Tower of Power - Soul Vaccination Live Tower of Power
What is Hip? The Tower of Power Anthology
(Warner/Rhino)

Soul Vaccination: Tower of Power Live
(550/Legacy)


For a lot of people, Tower of Power is a group of hornsmen that has played on records by Huey Lewis, Michael Bolton, Poison and a lot more. But from 1972-76, back in the days of horn-driven pop powerhouses, such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago, the band scored eight Top 100 singles with its soulful mix of R&B vocals, chunka-chunka guitars and funky horns. The onslaught of disco eventually led the band down the path of addictions and away from the pure groove music of its most successful period, and the '80s found the band turning up more as session men on other people's records than on its own records. Lineup changes abounded.

The band has had a comeback of sorts in the '90s, and has worked to recapture some of that early energy and style. Thanks to its use in an episode of Drew Carey's popular sitcom, Tower of Power's "What Is Hip?"(which just managed to chart at No. 91 in 1974) is better known today than it ever was when it was on the charts.

So now we get two collections from the band: 550 Music/Legacy offers Soul Vaccination: Tower of Power Live, recorded during its 1998 tour. For anyone who likes classic butt-shaking funk and horns, this is an album you should own. Punching horns, sweet soul vocals and a huge reservoir of communicable energy make this a perfect album for any party. It includes half of Tower of Power's charting hits — their most popular early '70s Top 20 ballads "So Very Hard To Go" and "You're Still a Young Man," as well as the manic funk of "What Is Hip" and "Down To the Night Club (Bump City)." The horns sometimes sound like the "Saturday Night Live" band going off on a rave, and the vocals often remind one of classic Motown. This is a band that has weathered it all and come out on the other side still honking and grooving.

But if you're a purist and want the original album sides that made them legendary — if not for their hits, but for their very hireable horn section — Rhino and the Warner Archives have released a two-disc box set, appropriately titled What Is Hip? The Tower of Power Collection. This 35-song collection includes all of the band's hits, along with a lot of other concert favorites, including "Soul with a Capital 'S,' " Souled Out" and "Soul Vaccination." The band certainly sounds more "hot" captured live on the Soul Vaccination disc, but if you want to replace your scratchy old original vinyl LPs, this is a nice one to grab. There's also a 52-page booklet with the set that goes through the band's revolving door of lineup changes and spotty recording history.

 

SNL 25 Vol. 1 Various Artists
Saturday Night Live: The Musical Performances
Vol. 1 & 2

(Dreamworks)
½


Speaking of spotty, TV's "Saturday Night Live" has had an up-and-down history of presenting live music. While many times the sound doesn't seem mixed quite right on "SNL," the TV show has hosted most of music's greats over its 25-year history. Given the success of MTV and VH1's concert albums, it's no surprise that someone finally has decided to collect "SNL" performances — and while the "SNL" stage isn't geared toward recording in the pristine way VH1's artist showcase shows are, most songs here are decently recorded.

Coinciding with the big SNL reunion show on Sept. 26, Dreamworks has just released Saturday Night Live: The Musical Performances, Vols. 1 & 2. The discs are roughly divided between classic and modern rock, with Vol. 1 featuring Paul Simon singing "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" with a cast of backup singers and players; Sting crooning "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," and Eric Clapton singing his prom-ready "Wonderful Tonight," along with songs from David Bowie, Jewel, the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, Billy Joel and Elvis Costello (who starts on one song and then pulls the plug and launches into another).

Vol. 2, on the other hand, features Nirvana performing "Rape Me," R.E.M. playing "Losing My Religion" and Green Day doing "When I Come Around" along with performances by Hole, Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre, Arrested Development, Oasis, the Pretenders, Janet Jackson, Alanis Morrissette and TLC.

 

Yaz - The Best Of Yaz
The Best Of
(Mute/Reprise)
½


Yaz was one of the most inventive synth-pop bands of the early '80s, which is not surprising because it featured on keyboards Vince Clarke, a co-founder of Depeche Mode who would go on to form Erasure. In Yaz, he paired with Alison Moyet; it was an inspired cross-breeding of her organic, emotional, bluesy vocals with his stark, sterile but often very dancy electronic beats.

Unfortunately, the duo burned out fast, saying all they really had to say on their first disc, Upstairs at Eric's, which spun off two hits that still get constant club play — "Situation" and "Don't Go." Moyet's laugh from "Situation" was again on the pop charts last year as one of the samples in "Macarena." The disc also offered a high school dance ballad in "Only You."

Yaz released one more album a year later in 1983, but broke up upon its release. You and Me Both was really a footnote to Upstairs; while still a mix of experimental and pop, most of the songs sounded overly sterile and claustrophobic. There were some brilliant spots of synth pop in the heartaching "Nobody's Diary" and the spookily experimental "Ode to Boy," as well as a scratching dance mix in "State Farm," but none held quite the sonic punch the band achieved on its debut.

All in all, the band produced 22 album tracks in its brief career. This collection essentially offers half the material from their two discs, offering five from each, then including four remixes of their three aforementioned hits from Upstairs at Eric's. It also drops in "Tuesday" a non-album B-side. The one complaint I have is that for this long-overdue collection to really be of value to fans, it would be nice if it was a bit more complete. At a running time of 62 minutes, there's room on the CD to include at least three more songs, and while we do get the hard-to-find "Tuesday," another non-album track, "The Other Side of Love," which was a charting single in England, doesn't appear here and isn't available for fans to find anyplace else.

The remixes included will mostly be of interest for fans; the new "1999 Version" of "Only You" adds strings to the original mix in place of some of the synthesizer notes, which broadens the song's effect slightly. "Tee’s Freeze Mix" of "Don't Go" kicks up the song's impact with a more driving rhythm bed to effectively modernize the song without ruining its flavor. The "US 12" Mix" of "Situation" is included here instead of the Upstairs album side, but this is the version that most people are familiar with anyway. The nearly nine-minute "Club 69 Future Phunk Mix" of "Situation" could have been dumped however, for either a more interesting mix or the inclusion of more album tracks from the band — this is a drum and synth house track that occasionally brings in bits of Alison Moyet's vocals and goes on...forever. Dump this mix and you'd suddenly find yourself with a total of more than 20 minutes of CD space to add in "The Other Side of Love" and a handful more of the songs from Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both. Then you'd truly have the complete Best Of Yaz. But this is a good start.