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....