[Review] Santana: Abraxas (1970)

A pungent feast of Latin, jazz and rock served in the inimitable idiom of Santana, this might be their best album.

Kronomyth 2.0: Black by popular demon.

I had referred to Santana’s second album as a “Latin blackmass” in my original review, which was an attempt to capture the record’s duality of spirituality and profanity. The profanity is evident before you listen to a single note: the album cover features both a succubus and a naked woman with visible pubic hair (which I recall was retouched for some releases), her legs open and her genitals covered by a dove. And then there’s the album’s title, Abraxas, a named demon. If the intent was to shock the sensibilities of middle America, Santana had hit a home run before even reaching the plate.

The music of Abraxas was no less shocking. “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” is a musical invocation/incantation of percussion, organ and guitars that flies between the left and right channels like loosed spirits. The bewitching “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” follows, an indelible moment in music that reeks of dark magic. The remainder of the record shifts between Latin percussion orgies, contemporary slices of psychedelic rock that owe their origins to Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple, and jazzy excursions for electric guitar. It’s an eclectic album that reflects the different musical personalities of its members. The unifying thread is the band’s musicianship and the uniquely Santana-esque groove woven throughout.

Abraxas contains some of their best songs over a long career: “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” “Oye Como Va,” “Samba Pa Ti.” Add “Evil Ways” and you may have the four cornerstones of classic Santana. But this is more than a few foundational songs; it’s a self-standing monument that grows higher with each song. Their first album, an acknowledged classic, featured material that the band was already performing live. Abraxas is the sound of Santana captured in the act of creation; you get the sense that they could have easily made this a double album.

In singing the praises of Abraxas, critics tend to overlook Gregg Rolie’s two supercharged psychedelic rock songs, “Mother’s Daughter” and “Hope You’re Feeling Better.” It’s true that they’re not timeless in the same sense as “Oye Como Va” or “Black Magic Woman,” but they’re critical to the success of Abraxas, giving the album a much-needed shot of adrenalin. Part of the magic of Abraxas is its contrasts; putting Carlos Santana’s sentimental “Samba Pa Ti” in the middle of Rolie’s two rockers is genius. Over the long and largely forgotten years, Abraxas is an album I have returned to often, marveling at its mélange of magical sounds that arrive perfectly on cue (though the devil, they say, is in the details).

Original elpee version

A1. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts (Mike Carabello) (4:48)
A2. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen (Peter Green/Gabor Szabo) (5:17)
A3. Oye Como Va (Tito Puente) (4:17)
A4. Incident At Neshabur (Alberto Gianquinto/Carlos Santana) (4:58)
B1. Se A Cabo (Jose “Chepito” Areas, arr. by Jose “Chepito” Areas) (2:49)
B2. Mother’s Daughter (Gregg Rolie) (4:25)
B3. Samba Pa Ti (Carlos Santana, arr. by Carlos Santana/Gregg Rolie) (4:46)
B4. Hope You’re Feeling Better (Gregg Rolie) (4:10)
B5. El Nicoya (Jose “Chepito” Aresa, arr. by Jose “Chepito” Areas/Mike Carabello/Rico Reyes) (1:29)

All songs arranged by Santana unless noted.

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Se A Cabo (live)
11. Toussaint l’Overture (live)
12. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen (live)

The Players

Jose “Chepito” Areas (timbals and congas), Dave Brown (bass guitar), Mike Carabello (conga), Gregg Rolie (keyboard and vocals), Carlos Santana (lead guitar and vocals), Mike Shrieve (drums) with Alberto Gianquinto (piano on A4), Rico Reyes (vocal, percussion). Produced by Fred Catero & Santana; engineered by Dave Brown, John Fiore.

The Pictures

Cover art by MATI. Cover photograph by Marian Schmidt. Inside photograph by Joan Chase. Graphics by Bob Venosa. Continuity by Annie Rudder.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on September 23, 1970 in the US (Columbia, KC/CT 30130), the UK, Italy and the Netherlands (CBS, S/40-64087) and Germany (CBS, 92 771) with gatefold cover and poster; reached #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 5x platinum record) and #7 on the UK charts. Named #207 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US and Canada (Columbia, PC 30130) with gatefold cover and poster.
  2. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in 1991 in the UK, France and the Netherlands (CBS, CBS/CDCBS 32032).
  3. Re-issued on elpee on March 27, 1980 in Italy (CBS, S 64087) {orange gradient label}.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1990 in Australia (CBS, CDCBS64087).
  5. Re-released on remastered 24k gold compact disc in January 1993 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-552).
  6. Re-packaged with Santana and Santana 3 on 3-for-1 3CD set on August 12, 1997 (Sony, 65389).
  7. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on March 31, 1998 in the US (Columbia/Legacy, CK 65490) and on April 6, 1998 in Europe (Columbia/Legacy, 489543-2) with 3 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-released on remastered elpee in 2006 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-305).

3 thoughts on “[Review] Santana: Abraxas (1970)

  1. Now THAT’s a review for an album I’d rate 9/10. It really is a great one. Since there I can’t find a better place to talk about it, Dave, I thought I’d tell you about when you had the second website with the black background before you redid it into white. You had a list of the artists you reviewed with quirky descriptions next to their names. Those faded away eventually, but there’s some I still remember, such as…

    AC/DC: (I don’t remember the exact description, other than saying that they led off the list.)
    Adam & The Ants: Overdressed? Maybe. Underrated? Definitely!
    Aerosmith: The Rolling Clones
    Tori Amos: If Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell had a baby and sent it to Catholic school.
    Joan Armatrading: What Elton John might sound like as a black lesbian, I guess.
    The Beatles: (Again, I don’t remember how exactly it went, other than to say that at half the artists on this list owe their place on the list to them.)
    Crash Test Dummies: Mmm mmm good.

    That’s all I remember.

    By the way, did you like my story about how I let that red-haired lady and her children on the bus by giving up my seat?

  2. Oh, I remember another one…

    Toni Childs: Imagine Alannah Myles fronting a WOMAD festival

  3. Wow, I had totally forgotten those. I suspect that, other than your memory, they are lost to time. Funny, but while the old site was more popular, I don’t have any nostalgia for it. I used to get a lot of negative comments from people on that site, which was such a drag. I did read your story and enjoyed it, but I honestly thought someone had hijacked your email and was cutting and pasting part of a novel in the text. Not that you have to “Dear Dave” every email, but a heads up would have clued me in. 🙂 Thanks for the memories!

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