Only So Much Oil In The Ground

Album: Urban Renewal (1975)
Charted: 102


  • Tower Of Power founders Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Doc" Kupka wrote this song in response to a 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay caused by two tankers colliding. Castillo and Kupka were still in high school, and it was big news.

    "It was one of the first oil spills ever," Castillo said in a Songfacts interview. "There were all these seagulls that were covered in oil and they were trying to rescue them. That's what spurred this conversation that Doc and I had. He was telling me that he got called into the principal's office when he was about eight years old. They were concerned about his behavior or something. The principal said, 'Stephen, is there anything troubling you?' And he looks at the guy and he says, 'Yes, there is. What are we going to do when we run out of oil?' And the principal says, 'Stephen, go back to class.'

    He was telling me this story and we were laughing about it, but we started to think about it: It can't last forever. What are we going to do? We should write a song about that. So we wrote this song, 'Only So Much Oil In The Ground.'"
  • Castillo considers this the hidden gem in the Tower Of Power catalog. It bubbled under at a lowly #102 when it was released as a single, but remained a live favorite and endures on many soul music playlists. "I thought it was the best recording I'd ever done," he said. "The best song I'd ever written, the best lyrics, the best rhythm, the best chords, the best solos, the best singing. Everything about it."
  • This song was pertinent in the '70s when an energy crisis caused an oil shortage, leading to long lines for gas.
  • According to Emilio Castillo, Sting is a big fan of this song. He says that when they met backstage at an Eric Clapton concert in the '80s, Sting said that he played the song in one of his pre-Police bands.


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