Tower of Power ‘You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun: The Columbia/Epic Anthology’ 2CD (SoulMusic) 4/5

First of all, this covers a relatively small part of the overall Tower Of Power discography between 1976 and 1997, and as such excludes the classic Warner Brothers era that is conveniently available on a separate ‘What Is Hip’ anthology, equally in a 2CD format. That said, as a follow on accompaniment to the Warner years, this will appeal to devotees old and new. Tower Of Power were in fact formed in Oakland, California (1968), and signed to Warner Bros. in 1971, and it was during the period 1971-1975 that they enjoyed their greatest success, mixing funky instrumentals with a heavy dose of brass and soulful balladry work from the lead vocals of Larry Williams. Fans of that era should note that both the Columbia and Epic recordings, witness a shift away to a more commercial sound, before in the 1990s a new group emerged that wanted to perform in the former grittier sound. A new single on Columbia from 1976, ‘You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun’, heralded in a new band era, with party hearty sounding trumpet and typifying a fusion of the emerging disco as well as funk.

From this Columbia tenure, the sound softened markedly, with a mellower groove and at times a pronounced Earth, Wind and Fire influence on numbers such as, ‘In Due Time’, and equally on the mid-tempo ‘We Came To Play’. Some of the more discofied uptempo material certainly alienated many long-term fans, but the individual band members were still highly regarded among fellow musicians, and this explains why, at various junctures, they were solicited by major musicians such as Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, and even Elton John. Especially in demand was the brass section. However, a lack of commercial success led to group disagreements and eventual departures. By 1981, Tower of Power struggled to have a collective musical presence. By the mid-1980s though, there were new signs of life among band members, and the brass section reignited thanks to the request of Huey Lewis and the News to join their band. From therein onward, band members secured a place on the David Letterman late night chat show, and by 1996 the group had signed a new deal with Epic Records and a new album, ‘Monster On A Leash’, saw a welcome return to form. Indeed, the song, ‘Soul With A Capital “S”‘, revived the band’s fortunes and two further albums surfaced in 1997 and 1998 respectively. All of the best of this material is contained on the second CD which flows better than the first and among the choice highlights are the funky brass-led, ‘Souled Out’, the modern soul of both ‘You’ and ‘How Could This Happen To Me’, an ode to James Brown on, ‘Diggin’ on James Brown’, and some excellent grooves in, ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’, and ‘Rhythm And Business’. New influences included the sound of Prince which is all too evident on, ‘A Little Knowledge (is a dangerous thing)’. Inner sleeve notes from Kevin L. Goins, do an excellent job of providing the reader with detailed analysis of the group’s evolution, including solo projects from founding group member, Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka.

Tim Stenhouse

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