By Ray Chelstowski
I had been weaned as a kid on Santana by my older brother Brian’s steady play of “Soul Sacrifice”. Santana was one of his guitar gods and even now when I hear late 60’s/early 70’s Santana I am transported back in time, and I feel like I am right there in the passenger side of his VW windows down, car stereo cranking. However it was when he purchased 1978’s Inner Secrets on cassette that my real appreciation for Carlos and the band began. It was further accelerated by seeing Santana perform a bunch of tracks from the album on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Those tunes which had more of a pop sheen in the studio took on a real rock roundedness on Kirshner’s broadcast. With every subsequent listen of the record what I would hear is the version that I had connected to through Kirshner. For me, the pop was from that point forward completely absent. I would learn that I was largely alone on this.
Inner Secrets is a controversial album for many Santana fans. It marks a decided move toward album oriented music. The record followed 1977’s Moonflower, an album that largely contained songs tied to Latin infused fusion. With Inner Secrets Santana doubled down on a pop future by bringing top 40 hit makers Brian Potter and Dennis Lambert in to produce. Founders of Haven Records, their resume are filled with chart toppers like “Rhinestone Cowboy”, a bunch of tracks for The Four Tops, The Righteous Brothers, and later Starship (“We Built This City”). Not only did they produce the record, but Lambert co-wrote almost half of the songs on the record.
For me, the finest tracks have a Steve Winwood connection. There’s the cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well Alright” which follows an arrangement that Blind Faith is best known for. There’s also a cover of Traffic’s “Dealer”, the Jim Capaldi penned song that Carlos augments with an instrumental he wrote called “Spanish Rose”.
Lambert and Potter successfully tapped into their cannon for hits here by getting Santana to cover The Four Tops’ “One Chain (Don’t Make No Prison)” from the 1974 release Meeting Of The Minds. This song charted as did a cover of the Classics IV’s “Stormy”. But it was on the rocker “Open Invitation” where the band really let loose and Santana delivers one of the most blistering solos of his entire career.
Santana has moved a bit back and forth between two lead vocalists, Alex Ligertwood and Gregg Walker who holds down the duties on Inner Secrets. Both are remarkably talented signers, capable of making some of the weakest material go down easy. That’s certain the case in the Lambert/Potter penned “Facts of Love”. It’s unlikely that they ever trotted that one out on stage.
The album cover shot by Norman Seeff remains one of my favorite of that period. In the vinyl version, the nine-piece lineup is divided between the front and back cover. The technique would be copied many times over and even appear in magazine cover treatments. Its origins however are here – just as is Santana’s move toward music that is more accessible.
The follow-up Marathon would see changes in that line-up, and the results would be mixed. But he would again chart in the top 40 and in 1981 deliver a number two song with “Winning”. In that sense, the pivot that Inner Secrets provided was exactly what the band needed to stay relevant.