Track of the Day: 'What Is Hip?'

By Jared Keller

Past TracksTower of Power is the quintessential funk and R&B band of the 1970s, but just as the Funk Brothers stood in the shadows of Motown in the 1960s, the Tower have remained one of soul music's best kept secrets for decades. 


Tower of Power is more of an institution than a band: formed in 1968 in Oakland, TOP's four-decade career is a mosaic of nearly 60 immensely talented musicians--including current Saturday Night Live musical director Lenny Pickett and legendary electric bassist Francis "Rocco" Prestia--nearly 30 albums, and more continuous touring than nearly any other soul outfit of its day. The horn section--anchored with the baritone sax of founding member Stephen "Funky Doctor" Kupka--is legendary in its own right, having worked with myriad big names, from Carlos Santana and Elton John to Jefferson Starship to Aerosmith.


All fundamental elements of funk, soul, and R&B are in perfect harmony in "What is Hip?" The dizzying syncopation and barking hi-hat of master drummer David Garibaldi, the delicate bass of Prestia, and the pulsating Hammond flourishes of Roger Smith all perfectly capture the energy and sheer mania elusive to even the most devout funk revivalist. Even after 40 years, Tower of Power thrives in front of a live audience, and their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006 is no exception: joined by Carlos Santana and Chester Thompson, the Tower of Power distills a sonic feast with nearly flippant ecstasy. "Hipness is, what it is," giggles lead vocalist Larry Braggs. "But sometimes hipness is what it ain't."

The 2006 clip below is an excellent recording, but to see the Tower of Power in their heyday, check out this 1977 video from Soundstage Chicago. The incredible dance moves come out at 3:33.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/01/track-of-the-day-what-is-hip/69468/

On iTunes: Tower of Power / "What Is Hip?"

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http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/01/track-of-the-day-what-is-hip/69468/