Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Tower Of Power



Tower Of Power were a multi-racial, multi-instrumental Californian funk/r'n'b group that formed in the late sixties/early seventies. Their sound was based around their vibrant horn section, thumping drums and a big, throbbing bass.

I have covered their first five albums from the seventies here, and their comeback one from 2018. They are:-

Bump City (1972)
Tower Of Power (1973)
Back To Oakland (1974)
Urban Renewal (1975)
In The Slot (1975)
and Soul Side Of Town (2018)

Scroll down to read them chronologically.

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BUMP CITY (1972)

1. You Got To Funkifize
2. What Happened To The World That Day?
3. Flash In The Pan
4. Gone
5. You Strike My Main Nerve
6. Down To The Nightclub
7. You're Still A Young Man
8. Skating On Thin Ice
9. Of The Earth  

This was Tower of Power's debut album, and a good one it was too. The sound quality on this remastered release is excellent too - full, bassy and warm.                                            

You Got To Funkifize is a magnificent slab of driving, brassy, pulsating seventies funk. What Happened To The World That Day? is a much lighter, soulful and breezy number, with a catchy hook and some melodious, smooth backing horns. The vocal is impressive, in a laid-back soul way. It is a much less attacking, punchy track than the previous one, but it again has a sublime bass line and a real appeal to it. It is a bit reminiscent of some of the material on Blood, Sweat & TearsChild Is Father To The ManFlash In The Pan is a driving piece of jazzy, funk rock with an exhilarating rhythm to it. Once again, the hooks, both vocal and brass are intoxicating. There is also an upbeat  bluesy feel to this in places. The vocalist on this one is gruffer and more earthy than the lighter one on the previous track. Rick Stevens is created as lead vocalist, although several others are credited with vocals as well. It may be Stevens on both tracks, just singing in a different style, but they certainly sound different. Indeed, listen to the next track, the early Chicago-ish Gone, a tender, flute-driven slow ballad. The vocals on there are definitely different, credited to Skip Mesquite. I am sure it is also him on What Happened..... There is some seriously good trumpet on this track too.

The pure, down 'n' dirty funk is back on You Strike My Main Nerve, which has a feel of The Meters or War about it. There were so many great funk/rock/soul bands around in the early/mid seventies. Add Sly & The Family StoneThe Ohio Players and Graham Central Station to those already referenced and you have some cookin' groups. Another such cooker is the funk of Down To The Night Club. Yes, its a bit commercial in its lyrics but its rhythm is pretty irresistible. Willy De Ville cut a track many years later called Jump City that owes a lot to this, I am sure.

You're Still A Young Man has a delicious horn intro and another of the light, soully, laid-back harmonious vocals. It has hints of Heatwave's later Always And Forever to it. The influences of this album were far and wide, I am sure. Skating On Thin Ice has such a beat that it could almost be a Northern Soul track, it could be a floor filler, but I'm not sure it ever was. Either way it is energetic and supremely soulful. (Actually, I see it is listed on the Northern Soul 45s website). Of The Earth is an ecologically-conscious, hard-hitting closer, getting its message over about pollution convincingly, over a funky, brassy and flute-enhanced backing. This album really is a breath of fresh air. I am playing it on a summer Sunday morning. It is ideal. Great stuff.



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TOWER OF POWER (1973)

1. What Is Hip?
2. Clever Girl
3. This Time It's Real
4. Will I Ever Find A Love
5. Get Yo' Feet Back On The Ground
6. So Very Had To Go
7. Soul Vaccination
8. Both Sorry Over Nothin'
9. Clean Slate
10. Just Another Day  

This was Tower Of Power's third album and they underwent a few line up changes - Skip Mesquite left and was replaced by Lenny Pickett on saxophone. He sessioned for Elton John, The Meters and the Brothers Johnson among others as well. The excellent, honey-voiced Lenny Williams was brought in to give them permanent lead vocalist. It was awarded a gold record for sales and is one of their most rounded, confident, fulfilled offerings. The band had thirteen musicians playing on this album and you can tell. It is musically most impressive.
                              
The opener, What Is Hip? is a superb slice of Meters-style funk, with the band's punchy horn section at its best. Clever Girl is a laid-back, smooth piece of soul, while the jaunty, upbeat This Time It's Real has Northern Soul written all over it. Will I Ever Find A Love is an orchestrated, slow soul ballad, with sweeping strings and a confident, soulful vocal.

Just when you thought they had deserted the fun, it was back, big time, with the seriously cookin' Get Yo' Feet Back On The Ground. However good the soul stuff is, it is on these down 'n' dirty workouts that you get the best of Tower Of Power, in my opinion. Just check out those irresistible funky rhythms, the drum, bass and organ interplay. Marvellous. Stuff like this was actually quite ahead of its time, although having said that, The Meters had been putting out seriously good funk since the late sixties. So Very Hard To Go was actually a hit single too, which was unusual. It has a Temptations feel to it, and a wonderful horn refrain. Memphis-style Stax-y guitars drive it along too.

Soul Vaccination is so deliciously funky it is making me hungry. It cooks to the nth degree. Those lilting, funky guitars are thoroughly addictive, as is the drum rhythm. It doesn't get much better than this, as for the saxophone break - wow. That is not even mentioning the beauty of the bass solo half way through. Musicianship of the highest quality, a band totally in tune with each other. Both Sorry Over Nothin' is pure Otis Redding soul, with added funk too. I know this was Tower Of Power's most successful album, but why they weren't huge is a mystery to me. There is some seriously great material on this album. The soul/funk brilliance continues on the impressive Clean Slate.

The album closes with return to late-night soul with the beautiful Just Another Day. If you like seventies funk and soul, you can't go for wrong with this. The sound quality, as on all Tower Of Power's albums, is excellent as well.



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BACK TO OAKLAND (1974)

1. ...Oakland Stroke
2. Don't Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream)
3. Just When We Started Makin' It
4. Can't You See (You're Doin' Me Wrong)
5. Squib Cakes
6. Time Will Tell
7. Man From The Past
8. Love's Been Gone So Long
9. I Got The Chop
10. Below Us, All The City Lights
11. Oakland Stroke...  

After their second album, the eponymous Tower of Power, built their reputation as horn-driven funkers, this follow up album delivered more of the same, although, strangely, it wasn't as successful, commercially. It is still packed full of red hot brassy, upbeat fun, however, with some smoochy soul thrown in too.                                            

The album is bookended by two lively, jazzy semi instrumentals in ...Oakland Stroke and Oakland Stroke..., (differentiated by the full stops before and after). In between we get a lively mix of cooking funk and sweet soul.

Don't Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream) is rousing and brassy with the horn section simply confirming its respected reputation. Just When We Start Makin' It continues in laid-back soulful fashion, with a touch of quirky jazz-funk near the end. Next up is the soul funk of groove of Can't You See (You're Doin' Me Wrong), while Squib Cakes brings the funk back with a simmering, extended, seven minutes-plus instrumental workout full of shuffling Blaxploitation funky jazz rhythms.

Time Will Tell is a sweet, slow tempo slice of typical, orchestrated seventies soul. Man From The Past is a delicious piece of bassy, rumbling, Stax-y soul/funk, with hints of The Undisputed Truth, in places, for me. Simply great stuff and surprising that it was not huge, to be honest. It is that good. The funk is cooking hot at times, particularly in the guitar/percussion interplay half way through. Love's Been Gone So Long gives us a soully feel, but with a bit more of a brassy punch. I Got The Chop is an energetic number, full of horns, funky guitar and soulful vocals.

Below Us, All The City Lights is a sumptuous soul ballad in a laid-back Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes style to end the album with - this has been an impressive collection of seventies funk and soul that is well worth checking out.



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URBAN RENEWAL (1975)

1. Only So Much Oil In The Ground
2. Come Back, Baby
3. It's Not The Crime
4. I Won't Leave Unless You Want Me To
5. Maybe It'll Rub Off
6. (To Say The Least) You're The Most
7. Willing To Learn
8. Give Me The Proof
9. It Can Never Be The Same
10. I Believe In Myself
11. Walkin' Up Hip Street  

This was probably the last of the four great soul/funk albums from Tower Of Power in the early/mid-seventies, before some line-up and lead vocalist changes saw a slight dip in quality. This album is a bit more slick than the previous ones, with a bit less of a raw edge. The songs are, on the whole, shorter and poppier, with no extended funk workouts this time out.                        

Only So Much Oil In The Ground is an ecologically-aware funker to kick off what was actually largely an album of soul/pop more than pure funk. However, this is the one more lengthy groove. The funk is still clearly here on the album, such as on this track, but just slightly less so than on the previous three outings. It's Not The Crime, for example, is a short, two minute poppy workout, while Come Back, Baby is a Philadelphia-influenced soul number. Next up is a piece of sweet, laid-back brass-driven soul in I Won't Leave Unless You Want Me To, a typical mid-seventies orchestrated soul ballad. One of only two really laid-back soul numbers on the album.

Maybe It'll Rub Off is in a kicking, lively funky vein and the funk continues with (To Say The Least) You're The Most. It is notable that here is more poppy funk and less soul on this album than on the previous one. As I said, though, the funk is more to the point and poppier. That said, we get the sumptuous Willing To Learn which is once again very Harold Melvin-esque. Back to funk - Give Me The Proof  is classic shuffling, staccato, horn-powered Tower Of Power funk, of the sort that influenced so many subsequent funk groups. It Can Never Be The Same is a soulful Al Green-style slow-tempo number and I Believe In Myself is another one with huge hints of Green about it.

Walkin' Up Hip Street is a lively, jazzy and funky instrumental featuring some impressive drum work. It has that feel of a seventies movie soundtrack to it. This ends this short sharp album of poppy soul funk in fine fashion.



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IN THE SLOT (1975)

1. Just Enough And Too Much
2. Treat Me Like Your Man
3. If I Play My Cards Right
4. As Surely As I Stand Here
5. Fanfare: Matanuska
6. On The Serious Side
7. Ebony Jam
8. You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous
9. Vuela Por Noche
10. Essence Of Innocence
11. The Soul Of A Child
12. Drop It In The Slot   

I disagree with those who say that the change in vocalist that Tower Of Power underwent before this album was detrimental to this one. Personally, I still think this is a great album, admittedly their last great one, but impressive all the same.                         

Just Enough And Too Much is a lively, upbeat, guitar and brass-driven funky number. Treat Me Like Your Man is a Memphis-style laid-back piece of wonderful soul. It features some killer horns and saxophone and vocals from new vocalist Hubert TubbsIf I Play My Cards Right is a punchy, horn-powered funker. As Surely As I Stand Here is a bit of a typical mid-seventies soul ballad with some somewhat clichéd keyboard swirls in places, it has to be said. Fanfare: Matanuska is a brief instrumental interlude.

On The Serious Side is seriously funky, in a cooking Meters style, full of infectious percussion and a staccato shuffling beat. Ebony Jam is just as funky and is a six minute plus workout the like of which was absent from the group's previous album. You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous could almost be a Northern Soul track. It has a mid-seventies Drifters feel to it too, or maybe The O'Jays. It is a lovely piece of poppy soul and quite unlike most of TOP's other material. It should have been a hit single.

Vuela Por Noche is, unsurprisingly, a Latin-tinged instrumental, which, via the piano interlude of Essence Of Innocence leads into the beautifully soulful The Soul Of A Child. This is actually quality soul, up there with the likes of The O'Jays, The Stylistics or Blue Magic. It just isn't really like the punchy funk of TOP's earlier albums. For the final track the funk is back with the Blaxploitation-esque In The Slot.

It had been a great run of five classic funky albums from the peerless Tower Of Power between 1972 and 1975. Check out any of them, they are all well worth it.

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SOUL SIDE OF TOWN (2018)

1. East Bay! All Day!
2. Hangin' With My Baby
3. Do You Like That?
4. On The Soul Side Of Town
5. Do It With Soul
6. Love Must Be Patient And Kind
7. Butter Fried
8. Selah
9. Let It Go
10. Stop
11. When Love Takes Control
12. After Hours
13. Can't Stop Thinking About You
14. East Bay! Oakland Style!    

This is an excellent comeback album from legendary OaklandCalifornia funksters Tower Of Power, over forty-five years since the first arrived on the scene. The old plus points are still here - melodic but punchy brass, solid funky guitar, cookin' organ, rhythmic drums and shared Earth, Wind & Fire-style vocals. Tower Of Power were great in the seventies and they are great now - this is a really good album, with truly outstanding sound quality. This iconic band have lost nothing. It is a pleasure from beginning to end. I love the atmospheric cover too. Dark, urban streets, a few lights still on in an office block, the narrow street wet with rain. You just may hear snatches of this album coming from a bar.

Highlights are the brassy instrumental romp of Butter Fried, the Earth, Wind & Fire-esque sweet soul of Love Must Be Patient And Kind, the invigorating Southside Johnny-influenced soul rock  of On The Soul Side Of Town, the enthusiastic clavinet-driven Sly Stone meets Parliament-style funk of Hangin' With My Baby.

Do You Like That? has such a seventies soul vibe too, with some sumptuous saxophone, it is great to hear. Let It Go is delightfully smooth and soulful, and Selah is full of both melodious soul and horn-driven funk.

Look, you could make a case for any of the tracks on here, there isn't a poor one among them.



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