It certainly was a very hot one!
Cast of characters:
- Carlos Santana
- Rob Thomas
- Itaal Shur (co-author)
- Matt Serletic (producer)
- Brian Yale (Matchbox Twenty bass player)
- Bono (Bono)
- Marcus Raboy (Music Video Director)
- Marisol Maldonado (Thomas’ wife, the Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa)
The year was 1999. Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas recorded “Smooth” and it quickly became one of the most ubiquitous and successful singles of all time. Whether you love it or hate it, “Smooth” remains a career defining moment for both Santana and Thomas, and continues to evoke strong and passionate reactions seventeen years later. Here now is the untold and often harrowing story of how “Smooth” came to be, in the words of those who lived through the lie-changing experience.
Chapter I: A Hot Day
Carlos Santana: It is difficult to remember much about the song “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas because I do not care and it does not really matter. But I believe it all started when Jamiroquai rang me on the telephone to tell me about his boring day.
This may or may not be 100% real.
Matt Serletic (producer): It’s been confirmed again and again that Jamiroquai made no such call. Everyone knows Jamiroquai has no phone. And if he did, he wouldn’t know how to use it. [laughs uncontrollably]
Itaal Shur (co-writer): Santana’s people reached out to me to see if I had a song up my big sleeves that would close out their concept album. The only direction they gave me is that it should make the listener visualize sexual-intercourse.
Santana: We were in the process of putting the finishing touches on my duet album Supernatural, which was a concept album about a pair of attractive brothers who hunt and often kill demons and other monsters. It was a sensual album but it wasn’t yet the horny album we wanted. Itaal, one of horniest men, was supposed to change that.
Shur: I sent Carlos a song I had written called “Room 17,” which is about a motel room crammed full of sex-crazed ghosts who desire forgiveness and cheap orgasms. Not necessarily in that order! LOL. I wrote the samba guitar riff over the weekend, and by Monday I got word that my song had just the right amount of sex.
Santana: The song was good, but, as I said to a man I saw wearing a Big Dogs shirt, “It’s 1999, baby! Nobody cares about ghosts anymore!” Ghosts haven’t been sexy since the early mid-‘80s. Can you imagine ghosts humping? No, you can’t. And that’s a good thing, in my opinion.
Serletic: So I rang up Rob (Thomas) and asked him if he wanted to give it a go. He told me that I was no better than an average sized dung-beetle and hung up. But then he called back and said sure, why not.
Thomas: “Room 17” was a great song. Maybe the best I’ve ever heard. It made me super horny. I loved that song. But something was missing. So I changed the lyrics, the melody, and everything else about it. When I sat down to re-write my intention was not only to write a song that makes the listener want to bone another human being, but to write a song that could [here, Thomas closes his eyes] kill God.
Marisol Maldonado (wife of Rob Thomas): For as long as I’ve known Rob, he’s been torn between two passions. One is writing songs that you can kind of sing-along to on the radio that made you feel neither good nor bad. The other is devising a way to capture and kill God. There’s nothing he fears more than the Great Cloud Troll, as he calls Him. It’s silly, but that’s just Rob! Rob is also very afraid of commitment and certain loud noises after 9 P.M.
Rob: I’m not afraid of any loud noises.
Brian Yale (Matchbox Twenty bass player): Rob’s deathly afraid of roughly half the loud noises in the world. It’s, quite frankly, very cool.
Thomas: I didn’t even know who Carlos Santana was at this point. I actually thought he was the guy that who was in charge of Libya. However, what I did know was that I have always liked the word “smooth” and the idea of a hot day.
Chapter II: Complications
Santana: I heard Rob’s demo. I hated it. Yes, it evoked a deep sense of sultry horn-doggedness which was good, but I thought, This song will bring eternal shame to my name and to the names of my heirs. In the original version there were no lyrics but “Smooth/smooth smooth/smooth smoooooth/Smooth!” I was unimpressed. But the angel and the demon that lived in my house both liked it, and they never agreed on anything. The demon’s name was Asmodeus, Prince of Revenge. He had three heads and a serpent’s tail. The angel’s name was Frank and he looked like an American guy.
Thomas: I can’t think of a single loud noise that scares me. Fireworks? No. Sirens? Not at all. The sound it makes when you hit a man repeatedly with a bottle of Mr. Pibb and he’s screaming, “Stop it, Rob! I have a family!”? Not a chance, buddy!
Santana: Around this time in my life I was often visited by both an angel and a demon. Sometimes they just seemed excited to watch me play my good guitar, but other times they would shove me or try to trick me into doing silly things like eating scrambled eggs with spaghetti, or trying to get me to steal my neighbor’s baggy pants. They were persistent in those early days. They often arrived at the same time, though I do not believe they were friends.
"I didn’t even know who Carlos Santana was at this point. I actually thought he was the guy that who was in charge of Libya." — Rob Thomas
Thomas: When Carlos told me about Asmodeus and Frank I knew I was getting close to killing God. However, when I finally met them I was not impressed. They were only average height and their clothes were bad.
Maldonado: If Rob Thomas hates one thing, it’s people and animals of average height.
Santana: Rob was constantly re-working the lyrics, trying to find a combination of words that would result in “maximum disrespect shown to the Lord, our God”—but he kept coming up short. I didn’t care for him or his frequently soiled leather pants, but I won’t lie and say he didn’t have talent. I can’t lie. When I was just a boy, a grumpy witch cursed me to always be honest. It sucks.
Chapter III: Huge and Horny
Maldonado: Mr. Santana was not pleased with the line about the Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa. I don’t blame him. That line means nothing to Rob and it makes me throw up every time I think about it.
Santana: I said, “what What the hell is this Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa crap all about, white boy?” Rob said nothing for a moment. Finally, he smiled like a murderer and told me nothing means anything until the Kingdom of Heaven burns. I have to admit, the kid had guts. [laughs]
Serletic: Recording the song was a nightmare. Rob has an expression he uses when inside the vocal booth: “Man, it’s a hot one! Shoot to kill! It’s a jungle out there! Kill ‘em all and let Odin sort ‘em out!” I think that’s where that popular lyric came from.
Maldonado: Rob is always saying that. When we first started dating I found it endearing. Now I just find it extremely impressive.
Shur: My song was supposed to be about horny ghosts living in a hotel room Purgatory, but instead the Matchbox man made it about a really hot day. It takes a big man to admit it, but that was a stroke of genius. There’s nothing more interesting than a hot day.
Thomas: We recorded the song in three takes. I told the Santana to hold the special guitar, but not to play. I called the guys from Matchbox Twenty and put them on speaker phone and I said, “I don’t even remember your names. Do not contact me again. Rob Thomas is dead now.”
Santana: I forgot how to play guitar during the recording session. I looked at this long necked instrument with its six sinister metal strings and felt nothing but total revulsion. I also forgot my name for six or seven hours. I was telling people my name was “Applejacks? They don’t even taste like apples!” but eventually I forgot that name as well. Overall, it was a horrifying experience that made me feel as if scorpions were stinging my eyes for hours, and I loved every minute.
Serletic: I knew the video for this song was going to be huge and horny.
Marcus Raboy (director): Someone hired me to direct the music video of a song. That’s what I did. I bought a camera and mounted it on a tripod and pointed it at people, including Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana. Then I pressed the record button and sometimes zoomed in and zoomed out. Then I went home without saying goodbye.
Chapter IV: Success!
Thomas: We learned soon after that this was the most successful song of all time. It’s very likely that God is dead because of my good song about the hot day. I haven’t seen him since “Smooth” debuted and neither has anyone else.
Santana: The song was so horny that we were nominated for almost every Grammy. Around this time Asmodeus and Frank started a rumor that all the Matchbox Twenty men had died in a duck boat accident. When Rob heard the news he was very quiet. I was about to break the silence when he finally asked me if I had ever tried Ethiopian food. I wept for him. I wept because he had asked such a stupid question and because, I suppose, he was always asking such stupid questions.
Serletic: People would come up to Rob and tell him they were so sorry his bandmates in Matchbox Twenty had died, but that the song about the hot day had proved he was going to be okay.
Thomas: It was 1999. There was no Internet. Only a few people owned televisions. There was no way I could know Matchbox Twenty continued to draw ragged breath after ragged breath. I arranged for an honorary mass grave. I did my part.
Yale: I ugh, called Rob many times explaining we were not dead, and that we were looking forward to recording our sophomore album. He listened, but he never responded. He just breathed and then quietly hung up.
Santana: When they called our names at the Grammys, I realized that trends come and go, but people will always be horny on a hot day. “Smooth” proves this and will continue to prove this, until the heat death of the universe.
Thomas: It was an amazing experience to get on that stage and accept the Grammy from one of my heroes, Bono. When Bono handed me the award I said, “Fuck you, Bono! Go to hell, you stupid bastard.”
Bono (singer, humanitarian): Rob Thomas is a nice young man in leather pants that wrote the song about the very hot day. He’s a genius. I tried to embrace him but he slapped me so hard my silly glasses fell off. I bent over to pick them up and Rob stepped on them. The glass crunched beneath his boot. He told me to crawl away like the worm that I was. “Worms don’t have arms!” he screamed at me.
Thomas: Bono is one of our greatest humans. I love Bono more than anything.
Maldonado: When we got back to Casa de Rob Thomas, Rob told me that he “must paint me” so we went down to the basement, and he pulled out an enormous canvas and all the finest painting tools. I sat on a chair with a bemused knowing smile. Hours later he showed me his art. It was a picture of Bono sitting on an anthropomorphic giraffe wearing Wu-Wear. It was beautiful and sad.
Epilogue: The Olympic Horse
Santana: I never spoke to Rob Thomas again. At least, not until we both found out the horse in the Olympics danced to our song about the very hot day. It was then I called Ron Thomas and explained I was Carlos Santana.
Maldonado: It was after 9 P.M. Rob’s ringtone was the sound of a large gong one would hear in a Tibetan temple. Unfortunately, that is one of the noises Rob is scared of about half of the time. So he screamed. And screamed. I held him in my arms like an average-sized child until he was ready to talk to Carlos about the dancing horse.
Thomas: I was almost certain it was illegal to talk to Carlos Santana on the phone, but Marisol, my lady wife, told me that it was permissible to speak to Carlos Santana on the phone, but only in moderation.
Santana: We debated rescuing the horse who was forced to listen to “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. In the end we decided not to, because horses are disgusting.
Thomas: I hate that the enslaved horse was made to dance because of my music, but I can’t do anything about it because horses gross me out. I abhor slavery, but even more revolting than the institution of slavery is the muscular big maned-rat that runs on his hooves that you call a “horse”. So, so nasty.
Santana: Not all devils are horses, but all horses are devils. And that’s what the sex song “Smooth” was all about.