Throughout his nearly 30-year career, Rob Thomas has written a collection of hits from the early ’90s —Matchbox Twenty‘s 1996 debut Yourself of Someone Like You, with hits “Push” and “3 AM,” “Real World,” “Back 2 Good,”— and more through the band’s subsequent multi-platinum releases and chart toppers, “If You’re Gone,” “Mad Season,” “Unwell” and “Bent,” and a deeper collection of songs with his solo material.
For more than 20 years, Thomas, who is an American Songwriter 2022 Song Contest judge, has also lent his words to other artists, writing the 1999 mega-hit “Smooth” (with Itaal Shur) for Carlos Santana’s Supernatural—the pair reunited again 22 years later for “Move”—and writing for a number of projects and artists, including songs for Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger and more.
“The germ comes in the same way,” Thomas told American Songwriter of capturing a new song. “You’re never really responsible for it. You’re just kind of sitting somewhere, and you hear this thing. I always think of it as a radio station that’s just above my head. Sometimes I tune into this melody and I’m like, “Oh, I like that.” And then I’m like, “what is that?” Oh, that’s me, and it’s nothing yet.”
Thomas added, “I think the only trick is inspiration. It’s always part inspiration, part craft. So the inspiration part is the same, and you’re lucky when you have it. You’re thankful when you get it.”
Thomas has received three Grammy awards, 13 BMI Awards, in addition to the first-ever Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004 for his songwriting.
To celebrate the peripheral of Thomas’ solo and Matchbox Twenty catalog, here are five songs he wrote for other artists.
“Visions of Paradise,” Mick Jagger (2001)
Written by Rob Thomas, Mick Jagger, and Matt Clifford
When Mick Jagger was working on his fourth solo album, Goddess in the Doorway, he called upon some friends: Bono, Pete Townshend, Joe Perry, and Lenny Kravitz. All made their own musical contribution, vocally, musically, or with words to Jagger’s release, including a more pop-fused offering from Rob Thomas, “Visions of Paradise,” a lighter rumination on the aches and pains love—Don’t tell me when something is beautiful / And don’t tell me how to talk to my friends / Just tell me the names of the stars in the sky / What’s your favorite song / Tell me the names of the lovers you had / Before I came along.
“Tragedy,” Marc Anthony (2002)
Written by Rob Thomas and Cory Rooney
Off Marc Anthony’s sixth solo album, and second in English, Mended, the album, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, features the dance-y Rob Thomas- and Cory Rooney-penned “Tragedy.” Prior to releasing Mended, Anthony also shared the Spanish version of the song, “Tragedia,” on his fifth album Libre in 2001.
“Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me),” Willie Nelson (2002)
Written by Rob Thomas
Joining other collaborators like Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Ann Womack, Bernie Taupin, and more, Rob Thomas wrote three songs for Willie Nelson’s 50th album, The Great Divide, including “Won’t Catch Me Cryin’” “Recollection Phoenix” and the opening track “Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me).”
“Baby Doll,” Pat Green (2005)
Written by Rob Thomas and Pat Green
The third studio album by country singer Pat Green, Lucky Ones produced three singles for the artist that hit the country charts, including “Don’t Break My Heart Again” (No. 21) and “Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico” (No. 42). The third track, “Baby Doll,” reached No. 21 and is one of two songs on the album written by Green and Rob Thomas. The pair also co-wrote “My Little Heaven.”
“Move,” Carlos Santana, featuring Rob Thomas, American Authors (2021)
Written by Rob Thomas, Carlos Santana, and American Authors’ Zac Barnett, Matt Sanchez, and Dave Rublin
The second single off Santana’s star-studded 2021 release, Blessings and Miracles, “Move” is a new return to”Smooth,” mixing Spanish Harlem beats with little bits of pop, meringue, and rock, featuring Thomas and American Authors. Thomas is one of many collaborators on the album, also featuring Chris Stapleton, Ally Brooke, Diane Warren, Corey Glover, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, the late Chick Corea and his wife Gayle Moran Corea, Steve Winwood (for a new rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale”) and Santana’s son Salvador and daughter Stella.
“‘Move’ came about very much like how ‘Smooth’ happened,” said Santana. “It was like divine intelligence behind the scenes, and I just knew I had to record it with Rob. The song is about awakening your molecules. Ignite and activate yourself… you know, move. When Rob and I work together, we have a sound that’s splendiferous.”
Photo: Randall Slavin / Atlantic Records