Monday, August 28, 2006

An old friend

As an impressionable teenager in the 70s I developed a fascination with America and all things American. I am sure that was not an unusual teenage fixation to have. It was, no doubt, fuelled by the explosion of American shows on TV. In comparison with the relatively staid and drab UK that seemed to exist then, or at least the version of it that seemed to be invariably depicted on the TV, America was a big, bold, glamorous place. I loved the fact that there seemed to be a spirit of enterprise, that people could be individuals; I loved the cars, the sunshine… and of course the music. Initially glam rock (T.Rex, Bowie and Roxy Music – the usual suspects) had opened my musical ears. But I soon picked up on soul and funk. All emanating from across the pond, this music fitted perfectly with my developing American fixation and fuelled it even more. One of the first albums I bought that could be labelled as soul was Tower Of Power’s “Back To Oakland”. I had heard some of their music somewhere on the radio and it sounded good, a millions away from glam rock, and redolent of the America I was seeing on those TV shows. The cover of the album was a clincher in terms of making me part with my money - a view of Bay Bridge with the album title represented as a massive road sign – it perfectly represented my vision of America as it was back then. (In hindsight a somewhat rose tinted view of course, but remember I was a teenager). I was too young to drive then but my dream was a road trip across America. Thirty something years on I can drive but the dream remains unfulfilled. The album cover still does it for me today, as does the music on the vinyl within.

As I mentioned on a recent post, Tower Of Power’s music can be difficult to categorise (in fact that post was two months ago already! Where does the time go?, and the weather :( ). They had/have a tight rhythm section, horns to die for, and with Lenny Williams, at the peak of his powers methinks on this album, a SOULful front man. On “Back To Oakland” you get strings added into the some of the arrangements too and a few of the tracks border on jazz supper club territory. So - soulful yes, funky yes, and with a cocktail cherry thrown in for good measure. I won’t hear a bad thing said about this album. It occupies a place close to my heart.

I would love to post the whole album, but that is sort of against my principles. So I’m limiting myself to only a couple of tracks. The funky “Don’t Change Horses” and “Squib Cakes” are possibly the most well known from the album, and excellent they are. But I’m posting what are to my mind the two hidden gems on the album. “Man From The Past” is as perfect an amalgam of soul, funk and jazz as you are likely to ever hear on one track. “Can’t You See” is small and perfectly formed, with a complex arrangement that sounds deceptively simple, TofP make it sound so effortless but it’s full of soul.

Buy “Back To Oakland”

Play that Oakland Stroke....

Tower Of Power – Man From The Past 1974
Tower Of Power – Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong) 1974


wzjn said...

I had a friend, years ago, that tured me on to TOP and I have not regretted a single spin of platter to this day!

I feel that they are one of the bands, to me, who have never dated. Funky horns, steady chops and real soul!

I've been recently been thinking of doing a TOP post, and after reading your post I know it's going to be a lot closer than I originally thought.


Tuwa said...

These are great.

Mitch Eichenseer said...

Going to college at NIU (Dekalb IL) in the early 90's, I hung out with a bunch of music majors. I played percussion through high school, but was a business major. However, my friends in the music school were a whole lot more fun than my business counterparts. We had a steady diet of Steely Dan, James Brown, P-Funk, and many others. But I digress.

I went to the local record store, and much like the author of this post, I fell in love with the album (yes, LP) cover. I knew of the band, but wasn't really too knowledgable of them.

I came back and played the album to a bunch of friends. There were two that I recall they went to the store immediately after hearing it ('specially "Squib Cakes") and bought it out of the "bargain box," like I had. I probably paid $5 for it, but not much more.

Great, great album, and I still play it to this day.

As of today (12.7.06), you can find a concert of TOP on You have to register to listen to this, as well as many other acts, for free. I'm currently listening to a concert from the Fillmore West from 07/04/1971.

One final note: There is a page that shows additional, unused artwork for this cover. Fascinating to see it:

Thanks for your post about this band. It means a lot to me.

Darcy said...

Mitch: much enjoyed reading your comments and thanks for the links.

Strangely enough just today as I was flicking through a stack of albums in a local record shop (as you do) I came across a Warner/San Francisco compilation called "From Burbank To The Bay Area" (contains some TOP tracks, this press was P.2005 but not sure if it's a resissue). Anyway there on the back cover was the same Bay Bridge shot but with the "From Burbank..." title superimposed on the sign. No doubt some homage being paid there - you can't keep a great LP cover down.

Mitch Eichenseer said...

That's the great thing about being an artist. One can be creative about how they chooose to pay homage because they have so many avenues, and mimicing that album cover is a perfect way to do it.

I just pulled out this album and realised how the back of the album (in a much different way) is also great. The pics of the band! :-) bThose of note: Steve Kupta (The Doctor), and Bruce Conte. I love the hair on Steve, and Bruce smoking. I say this in a nostagic sense - I miss the style of the 70's.

Anyway, enjoyed your post!