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“Santana really should acknowledge Brahms”

18 January 2011

Store date: 24 March 2000

If you didn’t already know this, it may be fairly apparent by the items that have so far shown up on this website that Laser’s Edge was not a mainstream music retailer. I couldn’t have sold a case lot (30 CDs) of a Garth Brooks album, for instance, if my life depended on it (although, I’m sure that if my life truly depended on it and I was able to get that word out, my patrons would have purchased a truckload of them). So, understandably, an album with the popular stature of Santana’s Supernatural wasn’t the hugest of hits within our walls. Predictably, then, it took me a while to listen to it closely. When I did, and got to the second track on the disc, the memory siren in my brain went off.

Sometime in the few years prior to hearing “Love of My Life” (the aforementioned Track Two), my mother visited town and stayed with me. In the bedroom she used at the time, there was a television set up, connected to cable. Some days, Mom would sit in there reading or working crosswords, while simultaneously watching the tube. On one such day, I heard a lovely piano melody float down the hall from her room to the office where I was working. I rose and went to investigate. It seems that Mom was watching a 1946 film on Turner Classic Movies entitled Undercurrent. In the film, which starred a young Katherine Hepburn, a bride is convinced that her husband (Robert Taylor) is trying to kill her. The music I’d heard – a recurring motif in the film – was being played hauntingly by Ms. Hepburn at a parlor keyboard, as she pondered her uncertain fate.

In the ensuing weeks, I’d quiz customers at the store about the melody, hum it for them, do a bit of the “la la la” impersonation of it for them. Eventually, someone either helped narrow it down or identified it spot-on as the main theme from the third movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. I predictably spent the next week or so playing it repeatedly, effectively searing it into my brain.

So, imagine the memory jolt I received when I heard Santana’s “Love of My Life.” The primary theme of the song is lifted practically note for note from the Brahms symphony. I searched the Santana album’s liner notes for verification of this, and found not one mention of the esteemed composer’s name either in the song’s authorship credits or in the voluminous and gratuitous acknowledgments, where caterers and ass-wipers were thanked in equal measure. This really “tossed sand in my undies,” so I wrote a letter to Rolling Stone magazine – a flag-waver for the Church of Santana as the Second Coming – explaining my case and decrying the lack of proper acknowledgment that, by most definitions, constituted plagiarism.

I shared this letter with Mary Colurso, the Music & Pop Culture writer for The Birmingham News. She took it a step further, devoting one of her weekly columns to the issue (it must have been a slow week for Music & Pop Culture news), handling the whole thing quite deftly (if you click on the image above twice, you’ll be able to read it in its entirety without straining your eyes). She was even able to provide her readers with a source for listening to clips from the two musical pieces over the telephone, so that they could decide about the issue for themselves. Today, I’m glad that she included excerpts from my letter in her article, for it doesn’t seem that I’ve kept a copy for myself (or, more accurately, I haven’t found it yet; the digging’s just begun!).

I don’t know if the acknowledgements have been changed in the Supernatural liner notes since then. I seriously doubt it. But I think it all made for excellent news copy.


Below are the two audio tracks. The first is the Santana; the second is the Brahms.

“Love of My Life,” featuring Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford, from Santana’s Supernatural (1999)

The third movement (III. Poco allegretto) from Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90, performed by the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels, under the direction of Alexander Rahbari. This excerpt is from Naxos 8.550280.


Mary Colurso continues to write for The Birmingham News.

From → media, music

  1. Melissa permalink

    I’m so delighted to read this article! I’d loved that symphony for many years before the Santana album came out. When my mom popped the CD into her car CD player one day, I instantly recognized it as the music from Brahms’ symphony. I was so angry to see the CD jacket made not one mention of Brahms. Thanks for giving Brahms the appreciation he deserves.

  2. I just had the opposite experience. I had the classical music station on the radio and found myself humming along with something that I absolutely didn’t know. At first it was kind of creepy that I was anticipating the every note and passage for a classical piece I was completely unfamiliar with. Until I realized that I knew it from Supernatural. I didn’t find anything about it on the CD notes, so I had to go online and check. I knew someone out there had to have put it together–it is note for note the same music!

  3. Kay permalink

    I happened upon the Brahms’ tune the other day and wondered why it was so familiar when I’d never heard it, searched in film soundtracks but saw nothing familiar. Then a day or two later I started humming the Santana version and thought nothing of it for a second, and then suddenly realised oh yeah it’s the same tune, that’s why the Brahms sounded familiar. There was no doubt at all. I just assumed they’d lifted the whole piece and would have ackowledged it, it’s pretty blatant!

  4. Regina Pearlman permalink

    Just wanted to let you know that while watching “Undercurrent” and upon hearing the opening theme, I recognized the melody. Wracked my brain for a bit, then realized, as you note, it was the Santana/Dave Matthews song!! Thanks for your input and commentary, and I’ll try to look into whether or not Carlos gave credit to his predecessor musical genius! It’s only fair, after all.

    Regina Pearlman
    Kirkland, WA

  5. Stew permalink

    Nothing wrong with re-using a theme, but rude of Carlos not to acknowledge the prior art of Brahms. When I listened recently, I was taken back to childhood, listening to records with my mum, including pop classics. But I mis-identified it as Schubert’s style. Of course, it’s Brahms.

  6. Adrian permalink

    Does anyone know exactly what Dave Matthews says at the very beginning of the song before the first lyric?

  7. who does he think he’s fooling here.. I knew it was too good to be a Santana theme. No disrespect.. I love his music but only time will tell if he’s as good as Brahms (1833-1897).. Like maybe in 100 years or so..

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