Santana and Rob Thomas’s ‘Smooth’ at 25

“The subject forever hangs outside of time — it’s the lover and the beloved,” Santana said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where he has a long-running residency at House of Blues. “Love is something we need a lot on the radio. Everywhere you turn, there’s more Exorcist movies, more Satan, more Lucifer.”

The bioengineered song was written by a onetime acid jazz musician named Itaal Shur, but Santana didn’t like the lyrics, so Thomas “got a little high,” he said, and wrote new words and melodies. Then he and Shur reworked it, layering hook upon hook. Thomas has always said he wrote “Smooth” about Marisol Maldonado, a Queens-born model of Puerto Rican descent to whom he’s been married since 1999.

“There’s something magical about our relationship,” Thomas said of his wife during a lively video interview from his home in Westchester County. “We think of ourselves as a great love story.”

But, Thomas revealed, he began the lyrics by writing not about Maldonado, but about Carlos Santana. Much of the chorus — “You’re so smooth,” and “It’s just like the ocean under the moon” — were inspired by how he viewed the guitarist. “That was all about Carlos. But I didn’t want a song where I’m singing to him, so I reframed it. ‘Smooth’ was written to put up a banner saying, ‘This is the love that I have.’”

Nearly every song on “Supernatural” was a guajira, an Afro-Cuban rhythm “put together to make lovers get it on,” Santana said. “There’s nothing more sensuous or delicious than a guajira. It drives women crazy.”

The arrangement of “Smooth” includes congas, timbales, a cowbell and a guiro, instruments widely associated with Latin music. But Santana scoffed at the suggestion that the song has a Latin feel: “‘Latin’ is a word that came from Hollywood, for Latin lovers like Fernando Lamas and Cesar Romero. It’s just African rhythms. My music is 90 percent African.”


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