Caravanserai Is Another ’70s Gem Hitting the Big 50

Santana’s fourth studio album marked a radical departure from successful Latin rock formula

Today, on October 11, 1972, Santana released their fourth studio album Caravanserai. While it’s a gem and did pretty well at the time, looking at it from today’s perspective, one has to say Carlos Santana made a gutsy decision to abandon a Latin rock formula that had generated three high-selling and high-charting albums and various hit singles, such as Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Oye Cómo Va and Everybody’s Everything. Most of all, it was bloody good music! But many great artists don’t rest on their laurels.

According to an AllMusic review of the album, Carlos Santana was “obviously very hip to jazz fusion”. It’s also fair to say that with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, jazz fusion had emerged as a new music genre that was getting some attention. But Columbia Records president Clive Davis wasn’t convinced. Reportedly, he called Caravanserai “career suicide” after his first listening to the album, which is largely instrumental and blends jazz, rock and Latin. An October 2018 post on The Music Aficionado blog does a terrific job telling the story behind Caravanserai in great detail. This post informs part of my review.

Apparently, Santana drummer and jazz lover Michael Shrieve who also co-produced Caravanserai had a major influence on Carlos Santana. He introduced him to artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Shrieve and Santana were also inspired by other artists like Pharoah Sanders, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Alice Coltrane and Weather Report. The Music Aficionado quotes Carlos: “We were looking for our identities in the same places with a spirit of exploration and the courage to try something new, even if it didn’t make sense or we weren’t supposed to do it. Caravanserai was the album we weren’t supposed to do.”

Another important influence that helped shape the sound of Caravanserai were changes in the Santana band. By the time they went into the studio to start work on the album, Michael Carabello (percussion) and David Brown (bass) had been replaced by James Mingo Lewis and Dough Rauch, respectively. Gregg Rolie (organ, piano, vocals) and Neal Schon (guitar) were on the album, but by the end of the recording sessions, they also had left. Subsequently, together with members of Steve Miller Band and Frumious Bandersnatch, Rolie and Schon co-founded backing band Golden Gate Rhythm Section, the group that became Journey.

I’d say let’s take a look at some tunes. One of my favorite tracks on Side one is Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down), co-written by Rauch, Rolie and Santana. To me, the standout here is Dough Rauch’s funky bass playing. Carlos Santana: “You can hear what he brought to All the Love of the Universe and Look Up (to See What’s Coming Down) – when we heard those tracks, we realized how much we needed Dougie”. The Music Aficionado also quotes Shrieve saying Rauch was one of the first bassists “to play with the thumb and popping technique that was later made famous by Larry Graham [Sly and the Family StoneCMM] and Stanley Clarke [Return to ForeverCMM].”

Another gem on Side A I’d like to highlight is Song of the Wind. The beautiful instrumental, credited to Rolie, Santana and Schon, for the most part, is a guitar duet between Santana and Schon where they each trade beautiful melodic solos. Citing Santana’s memoir, The Music Aficionado quotes him on Rolie’s contribution: “To this day I listen to Song of the Wind and break down inside hearing Gregg’s playing on that one – no solo, just a simple supportive organ part that is not flashy or anything but supremely important to that song.”

Closing out Side one is the great All the Love of the Universe. Co-written by Santana and Schon, it’s one of the album’s three tracks with vocals. Vocals are provided by Santana, Mingo Lewis and Rico Reyes. The song is another showcase of Rauch’s outstanding bass playing.

On to Side two and Stone Flower. The tune was written as an instrumental by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. Santana added lyrics written by Shrieve who provided vocals together with Carlos. The Music Aficionado also rightfully calls out the contributions of Tom Rutley (acoustic bass) and Wendy Haas (electric piano).

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the closer Every Step of the Way. Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, the instrumental is the longest track on Caravanserai. According to The Music Aficionado, it’s Carlos Santana’s favorite tune on the album. Quoting Carlos from his biography The Universal Tone: “For two reasons my favorite song on Caravanserai is Every Step of the Way – first because it sounds like what we really loved back then: Herbie Hancock’s Crossings [Hancock’s 10th album released in May 1972 – CMM]. The song also reminds me of Shrieve because he wrote it and because of how we played together.”

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

Caravanserai performed surprisingly well. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. In the UK, it reached no. 6, notably matching its predecessor Santana III. Caravanserai did best in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it climbed no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia. In addition, the album also became a solid seller, reaching Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold in each Canada and France. Caravanserai was also voted no. 609 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Long before I heard this album for the first time, I had listened to and really come to dig Santana’s first three records. Undoubtedly, Caravanserai is very different from the classic Santana sound. As such, the album was an acquired taste, which got better every time I listened to it. If you are where I was initially, I’d say give it a few more spins. You might come to love it as well!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; The Music Aficionado blog; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, whatever time it is in your neck of the woods when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in lovely Central New Jersey, U.S.A., and I’m ready to take you on another journey visiting music of the past and the present. Hop on board!

Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd/Samba de uma Nota Só

To get us all into the groove without coming on too strong, I’d like to start today’s music time travel in 1962 with a beautiful bossa nova. Samba de uma Nota Só (one note samba) was penned by Brazilan composer Antônio Carlos Jobim with Portuguese lyrics by Newton Mendonça. There are also English lyrics, which were written by Jon Hendricks. The tune was first recorded by Brazilian bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto and included on this studio album O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor released in 1961. Samba de uma Nota Só gained wide popularity the following year when it appeared in February on the Grammy-winning Jazz Samba, a bossa nova album by American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and U.S. jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. Hitting no. 1 on the U.S. pop albums chart, Jazz Samba “marked the beginning of the bossa nova craze in America,” according to Wikipedia.

Bette Midler/Wind Beneath My Wings

Our next stop are the ’80s and a pick that may surprise some of you. Wind Beneath My Wings was co-written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley. The ballad has been recorded by various artists, such as Sheena Easton, Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls and Gladys Knight and the Pips. But the recording that will always remain special to me is the rendition by Bette Midler, included in the November 1988 soundtrack for the motion picture Beaches, in which the American actress and vocalist also co-starred. ‘What’s the big deal?’, you may wonder. Wind Beneath My Wings was the song my dear wife and I chose for the first dance at our wedding. With our recent 25th wedding anniversary, this love song has been on my mind. Midler’s rendition became the most successful version, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the 1990 Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Midler is a great vocalist and these lyrics are just beautiful!

The Districts/Long End

Let’s jump to the present with a tune by The Districts, which I find pretty seductive: Long End. The group was founded in 2009 in Lititz, Pa. by high school students Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Mark Larson (guitar), Connor Jacobus (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums). Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: The Districts are an American indie rock band whose work embraces the organic sounds of classic rock and indie folk while incorporating an adventurous side that recalls alternative rock of several eras, ambitious pop, and noisy experimentation that grew more eclectic with time. The unifying thread behind it all is the emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics of Rob Grote, who is fearless when it comes to sharing his feelings about relationships or the world around him. The rootsy and more direct era of the Districts’ music was documented well on their 2014 debut Telephone, while 2017’s Popular Manipulations found them in a more energetic and experimental mood. 2020’s You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere reflected a cooler and more layered sound, with keyboards playing a bigger role in the arrangements; 2022’s Great American Painting was more guitar oriented, but maintained the polished tone of its immediate precursor. Penned by Grote, Long End is a tune from Great American Painting, which came out on March 11.

The Doobie Brothers/Rockin’ Down the Highway

Time to step on the gas with some great ’70s rock by The Doobie Brothers, a band I’ve always loved for their catchy tunes and great harmony singing. It’s quite amazing the group from San Jose, Calif., which was founded in 1970, is still around. The current line-up features two co-founders, Patrick Simmons (guitar, banjo, flute, vocals) and Tom Johnston (vocals, guitar, harmonica), and longtime member John McFee (guitar, violin, pedal steel guitar, harmonica, vocals). Since 2019, Michael McDonald (vocals, keyboards, mandolin, accordion) who first had joined the band during a 1975 tour to fill in for Johnston, is back in the fold. All four will be part of the Doobies’ upcoming tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Actually, it’s “only” 47 years, considering the group’s hiatus between 1982 and 1987, but still a pretty amazing run. And they remain a compelling live act, as I was fortunate to witness firsthand in July 2018. Rockin’ Down the Highway, penned by Johnston, is from the group’s sophomore album Toulouse Street, released in July 1972 – just a great rocker!

Pearl Jam/Jeremy

Our next stop are the early ’90s and music by Pearl Jam, who are considered one of the leading bands in the grunge and alternative rock genres. I can’t deny the fact I largely ignored contemporary music in the ’90s and know very little about bands and artists who started out in that decade. Pearl Jam were founded in Seattle in 1990 as Mookie Blaylock by Stone Gossard (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jeff Ament (bass, backing vocals), who had played together since the mid-80s in two grunge and rock bands, along with Mike McCready (lead guitar), Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Krusen (drums). By the time their studio debut Ten appeared in August 1991, they had changed their name to Pearl Jam. While the album wasn’t an immediate success, it reached no. 2 on the Billboard 200 in late 1992. Jeremy, with lyrics by Vedder and music by Ament, was one of three hit singles off Ten. The intense song was inspired by a newspaper article Vedder had seen about a high school student who had shot himself in front of his English class. Ament, Gossard, McCready and Vedder remain part of Pearl Jam’s current line-up, which since 1998 has also included drummer Matt Cameron.

Young Guv/Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of yet another zig-zag music excursion. For this last pick, I’d like to go back to the present and Young Guv, a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook I first featured last month. Cook was a co-founder of Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning that was initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, he joined another local hardcore punk cheerfully named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of four that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. Couldn’t Leave U If I Tried, co-written by Cook, Ryan Gavel and Thom Yorke, is from Young Guv’s latest album Guv III that came out on March 11. That jangly Byrdsy sound is right up my alley!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Doobie Brothers website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means time again for a new journey to celebrate the music of the past and present in different flavors, six tunes a pop. Before we get to that, just a quick reminder to readers in the U.S. that as of 2:00 a.m. this morning, we’re back to daylight savings time, except for Hawaii and Arizona (sans the Navajo Nation who observes DST). While I won’t get into debating the merits of DST, I like the fact that it reminds me we’re one step closer to spring.

Stan Getz and João Gilberto/Girl from Ipanema

I love the saxophone, so I’m always looking for great players I could feature in The Sunday Six. The other day, I came across Stan Getz. When I started reading about him, it didn’t take long to get to Brazilian jazz writer and guitarist João Gilberto and a song I’ve always loved: Girl from Ipanema. The popular bossa nova tune was written in 1962 by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, with Portoguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. American lyricist Norman Gimbel subsequently wrote the English lyrics. Brazilian bossa nova singer Pery Ribeiro first recorded the tune in 1962, but it was the rendition by Getz and Gilberto, featuring Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto (nee Astrud Evangelina Weinert) on vocals, which became a hit. Appearing on the album Getz/Gilberto from March 1964, Girl from Ipanema climbed to no. 5 on the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, reached no. 8 in New Zealand and peaked at no. 29 in the UK. Feel free to groove along!

Sade/Your Love Is King

Let’s stay on the smooth side with smooth operator Sade (nee Helen Folasade Adu) and the British group that carries her name, who make their second appearance on The Sunday Six. Once again, I decided to pick a tune from their great debut album Diamond Life, released in July 1984: Your Love Is King, which first appeared in February that year as the lead single. The tune was penned by Sade together with saxophonist Stuart Matthewman who remains a member of the group to this day. The single made a strong debut in the UK where it surged to no. 6. It also did very well in New Zealand (no. 2) and Ireland (no. 7). In the U.S., the best performance was on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart (no. 8). By comparison, it only got to no. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the picture in the UK and U.S. was reversed for Smooth Operator. What probably is Sade’s best-known and my favorite tune reached no. 19 in the UK and no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ramones/I Wanna Be Sedated

Time to speed things up with American punk rock pioneers Ramones. Unlike the title may suggest, I think it’s safe to assume I Wanna Be Sedated won’t put you to sleep. While the Ramones, formed in New York in 1974, never achieved any significant commercial success, they still became highly influential in the punk rock genre. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they are often cited as the first true punk rock group. I Wanna Be Sedated, written together by co-founders Dee Dee Ramone (bass), Joey Ramone (lead vocals) and Johnny Ramone (guitar), appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Road to Ruin, which came out in September 1978. At the time, Marky Ramone (drums) rounded out their line-up. The song also became the b-side to the single She’s the One, released in parallel with the record, one of the group’s numerous non-charting singles. I find this a pretty catchy tune and wonder whether it may have had more success as an A-side.

4 Non Blondes/What’s Up

The next stop on our music journey are the ’90s and what must be one of the best-known tunes of that decade. Yes, What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure, but it’s what I would call an epic tune I continue to enjoy. I was reminded of the song when I caught it on the radio the other day while driving my car. Luckily, it’s not exactly a 911 but a sexy Japanese compact SUV, so when you hit the accelerator, nothing overly dramatic happens – probably a good thing when you listen to a kickass tune like this. If I see this correctly, 4 Non Blondes were largely a one-hit-wonder. They only released one studio album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, in October 1992. What’s Up was penned by the group’s lead vocalist and main songwriter Linda Perry. The band, which was active from 1989 to 1994, at the time of What’s Up also featured Roger Rocha (lead guitar), Christa Hillhouse (bass) and Dawn Richardson (drums).

The Cars/Sad Song

Every time it comes to The Cars, I feel that while I hardly know anything about the American new wave and pop rock group, I am familiar with a good deal of their songs. The group was mainly active between 1976 and 1988. During that period, they recorded six of their seven studio albums and scored 13 top 40 hits in the U.S. alone. Their biggest was Drive from July 1984, which climbed to no. 3 in the U.S., Ireland and Switzerland, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. I decided to pick a tune from their reunion and final album Move Like This, which came out in May 2011: Sad Song. Written by frontman Ric Ocasek, who passed away in September 2019, it was one of the group’s few singles that didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100. Sad Song did reach no. 33 on the Mainstream Rock chart. This sounds like classic Cars. Perhaps a more cheerful title would have helped.

Julian Lage/Emily

And once again we have reached the final stop of this music excursion. Hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. I will leave you on a quiet and relaxing note with beautiful guitar jazz by Julian Lage. Borrowing from a June 2021 post when I featured him for the first time, according to Apple Music’s profileLage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Emily, composed by John Mandel and John Mercer, is a track from Lage’s most recent album Squint, released in June 2021. Check out his beautiful tone!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify