- A Must Own album, clearly their Masterpiece, and one of the truly groundbreaking debuts in rock history – a personal favorite that knocked me out when I first heard it back in high school, and over the decades it has become even more impressive
- The drums have real snap to them – this copy delivers the fast, clean percussion that is absolutely critical to Santana’s music
- “Santana combined Latin rhythms with jazz-inspired improvisation, hard-rock guitar and lyrical, B.B. King-style blues – and even had a hit single, “Evil Ways. The combination of rock guitar and funk percussion was undeniable.” Rolling Stone
Santana’s first album came out of nowhere and rocked in a way that few music lovers (especially those who knew nothing about Tito Puente) had heard before.
In one sense it had something in common with Led Zeppelin’s debut from early in 1969. Their album took the blues and added heavy metal guitars. Santana took African and Latin rhythms and added his own heavy guitars. Each is a landmark recording in its own right. It’s hard to imagine and any collection of popular music that would be without both.
Folks, you owe it to yourself to hear what a great band Santana were back in the day. Hot Stampers of any of the first three records will do the trick. If you’ve got the stereo that can play loud rock and roll, we’ve got the records that sound like Santana playing live in your listening room. Take it from someone who likes to listen to his music at fairly loud levels, Santana’s first album is truly a thrill.
What the Best Sides of Santana’s Groundbreaking Debut Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with the keyboards, guitars, drums and percussion having the correct sound for this kind of Latin Rock record
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
When you play a Hot Stamper copy very loud, soon enough you find yourself marvelling at the musicianship of the group — because the best Hot Stamper pressings, communicating every bit of the energy and clarity the recording has to offer, let you hear what a great band they were.
On badly mastered records, such as the run-of-the-mill domestic LP, or the audiophile pressings on MoFi and CBS, the music lacks the power of the real thing. I want to hear Santana ROCK. Most pressings don’t let me do that, but the best sure do.
What We’re Listening For on Santana’s Debut
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and blurriness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mastering and Condition Issues
It’s been our experience that finding clean copies with the right stampers of this album is getting harder by the day. A number of factors conspire to make quiet, good sounding pressings relatively rare.
First off, the majority of original pressings simply don’t sound good. A 360 label does not mean anything on this record except the POTENTIAL for good sound. (And there are great sounding red label copies out there; they just happen to be even harder to find with good sound.)
The badly mastered or pressed copies can be recognized easily: they are muddy and smeary. The recording itself has a bit of that too-many-tubes-in-the-signal-path quality to start with, so unless the record is mastered and pressed clearly and cleanly the whole presentation is likely to turn to mud.
And of course the most serious problem for collectors of vintage recordings is CONDITION. It’s fairly unusual to find an early copy of this record that isn’t beat to death. I bought my first copy while I was in high school and I can assure you that I did my best to beat mine to death. I remember playing the record over and over again until the grooves were practically worn smooth.
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful vintage pressings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
A Must Own Rock Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Rock Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
The first 30 seconds of this track will tell you if you have a good side one. The drums and percussion on the good copies are clean and clear, neither grainy nor smeared. Smearing is the most common problem for the originals, and graininess is the most common problem for reissues, which are usually made from sub generation EQ’d tapes.
And the other thing the Hot Stampers have going for them is deep, solid bass, as mentioned above. There is a bass fundamental on this opening track that’s WAY down there. If you have small speakers you can just forget ever hearing this record sound right, because the bass is critical to Santana’s sound.
The key thing to listen to on this track is the quality of the vocals. On the best pressings they are very silky and sweet. It’s the kind of sound that modern recordings simply fail to capture. Or they’re not interested in that sound. Whatever the reason, they don’t have it.
Shades of Time
BIG DRUMS, BIG HALL. You want to listen to this song on the biggest speakers you can find, playing as loud as they will play, in the biggest room in the house. You’ll never forget it.
You Just Don’t Care
This is probably my favorite track on side two. This song doesn’t even make sense at normal listening levels. If you can’t play it loud, don’t even bother. There are big guitar power chords on this song that are meant to be heard at loud levels. Gregg Rolie is practically screaming his vocals because he needs to shout to be heard over those crashing guitar chords. I like to say that when I come across a song like this, I can’t play it loud enough. The music cries out for more volume. The louder it gets the better it gets, because it’s all about power.
This song will sound somewhat muddy at normal listening levels. All the energy is in the lower frequencies. The voice is correct, however, so when the voice sounds tonally correct and there’s tons of energy in the bass and lower midrange, you probably have yourself a good copy.
Carlos Santana was originally in his own wing of the Latin Rock Hall of Fame, neither playing Afro-Cuban with rock guitar, as did Malo, nor flavoring mainstream rock with percussion, as did Chicago. His first record, as with the best fusion, created something a little different than just a mixture — a new style that, surprisingly, remains all his own. Granted that Latin music has seeped into the mainstream since, but why aren’t Van Halen and Metallica listening to this? Where they simmer, Santana boils over.
Rolling Stone Review
The first two times Santana tried to record their debut, they scrapped the tapes. But the third time, they came up with Santana, which combined Latin rhythms with jazz-inspired improvisation, hard-rock guitar and lyrical, B.B. King-style blues – and even had a hit single, “Evil Ways.” The combination of rock guitar and funk percussion was undeniable. Back then, a lot of Carlos Santana’s guitar playing was fueled by psychedelic drugs. “I don’t recommend it to anybody and everybody,” Santana told Rolling Stone in 2000. “Yet for me, I feel it did wonders. It made me aware of splendor and rapture.” For millions of people, Santana did the same thing.
A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.
1969 Santana – (Their Masterpiece)
1970 Abraxas – (Top 100)
1971 Santana III – (Their third and last Must Own album)
1972 Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!
1972 Love Devotion Surrender
1978 Inner Secrets
1980 The Swing of Delight