Our top 10 Tower of Power songs introduce us to an American band that has remained one of the most iconic outfits under the soul genre for over half a century. Yes, you heard it right! Formed in 1968, Tower of Power’s extensive history starts with the meeting of vocalist Emilio Castillo with baritone saxophonist Stephen Kupka. Emilio Castillo, who had a past with several bands, would follow his supportive father’s advice to hire Stephen Kupka after a home audition. Together, they called themselves The Motowns moving swift in their career by playing in various gigs. Their soul sound continued to amaze, bagging the duo a growing cult of followers. Castillo’s desire to play Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium would never become a reality without a change of the duo’s moniker. Hence, the duo settled for the moniker Tower of Power, which has stuck to date.
Now playing as Tower of Power, the duo sought after strengthening its lineup to form a complete band. This was shortly followed by signing a recording contract with San Francisco Records and the release of the band’s debut album East Bay Grease (1970). Singer Rufus Miller would take on most of the lead vocals in this debut album. Thanks to the amazing quality of the soul and funk vibes-filled debut album that Tower of Power caught the attention of KSAN, a radio station that played music from reputable acts and artists such as Eric Mercury, Cold Blood, and Marvin Gaye. One of the first changes the band went through was signing with Warner Bros. Records and replacing lead vocalist Rufus Miller with singer Rick Stevens who took on most of the lead vocals in Bump City (1972). Rick made his mark with “You’re Still a Young Man,” which peaked at number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100, thanks to his pinnacle vocal delivery despite his short stay in the band.
A third studio album would come in 1973, having it feature soul singer Lenny Williams on the lead vocals. Other changes in the third album included Lenny Pickett on lead tenor sax, Bruce Conte on the guitar, and Chester D. Thompson on the keyboard. The album featured what some have touted as the band’s most successful single. Where does it rank on our top 10 Tower of Power songs? (We’ll get there in a short while) Years later, the band released several hits to build on the success they had previously achieved. However, Lenny Williams would also leave the band, having him replaced by vocalist Hubert Tubbs.
The 1970s marked the band’s most successful days, with tons of its music receiving substantial airplay. Throughout its career, the band has collaborated with tons of acts and artists being hired to perform and provide the horn sections on albums by Little Feat, Aerosmith, Otis Redding, Labelle, Heart, Eric Clapton, Santana, Elton John and so many more. While the band has undergone constant lineup changes, Emilio Castillo and Steve Kupka have remained in Tower of Power since its inception. Here are the top 10 Tower of Power songs sampled from the band’s over twenty studio albums, with their most recent being Step Up (2020).
#10 – Look in My Eyes
Ushering us to the top 10 Tower of Power songs is the hit song “Look in My Eyes,” featured on the band’s most recent album, Step Up (2020). The song is featured as the third single in the album, having it deliver a high-energy thump of horn-filled funk. “Look in My Eyes” had the band make a song video, something the band had not done in over thirty years. An electrifying performance by the band serves the song’s instrumental right thanks to the band’s incredible bass, horns, and strings arrangement. Emilio Castillo proves that he still got juice, as exhibited in the background vocals of this ballad. Other artists to record a song under the same title include Brando and Wiz Khalifa.
#9 – Soul with a Capital “S”
“Soul with a Capital S” is Tower of Power’s anthem for soul music. The song is delivered with some marvelous and delicious harmonies, which include beta chords that add to its energy. Tower of Power stamped their love for soul music with this masterpiece, which will satisfy your craving for more. However, some critics have gone on to critic the song’s relation, with soul citing prominent funk vibes in it. Nevertheless, the band’s fans have less time to get into that debate having them hooked to Tower of Power’s soul with a capital “S.”
#8 – Only So Much Oil in the Ground
Urban Renewal (1975) was Tower of Power’s last album to feature legendary lead vocalist Lenny Williams who left to establish his solo career. His solo career has been nothing short of successful, having it feature big hits such as “Cause I Love You.” Before leaving, Lenny Williams gave us one of the most impeccable vocal delivery in the song “Only So Much Oil in the Ground.”
Emilio Castillo ad Stephen Kupka wrote the song in response to the 1971 oil spill in San Francisco Bay. It happened when the two were still in high school when this breaking news emerged after two tankers collided. Emilio Castillo refers to the song as the band’s hidden gem. “Only So Much Oil in the Ground” bubbled at number one hundred and two when released, remaining to be the band’s live performance favorite.
#7 – Soul Vaccination
“Soul Vaccination” is a 1973 release by Tower of Power that brings the best of the band members’ instrumentation skills. You ought to love the song’s tenor sax, which later leads into a magnificent baritone solo. Without a doubt, Tower of Power are masters on the horns, having them blow the mess of them. The song’s drumming proves to be top-notch, having it add some glamour to the band’s release.
#6- Squib Cakes
While most of the songs in our top 10 Tower of Power songs were penned by the band’s two founders, Stephen and Emilio, “Squib Cakes” defied this. Released under the album Back to Oakland (1974), the song “Squib Cakes” was penned by the band’s organ, acoustic piano, and bass pedals guru Chester Thompson. The song has its vocal delivery made by Lenny Pickett, who helped the band lay down some magnificent performances. Chester Thompson’s organ skills in this release are off the hook. “Squib Cakes” was a term adopted by funk trumpeter Mic Gillette and the band to refer to the backsides of lovely ladies.
#5- Diggin’ On James Brown
Number five on our top 10 Tower of Power songs is the hit “Diggin’ On James Brown.” The song is featured from one of the less famous albums by Tower of Power, Souled Out. “Diggin’ On James Brown” is a slightly sympathetic release. This is evidently felt when its criticism of post-Brown music features some drum machines majorly used in this album. The song featured vocalist Brent Carter and drummer Herman Matthews, a cousin to former Tower of Power vocalist Rick Stevens.
#4- Me & Mrs. Jones
Tower of Power took on the hit “Me & Mrs. Jones,” which was written by Kenny Gamble, Cary Gilbert, and Leon Huff. The song was originally recorded by Billy Paul, whose version was his only number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Me & Mrs. Jones” is an exquisite soul jam that describes the extramarital affair between a man his ‘entanglement’ Mrs. Jones.
It is quite vivid that the two have a scheduled meeting daily at the same venue, at the same time. Here, much they do is hold hands and talk in a deep emotional exchange. Billy Paul’s version incorporates jazz, pop, and R&B vibes in his awe-inspiring vocal style, thanks to influences from Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, and Billie Holiday. Tower of Power’s version is among the few magnificent covers of this song, with other notable acts/artists to cover it, including Michael Bublé, The Dramatics, Freddie Jackson, and Taufik Batisah.
#3- You’re Still a Young Man
“You’re Still a Young Man” was the first song that Tower of Power’s founders Emilio and Stephen penned down together. This was the Tower of Power’s first release as a band featured on the album Bump City. Emilio revealed that the song is about a guy who is going with an older woman, having him smitten with her. And what does the lady have to say to the young man? Tons of women lie out there for a man of his age.
In some way, the lady was quite insecure that the guy might find her old moving fast for younger women one day. Emilio continued to reveal that the song is based on a true story. This was Emilio some years back and her six-year older girlfriend, both eighteen and twenty-four respectively. The lady cut him loose, and now Emilio released this song reflecting on the plea he made trying not to get dumped. “You’re Still a Young Man” peaked at number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
#2- What Is Hip?
Emilio Castillo gave credit to Stephen Kupka for his magnificent lyrical concept of the ballad “What Is Hip?” The song is featured in the band’s eponymous album, with its lyrics reminding us that what’s hip today will in some way become passé. “What Is Hip?” features a bass line quite similar to Freddie King’s “Going Down.” Sheila E had intended to cover this song, but Tower of Power’s horn section was unavailable. This had her go for the iconic song by Labelle, “Lady Marmalade.”
#1- So Very Hard to Go
Number one on our top 10 Tower of Power songs is the hit “So Very Hard to Go.” The song is also an original composition by Emilio and Stephen featured on the band’s eponymous album. “So Very Hard to Go” is a tough goodbye ballad that finds Castillo inspired by a girl Sharon. The song comes to show how the relationship between two lovers is ending and how hard it is for Sharon to say goodbye. It is quite a paradox that the lady in this song feels quite attached to the man while Post Malone’s “Goodbye” feels more of a passionate send-off to a relationship that failed to work. “So Very Hard to Go” is the band’s most successful release having it peak at number seventeen on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Feature Photo: Andrew King, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons