Back In the Day: So Smooth

It's my second to last 'Back In the Day' of 2009, a concept special I devised in early 2009 to post flashback thoughts about hits from 1999 (ten years ago), and their effect on my life's soundtrack. It's a special I enjoy very much (although I somewhat under-used it), so I fully intend to continue it in 2010, lazily cleverly titled 'Back In the Day 2.0', featuring vignettes of songs released in 2000. Yet another great year for pop. Moving on...

The final "Back In the Day" feature post is for the "I Gotta Feeling" of 1999. I suppose that's a good way to put it in 'noughties' terms. Kind of. It was the biggest hit of the year in many ways, and also fairly summed up how America felt on the whole. While in 2009 we wanted to shake off our economic woes and reassure ourselves about what is truly important, in 1999 we had few national troubles to shake the everday American to their core, and life as a whole was much more "Smooth". Can you guess what I'm talking about? Aww yeah, I'm talking...



At the time, the collaboration of Santana and Matchbox Twenty's frontman Rob Thomas (during his first dalliance with the solo spotlight) seemed a bit...strange. However, "Smooth" broke through in big time, and paved the way for Thomas's solo career, as well as launched a revival of Santana's back catalog all-the-while boosting their latest effort, Supernatural, into the stratosphere in terms of sales. It also has the bragging rights of being the last #1 of the 1990's decade, as well as being both Thomas' and (surprisingly) Santana's first.

"Smooth" was the lead single off Santana's Supernatural, which featured many other high profile artists at the time and went on to sell over fifteen million copies worldwide, and gained them a slew of Grammy Awards. The song held the #1 position for twelve weeks, and the following single, another favorite of mine called "Maria Maria" (which featured The Product G & B on vocals -- most people tend to forget them) which was co-written/co-produced by Wyclef Jean (still riding high on The Fugees love, pre "Hips Don't Lie"), also had a large stay atop the chart. The latter was a personal favorite for the references and allusions to "West Side Story", my overall favorite Broadway musical ever -- and my love for the tragic and classic love story truly starting fueling back in '99 as it was.

While I already was a bit of a fan of Matchbox Twenty upon "Smooth"s release thanks to their brilliant debut in 1996, Yourself or Someone Like You (a true staple of 1990's albums, for sure), my love for Thomas and Co. swelled exponentially after the song's mammoth takeover. My knowledge of Santana was not as understood in 1999, but I've grown to truly appreciate them, especially during my high school years post "Smooth", in particular their cover of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" after we beat the song to death in Pep Band. Oh, the memories.

Both "Smooth" and "Maria Maria" had an unapologetic Latin feel thanks to Santana's well-noted and well-documented flair for latin rock and rhythm, helping fuel the fire that was 1999's embrace of what is now dubbed "The Latin Explosion"...or should I say, "Explosión" (being the final #1 of the year that also paid homage with Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca", Marc Anthony's "I Need To Know", Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos" and Jennifer Lopez' "If You Had My Love/Waiting For Tonight", amongst others). It was new territory for Thomas (who I do not believe is Hispanic himself, but his wife is, hence the refrences to her being his "muñequita" -- a Spanish term of endearment, usually translating to "doll" or "sweetheart"). It's trademark guitar groove is instantly recognizable to this day, and remains to be a spotlight for collaborative music of all times.

It's pretty much agreed upon within the music community that "Smooth" is one of those songs that will be most well-remembered long after all of the other pop cheese has faded into the deep recesses of our minds twenty years from now. It's the type of song that will come on the "retro" radio stations in the year 2020 and we all will look back on fondly, singing along to "My Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa". The lyrics are a true testament to the talent that is Rob Thomas, written as a loving ode to his wife whom he had recently wed, and that coupled with Carlos Santana's searing and yet tender guitar riffs, make it a bit like a diamond in the rough of arguably forgettable (but still thoroughly enjoyable for those of us who were the right demographic at the time...read: yours truly) pop music that overflowed the US radio waves during this time.

"Smooth" was the type of song that transcended radio format, genre and demographic, appealing to a vastly different amount of music enthusiasts and sparking several cover versions in the ten years since it's rise to prominence. It remains a standout part of Rob Thomas' setlist, and was one of my favorite performances when I saw him live in 2006. The physical cardboard single (see artwork above) fit in surprisingly nice admist my sea of *NSYNC import singles from Germany. And it continues to be one of 1999's greatest efforts, and a song I'm definitely not afraid to put on vicious repeat in 2010. If only I could find a man who could write something as beautiful as this for me. The lyrics aren't just lyrics, they are fluid poetry in motion. That in counterpoint to Carlos' guitar is a supreme match made in heaven. I defy you to challenge that statement. Take another listen and tell me it doesn't feel as epic as it did then. Can you imagine this being on the radio now?


1 comment

Aaron said...

Fantastic to see somebody else who loves this as much as I do!

Love Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas a LOT - and this would have fit nicely as a bonus track on Exile On Mainstream - Or that's just me?

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