produced the alternative radio hit “Is there a Ghost?” (which in true 2007 style was issued first on Ben’s MySpace page) and their only top 10 single to date, “No One’s Gonna Love You (LIke I Will)”. After that album they signed to Columbia Records, and their most recent release, last year’s Things Are Great  was on BMG , but meanwhile, Bridwell’s restarted Brown records to promote under-appreciated indie acts.

He recently celebrated his 14th wedding anniversary , likely back in South Carolina, as he moved Band of Horses back to his homestate after their debut album saying with all the time they spend on the road, he needed a home to go to and “it would be nice to be around my family” which now includes four children. Band of Horses will hit the road this summer however, with a tour schedule spread across the country.

February 22 – Bowie’s Black Star Shone On Brightly

Gone but not forgotten is one apt way to summarize David Bowie. There was plenty of evidence of that this day in 2017 when Britain’s main music awards, the Brits recognized him posthumously. Bowie won the “Best British Male Solo” performer and “Best Album” award, the latter for Blackstar, the grim album released only days before his death.

For Bowie, it was his third trophy for Best Male, with past wins in 1984 and 2014; the album award was his first. It was the first time either had been awarded posthumously in the awards 40 years. the three Best Male awards ties him with Phil Collins and Paul Weller, trailing (strangely to us North Americans) Robbie Williams who’s taken it four times. The award for Album of the Year was picked up by his son Duncan, who said if there was one thing he’d want his own son to know about David, it was that he “was always there for people who were a bit different” and said in closing, “this award is for the kooks!”

It came only days after Bowie had cleaned up, again posthumously, at the Grammys, winning four including Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Rock Album. Prior to that, he’d only won one “regular” Grammy (for the “Blue Jean” video) plus a Lifetime Achievement recognition there.

February 20 – The Old & The New Mode

A story of beginnings…and new beginnings too. Depeche Mode put out their very first record, the single “Dreaming of Me” on this day in 1981. Over 40 years later, they’re back with a brand new one…but we’ll get to that in a bit.

In 1981, Depeche Mode were an Essex, England quartet consisting of Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher – who’d played in another new wave band as far back as 1977 – Martin Gore and singer Dave Gahan. They’d emerged on the scene in the summer of 1980, a very dance-pop, synth-driven band. They soon got signed to Mute Records, which was a fairly small independent label at the time.

Dreaming of Me” was a rather non-descript new wave, neo-disco song that fit in on the dancefloors of the day but didn’t distinguish itself all that much on radio. Tellingly it was written by Vince Clarke, without question the most dance-oriented of the four in his tastes. Though it did manage to top the Brit Indie Chart, overall it just got to #57 in their homeland. There was insufficient interest, and global pull by Mute, to even get it released in North America, despite it somehow hitting the Billboard Dance charts on strengths of import singles.

They soon recorded a full album, Speak & Spell, which did quite well but they thought so little of “Dreaming of Me” that they didn’t include it… although if you own that album, there’s a good chance it’s on it since by the mid-’80s CD copies and many LP re-releases have added it. Although it didn’t do much, the first single off Speak & Spell, the also upbeat and synthesizer-based “New Life” did get to #11 and began a spell of 18-straight singles they’d have that made the British top 30, ended only by “Little 15”, the fourth single off Music for the Masses in ’88.

Clarke quit after the first album to start Yazoo (and later, Erasure) and the band developed their playing skills slowly but surely and shifted the songwriting over to Martin Gore, who’s been their main man with a pen ever since. By the late-’80s, they’d added some guitars to the keyboards and gotten huge over here too, as the movie and album 101 shows, with them selling out the Rose Bowl near L.A. in front of 60 000 fans.

However, as with many of the British bands of the ’80s, the 21st Century hasn’t been all that kind to them. They’ve kept playing and recording, but generally to diminishing commercial results. Then last year, Andy Fletcher died unexpectedly from, essentially, a heart attack (doctors would give a much more detailed and confusing cause and how the heart stopped working.) Which of course, shook up the remaining pair, who’d been working with “Fletch” for over four decades. Probably, truth be told, surprised many too that Gahan had managed to outlive any of them, given his Keith Richards’-like life of excess in the late-’80s and ’90s. No surprise then that their first new record since his death would deal with death, and the afterlife.

Ghosts Again”, released earlier this month suggests we’ll all be “ghosts again” and perhaps meet again…in another realm. Martin had some help writing it for once, this time with Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. The song’s the first from a new album they have nearly ready, Memento Mori (or “Remember, You Will Die” in Latin.) Despite the downbeat lyrics, it doesn’t sound that morose. Far Out call it a “triumphant return” while Gahan himself says of it “it captures this perfect balance of melancholy and joy.” He adds, a capturing that balance himself Fletcher “never got to hear any of this, which is really sad to me,” saying his bandmate would have said “this is the best thing we’ve had in years (but) does every song have to be about death?’”

Memento Mori is due out March 24, and they’ll be playing a few shows on this side of the ocean in spring. But since all of those shows sold out remarkably quickly, they’ve scheduled a much more extensive tour in the fall.

February 13 – Gabriel Gives New Songs On Full Moons

Happy birthday to one of the great thinkers and innovators of the rock world. Peter Gabriel turns 73 today! We’ve looked at his career and some of his great records before here so today we’ll look at something new … a bit of a birthday gift from him perhaps. For the first time in a long time, Gabriel’s putting out new music and planning to tour.

Gabriel’s musical output this century has been notably limited. After a new album in 2002, Up, he’s put out just an album of cover songs (Scratch My Back) in 2010 and then an album of orchestral remakes of his own songs the next year (New Blood). So the news of new music from Peter has been very well received by his many fans.

The new album is to be called I/O, but typical of Peter, it’s a little quirky. In as much as unlike most “albums”, or at least the ones from when he was a hot artist, this one he plans to release slowly – just one song every full moon. Thus far, he’s given us two of those songs, “Panopticon” (a tilte Vulture notes is “an adversary to Spell Check”) and “The Court” last week.

The former has another eclectic musician from the ’70s, Eno, helping him out and opens with some tasty guitar. Gabriel’s voice still sounds strong and the tune, at first listen, could have fit on one of the last Genesis records he made. He says it was inspired by the concept of “an infinitely expanding data globe”, which sounds rather like the internet if I’m interpreting that correctly.

The Court” is a slow-building tune, with a good amount of interesting percussion but acapella chorus that sounds vaguely like his ’92 hit “Digging in the Dirt.” With verses lamenting “you got the money going up your nose, you got the data you don’t control” and “your only memories on your mobile phone”, it seems clear he’s not infatuated with the way the world is leaning! In general, he’s said the album is “the idea that we seem incredibly capable of destroying the planet that gave us birth and unless we find ways to reconnect ourselves to nature and the natural world, we are going to lose a lot.”

The next new song should come along March 7, the next full moon. To hear them in a live setting, we’ll be in luck. He says “it’s been awhile and I am now surrounded by a whole lot of new songs and am excited to be taking them on the road for a spin.” His tour kicks off in Poland on May 18 and he’s in Europe through the end of June. North American shows haven’t been announced yet but he has said he will get here in late summer.

January 29 – Sarah Topped A Flood Of Canadian Talent Doing Good

Yesterday’s birthday girl, Sarah Mclachlan (she turned 55 in case you were wondering) was busy showing again why she was given the Order of Canada. And that the message of Live Aid lived on two decades later. On this day in 2005, she headlined a concert at GM Place in her adopted hometown of Vancouver that she’d hastily arranged along with Nettwerk Records boss Terry McBride. It was to raise funds for charities helping victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami which had occurred a month earlier.

Sarah was winding down her tour and promotion for the late-’03 album Afterglow but had done a set on Good Morning America the previous week. She had, of course, experience setting up multi-star concerts through her involvement in the successful Lilith Fairs or the late-’90s.

A sell out crowd of 18 000 turned out to see the event, including according to local newspaper the Georgia Strait, an “older portion…dressed in their Sunday best.” The crowd was “bitch-free” according to the newspaper, with only one police officer, a female patrolling the arena halls “eating an overpriced hot dog” seen. Sets included ones from  Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, the Barenaked Ladies (whom apparently “drew the largest applause and brought everyone to their feet”) , Raine Maida (of Our Lady Peace) and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk and perhaps most surprisingly, comic Robin Williams “resplendent in a crimson suit” were on before Sarah’s set. the four hour event was event hosted by TV comics Brent Butt and Rick Mercer and . The show raised over a million dollars (about $3 million by some accounts) and she did it again two nights later in Calgary.  The event took place a week after a similar and even larger benefit concert in Wales drew 66 000 to see a lineup headlined by Eric Clapton, with Jools Holland and Manic Street Preachers among others on the bill.

January 24 – A Tale Of Two Delilahs

Sometimes someone only barely peripherally involved in your life can turn it around. Such was the case of one Delilah DiCrescenzio on Tom Higgenson’s life, it would seem.

Higgenson was the leader of a struggling Chicago-area band who happened to see Delilah through a friend of a friend. “I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, “ he recalled. “I told her ‘I have a song about you’.” He didn’t at the time, but he soon did. She was apparently not impressed enough to dump her boyfriend for him… but the situation worked out well for Higgenson nonetheless.

Higgenson’s band is the Plain White T’s, a band he formed in 1997 with a couple of high school friends. Higgenson was early on the driving force in the T’s, being their lead singer, guitarist , main writer and in time, keyboardist when required.

They signed to an indie label, Fearless, and put out their first album in 2000. a rather forgettable and almost unnoticed piece called Come on Over. However, on this day in 2005 the tide began to change a little for them with the release of their third album, All That We Needed, an album that drew decent reviews. Allmusic for instance, rated it 4-stars and referenced Tom Petty and Big Star in its review, noting they sounded like Jimmy Eats World wannabes less than in the past. That in itself might not have counted for much for the T’s were it not for that one song Tom wrote for Delilah, the last track on the record. “Hey There Delilah” was by most accounts, their best song by far to that point … and the one that got their career jump-started. It didn’t happen overnight however.

The song, and the album, did almost nothing in 2005. The one significant thing it did though was garner interest from Disney, of all people, who signed them onto their major-distribution Hollywood label. Their debut on that label, Every Second Counts came out the next year, with a remixed version of “Hey There Delilah” on it. Things took off of course; with the album hitting the top 10 at home and in Ireland and the single becoming omnipresent in 2007, hitting #1 in the U.S. and Canada and #2 in the UK. The song about the optimistic high schooler who was gonna win the girl and the good life with his guitar fit almost every contemporary radio format, it seemed, and went 4X platinum in the States – their biggest hit to date by a long stretch. So popular was it that the first album it showed up on, All that We Needed began to sell and eventually went gold for them despite never charting at all on Billboard.

The T’s carry on to this day, to less mainstream success. They had one more top 40 hit, “1,2,3,4” in 2008 and put out their eighth album in 2018, on the same Fearless label that they started out on. These days Higgenson says that writing is his favorite part of the whole musical experience and that their roots in Chicago kept them down to earth and made them who they are. Which would seem to be pretty good guys, at least in his case. He was in the news this month when he gave a surprise performance of the song to an eight year old girl name Delilah who was undergoing cancer treatment and happened to love the song.

As for Delilah of the song… well, she did attend the Grammys with Higgenson in 2008 (their song lost out to Amy Winehouse for Song of the Year, but she and he apparently don’t keep in touch. Drummer De-mar Hamilton says “She does like the song though!” Apparently millions of others do too!

January 18 – Not So Much A Roar As A Sweet Purr

When you think of great alt-country, Americana style music, you might think it could come from, say, Nebraska. You probably wouldn’t think of it arising from Sweden’s largest city. Yet, that has been the case at times recently Stockholm by way of Omaha, thanks to the Swedish sisters Joanna and Klara Soderberg, aka First Aid Kit. They began to garner international attention on this day in 2012, with the release of their second album, The Lion’s Roar.

At the time, Klara was still a teenager and Joanna, 22. But they’d made a name for themselves in Sweden, first via MySpace and busking in downtown Stockholm, then with their first album, The Big, Black and the Blue, which sold decently for them at home two years earlier. Both were proficient in English and fans of ‘western’ music. Klara in particular was fond of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris music, influences which come through in their music.

For The Lion’s Roar, they traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to record with Mike Mogis, a producer and multi-instrumentalist member of the indie band Bright Eyes. He and his band filled in on instruments the girls didn’t play – Joanna played keyboards and autoharp, while Klara was on guitar – except bass. Keeping in mind their ages, perhaps, their dad, Benkt Soderberg was there on the bass and no doubt keeping an eye open for his girls.

The resulting album was a great ten song effort that the duo wrote themselves but seemed to channel southern California and the Appalachians more than Scandinavia. The song “Emmylou” in particular, written for their hero Ms. Harris, evoked Americana and got them widespread notice on this side of the ocean, with them playing it on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman’s talk shows and with Rolling Stone listing it among the year’s ten best songs.

The album drew great reviews far and wide, including Britain’s NME (8 out of 10), and Q, 4-stars, with American Rolling Stone rating it 3.5-stars. Soon after, allmusic gave it the same score, calling it a blend of “autumnal folk and wistful ’60s Americana”, centering out “Emmylou” (“juxtaposing the girls glorious ethereal harmonies with a genuine sense of melancholy”) and the “lush acoustics of ‘I Found a Way’” as highlights.

The album quickly went to #1 in Sweden – the first of three in a row for them – and won the Nordic Music Prize for best album. Although it’s success was more limited elsewhere, it did go gold in the UK , where it hit #35 and at least charted in North America. In so doing, it opened up the doors for even greater success with their follow-up, Stay Gold.

January 2 – A Smooth Start To The 21st Century

We had gotten through the Y2K scare unscathed, so by this day in 2000, we could all relax a little and take a deep breath…and chill while enjoying some tunes. And the tune many of us were enjoying that day was from an icon of the Hippie era. Topping the Billboard charts to both end the 1900s and kick off the 2000s was Santana, and the tune was indeed “Smooth.”

Of course, he had a little help on this astounding career revival. The voice you heard, or couldn’t avoid in fact for months on end, was Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 who sang the tune with Santana’s distinctive guitar stylings behind him.

The smash single, from the smash Supernatural album (which would become the biggest of Carlos Santana’s career, selling 15X platinum in the U.S. and topping an incredible 30 million worldwide) came about from a meeting almost three years earlier. Clive Davis had been the head of Columbia back in Santana’s heyday in the Woodstock era. Over the years, Davis had left and done various things, by the late-’90s running the Arista Records label. Santana, meanwhile, had fallen out of fashion, with (as Davis describes it) music that “swung unpredictably” from spiritual new age stuff to “less than successful attempts” to sound modern and relevant. He invited Davis to a show he was playing, and chatted with him afterwards. Davis said “he had lost none of his energy and passion” and he “still had his magical touch” on the six-string. And he wanted to be relevant again. “He had three children and it was hurtful to him they had never heard him on the radio.” He asked Davis for a contract, and a comeback.

Davis, and Arista were willing…with reservations. While they knew Carlos’ remarkable capabilities playing guitar and improvising, they questioned his ability to write material that sounded radio-friendly. Davis asked him if he would take advice and work with current, pop radio hit-making artists. Santana said yes.

Smooth” was actually one of the last tracks to be done for Supernatural. It began with writer/producer Itaal Shur. He visited the studio and heard several of the recorded tracks, including ones with Dave Matthews and Wyclef Jean. He said “there wasn’t one with a standard Santana groove like ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘Oye Como Va’ … I went home and wrote this track on guitar.” He also penned lyrics about a couple getting back together after years for a tryst in a motel, and called it “Room One Seven,” and presented it. Arista loved the tune, but not the lyrics. They felt they were too overtly sexual for Carlos or for radio, and brought in Rob Thomas to fix it. Thomas was at the time a hot commodity, being the singer for Matchbox 20, whose debut album was only just starting to drop down the charts after being a #1 for them with radio smashes like “Push” and “3AM.”

Thomas wrote the lyrics for “Smooth” thinking about his wife Marisol, a Puerto rican lady (which explains the latin references) as well as songs of his youth that he loved like Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters.” He wrote the lyrics thinking George Michael should sing them, but Arista figured he was perfect himself, but “if you listen to the melody and the cadence, it’s an attempt to emulate (Michael) in many ways,” Thomas says.

Whoever he was thinking about or singing like, it worked. The song hit #1 in the U.S. for a remarkable 12-straight weeks (and also topped Canadian charts) the first top 10 single he’ d had since “Black Magic Woman” nearly three decades earlier. It managed to end up among the 50 biggest-sellers of both the 1990s and the 2000s. Santana was clearly back. “Smooth” went on to win the Record of the Year Grammy, and the album, the Album of the Year one.