“The Game of Love,” the feel-good anthem performed by Santana and Michelle Branch and released in 2002, was produced by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Carlos Santana and Clive Davis. The song was originally recorded during studio sessions for the Santana album Shamen, with lead vocals from Gregg Alexander, who co-wrote “The Game of Love.”
Santana’s Search for the Right Female Vocalist for “The Game of Love”
Clive felt the tune would sound better if executed by a female vocalist, so he turned to another Hall of Famer, superstar Tina Turner who performed what the producers believed would be the definitive version. Although the recording with Tina was mastered, the plan to put the song on the album struck a major roadblock when Tina refused to participate in a music video to promote the song. Clive, still convinced that the song should be sung by a female, then enlisted Macy Gray to provide lead vocals for “The Game of Love,” but Clive wasn’t happy with the results, so the production team resumed their search to find another female singer to fit the bill.
It was Gregg Alexander who suggested they approach 19-year-old Michelle Branch, who was a hot, new artist on the scene. Michelle was fresh off her 2001 debut album, The Spirit Room. It was a resounding launch to her career. The album was certified platinum, selling more than a million units, and yielding three Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: “Goodbye to You,” which went to #21; “Everywhere,” which peaked at #12; and the #6 smash “All You Wanted.”
Michelle Branch: Young, Terrified, Perfect
When Michelle Branch was asked if she would be interested in performing the vocal for a Carlos Santana song, to be included on Shaman (the follow-up to Santana’s multi-platinum album Supernatural), she responded with obvious elation. “I would’ve been out of my mind if I said no,” Michelle admitted. Once she accepted the invitation, Michelle still had to audition to get the part, to make sure Gregg’s hunch was correct, and she recalled being “terrified” when she was in studio to sing the vocal for the track. Michelle’s fear turned to fortune. After Michelle’s audition, it was unanimously decided by Clive and Carlos that the lead vocal for “The Game of Love” should go to young Michelle Branch.
Carlos Santana and Tina Turner’s Version Also Worth a Listen
Carlos had tremendous respect for the great Tina Turner, but he loved Michelle’s performance of the song because he felt Michelle was in a perfect transition in her life, “[maturing from] a girl to a woman” and that perspective was important in how the song was interpreted. Tina Turner’s version became available for the public on Ultimate Santana, a retrospective collection of songs released in 2007.
It’s Who You Know: Rick Nowels + Gregg Alexander
“The Game of Love” was co-written by Gregg Alexander and Rick Nowels, which was a very interesting collaboration as well. It was Rick who gave Gregg his big break into the music business. Gregg was only 16 years old when he played his self-made demo tapes for producer Rick Nowels. Rick was duly impressed by what he heard and helped Gregg land his first recording contract with A&M Records, the label founded by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.
In addition to his producer credits, Rick is also a prolific songwriter, having written songs recorded by Madonna, Rod Stewart, Adele, John Legend, Brandon Flowers, Lana Del Rey, and Stevie Nicks, among many others. Rick’s compositions have achieved worldwide acclaim. He wrote “White Flag” for the artist Dido, which received the Ivor Novello Award for International Hit of the Year in 2004. He also wrote “Falling into You” for Celine Dion, which was the first single from her 1996 album of the same name. That song hit #1 in Greece and Spain and was Top 10 in many other countries. The album Falling into You won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1997.
Gregg Alexander’s New Radicals
One of the first projects that Gregg Alexander scored with was with his band New Radicals, hitting pay dirt in 1998 with their first single “You Get What You Give,” from their one and only album. “You Get What You Give” was another hit song that was written by the partnership of Gregg Alexander and Rick Nowels, rising to #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, breaking into the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #36 in the U.S., #5 in the U.K., and moving all the way to #1 in Canada and New Zealand. Gregg founded and fronted New Radicals as the band’s lead singer, but he despised the media attention and the rigors of touring, so he dissolved the group to focus on what he truly loved, producing and writing music.
Since the dissolution of New Radicals, Gregg has written music for films, and penned songs for many notable artists, including Enrique Iglesias, Rod Stewart, Hanson, Texas, and several members of the Spice Girls for their solo work, in addition to his stellar work with Rick Nowels.
“The Game of Love” Celebrated
“The Game of Love” is another in a long list of celebrated Latin Rock and Pop-fused classics from the incomparable Carlos Santana, and his collection of world-class musicians known as Santana. The tune won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2003.
It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary, and Billboard Adult Top 40 charts while going all the way to #1 in Poland. The song also broke the Top 10 in Canada, Hungary, Romania, Spain, and New Zealand.
Michelle Branch followed her impressive debut with her second studio album Hotel Paper, which also sold over a million units and was certified platinum by the RIAA. In 2005, Michelle teamed with her good friend and back-up singer, Jessica Harp, to form the Country Rock and Pop band The Wreckers. The group achieved gold status with its album Stand Still Look Pretty, selling over 500,000 copies, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006 for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the song “Leave the Pieces.” After the break-up of The Wreckers in 2007, Michelle took a hiatus from the music business, later returning in 2017 with her third studio album, titled Hopeless Romantic. The album was co-written and co-produced by Patrick Carney, who is also the drummer for The Black K