As part of¬†Billboard‘s celebration of the 60th anniversary of our¬†Hot¬†100¬†chart this week, we’re taking a deeper look at some of the biggest artists and singles in the chart’s history. Here, we revisit Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth,” which finished at No. 2 in our all-time¬†Hot¬†100 singles ranking.¬†
It was massive before the memes.
As the Billboard Hot 100 celebrates its 60th birthday this Saturday (Aug. 4), ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ —¬†by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty —¬†remains the chart‚Äôs No. 2 song of all-time. When we unveiled past all-encompassing Hot 100s, it held the title in 2015, 2013, and 2008, too. This was before ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ The Meme and fully taken off, back when your Facebook friends from high school were still reveling in Rick Astley and Nickelback jokes instead more refined fare, like ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ coffee mugs and t-shirts.¬†
‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ was always an anomaly. When it came out in June 1999, Santana hadn‚Äôt logged a Hot 100 hit in 14 years, and hadn‚Äôt broken its top 10 since 1970. That‚Äôs kind of like a Phil Collins comeback song with a Shawn Mendes feature becoming a huge hit later this year —¬†vaguely possible, yet still‚Ä¶ strange.¬†Santana was loved by Boomers, but wasn‚Äôt a presence in the late-‚Äė90s pop game until he released Supernatural, a feature-heavy Latin rock album that paired the legendary band with numerous contemporary artists: Thomas, Dave Matthews, Lauryn Hill, CeeLo Green, and Wyclef Jean, who co-produced its other No. 1 hit, ‚ÄúMaria Maria.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúSmooth,‚ÄĚ the lead single, sailed to No. 1 on Oct. 23 and stayed at the summit for 12 consecutive weeks. It was the¬†1990s‚Äô last No. 1 song, and the new millennium‚Äôs first.
Odd as it all was, there were some factors that at least guided “Smooth” towards success. It arrived at a time¬†when — much like today — Latin pop was crossing over into Top 40 more frequently than usual. Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was a Hot 100 No. 1 for five consecutive weeks in Spring 1999. Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailamos” dropped in June¬†and topped the Hot 100¬†for two weeks that September, about a month before “Smooth” did the same. And as awkward a pairing Santana and Rob Thomas were, it was sort of ingenious how they connected to fans of so many genres, young and old, without either being so unwelcome in the other’s world they’d cancel them out. They were basically Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed.¬†
In 2000, digital¬†music¬†consumption was nothing compared to the commercial force of radio. Napster was a year old and you could often listen to a whole album in the time it took to download one song. Alongside its Hot 100 journey, ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ also topped Pop Songs, Adult Pop, and Triple A, while charting on Mainstream Rock and Alternative.¬†Pop kids, rockers, their parents, and their parents‚Äô parents got to hear Thomas croon in his raspy, white guy voice about his ‚ÄúSpanish Harlem Mona Lisa.‚ÄĚ It wouldn‚Äôt have been improbable to hear ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ three times in one trip across your radio dial. It was everywhere.
While ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ reinvigorated Santana‚Äôs career, Thomas‚Äô was already going strong. Matchbox Twenty‚Äôs 1996 debut Yourself or Someone Like You had produced three top-five Pop Songs hits, and the Florida-based lite-rock band was gearing up to release its follow-up in early 2000. ‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ kept Thomas‚Äô voice on the radio in between cycles, during an era when this sort of feature-play was far less typical (and voila, Matchbox Twenty’s “Bent,” their next single, became their first Hot 100¬†No. 1). The strategy —¬†and the whole concept behind Supernatural —¬†actually has a lot in common with today‚Äôs pop songwriting game. Santana, the lead artist, made the music and paired songs off with hitmaker features, much the same way Calvin Harris or Kygo¬†do today. The track listings of modern-day DJ Khaled albums are essentially Supernatural on steroids; Khaled’s ‚ÄúWild Thoughts‚ÄĚ even takes it to another level and samples the main riff from ‚ÄúMaria Maria.‚ÄĚ¬†
So Santana kind of invented the features era. Three years after Supernatural, Santana repeated the process with Shaman, and gave us two more Top 40 hits: the Michelle Branch team-up ‚ÄúGame of Love,‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúWhy Don‚Äôt You & I,‚ÄĚ featuring Chad Kroeger. Somehow, the Santana single with the guy from Nickelback didn‚Äôt become the dominant meme, which speaks to the galaxy-brained levels of Thomas‚Äô musings when it came to white-washed Latin romance and the moon‚Äôs gravitational force. ¬†
‚ÄúSmooth‚ÄĚ still generates about a million on-demand streams per week, according to Nielsen Music.¬†It logs around a thousand sales every week, considerably more than other turn-of-the-century No. 1s. It inspired an iconic Onion article, and an also-pretty-funny (fake) GQ oral history that‚Äôs trying to be a Clickhole article. It‚Äôs Billboard‚Äôs second-biggest song of all-time. It is eternal.¬†