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time they went into the studio to start work on the album, Michael Carabello (percussion) and David Brown (bass) had been replaced by James Mingo Lewis and Dough Rauch, respectively.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

Another Sunday is upon us, which means the moment has come again for some music time travel. Hop on board, fasten your seat belt and let’s do this!

Santana/Welcome

Our journey today starts in 1973 with jazz fusion by Santana – very different from Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Oye Cómo Va, Samba Pa Ti and, of course, Black Magic Woman, which brought Carlos Santana and the classic line-up of his band on my radar screen 40-plus years ago. Welcome is the title track of Santana’s fifth studio album released in November 1973, and the follow-on to Caravanserai, which had marked a major departure from their classic seductive blend of Latin grooves and rock to free-form instrumental jazz fusion. I have to admit it was an acquired taste, and I still need to be in the right mood to listen to this type of music. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to give this a listen. It’s amazing music!

Joe Jackson/Friend Better

After a six-and-a-half minute-trance-inducing instrumental, it’s time to add some vocals and pick something a bit more mainstream. Enter Joe Jackson, a British artist I’ve admired since ca. 1980 when I received his sophomore album I’m the Man as a present for my 14th birthday. Initially called “an angry young man,” Jackson quickly proved to be a versatile artist. Over a 40-year-plus-and-counting recording career, he has gone far beyond his origins of punk-oriented pub rock and embraced multiple other genres like new wave, big band jazz and pop. Friend Better is from Jackson’s most recent 20th studio album Fool, which came out in January 2019. All songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. I also got to see him during the supporting tour and thought he was still the man. If you’re so inclined, you can read more about Fool here and the gig here.

The Church/Reptile

For our next stop, let’s jump to February 1988 and The Church, and I’m not talking about a house of worship. That’s when Starfish came out, the Australian rock band’s fifth album, which brought them their international breakthrough. Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post about this gem a couple of weeks ago. When back in the day I heard the album’s first single Under the Milky Way, I was immediately hooked by the amazing sound and got Starfish on CD right away. Only mentioning Milky Way gives me some chills. Okay, admittedly, I’m also listening to the bloody tune as I’m writing this! While this song undoubtedly is the best-known track on Starfish, there’s definitely more to the album. Point in case: Reptile, the second single, credited to all four members of the group Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass), Peter Koppes (guitars, lead vocals), Marty Willson-Piper (guitars, lead vocals) and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion). Kilbey remains the only original member in the Aussie band’s current incarnation.

The Temptations/Get Ready

I trust Motown legends The Temptations need no introduction. When it comes to multi-part harmony singing, the Detroit vocal group ruled in my book. If you haven’t heard it, check out their heavenly rendition of Silent Night, and you quickly know what I mean. This brings me to Get Ready, released in February 1966, the group’s third no. 1 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s R&B charts and their second top 10 on the UK Official Singles Chart. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, the tune also appeared on The Temptations’ fourth studio album Gettin’ Ready, released in June that same year. Motown founder and head Berry Gordy Jr. wasn’t impressed with the song’s performance on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 (no. 29). Subsequently, he replaced Robinson with Norman Whitfield as the group’s producer. Whitfield would become instrumental in shaping what became known as psychedelic soul in the late ’60s. Among others, he co-wrote and produced the epic Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

Counting Crows/Mr. Jones

We’re starting to get into the final stretch with one of my all-time favorite tunes by Counting Crows and the ’90s for that matter. Like I bet was the case for many other music listeners as well, Mr. Jones brought the rock band from San Franciso on my radar screen when they suddenly burst on the scene in December 1993. Not only marked Mr. Jones the group’s breakthrough, but it also was their very first single. Interestingly, the lead single off their studio debut August and Everything Thereafter, which had come out three months earlier, failed to chart in the U.S. but proved successful elsewhere. Mr. Jones, co-written by Counting Crows guitarist and lead vocalist David Bryson and Adam Duritz, respectively, hit no. 1 in Canada and no. 13 in Australia. In the UK, it reached a respectable no. 28. I wonder whether American audiences felt the tune sounded too much like R.E.M. – not an unfair comparison, though it never bothered me. Last year, Counting Crows hit their 30th anniversary (unreal to me!). Bryson and Duritz remain part of the current line-up.

Little Richard/Tutti Frutti

And once again, this brings us to our final destination for this Sunday. While he called himself Little Richard, there was nothing small about Richard Wayne Penniman. The flamboyant artist was a giant of the classic rock & roll era, one of the most exciting performers who also wrote and co-wrote gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Long Tall Sally and Jenny, Jenny. And I’m only talking about tunes from Richard’s debut album Here’s Little Richard released in March 1957. As was common at the time, it essentially was a compilation of Richard’s singles that had appeared earlier. Tutti Frutti, co-written by Penniman and Dorothy LaBostrie, had first been released in October 1955 and become Little Richard’s first U.S. hit, a no. 2 on Billboard’s R&B charts. It also reached the top 20 on the mainstream pop chart (no. 18). Inexplicably, at least from a musical perspective, Penniman never had a no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. His most successful tune there, Long Tall Sally, reached no. 6.

This wraps up another installment of The Sunday Six, folks, but we’ll embark on a new trip next Sunday. Meanwhile, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify