By Steven Brodsky
This feature documentary chronicles the phenomenal rise and fall of what was the world’s largest record store chain. Directed by Colin Hanks, interviews with founder Russ Solomon, former employees and celebrity musician customers give voice to the story of Tower Records. Archival photos and film footage help viewers connect with the times and places of Tower Records.
In 1960, a Sacramento, California drugstore owner added used jukebox 45 RPM records to his already diverse store inventory. The records sold well at ten cents each. He decided to switch to new record sales and to break through a wall of his store to expand into a vacant space next door. The original sign read “Tower Record Mart”. The record business was soon sold to his son, Russ Solomon.
It wasn’t long before the business was renamed Tower Records.
Russ Solomon is a visionary; Tower Records cut its own mold. There was nothing for Solomon to model when he set about expanding to other locations and offering customers a unique buying experience. The stores were incredibly well-stocked and the people who worked in them were knowledgeable about the recordings that were sold. Employees and local store managers enjoyed great latitude and a rich party culture.
Tower Records established itself in 30 nations on five continents. The chain had 200 stores. In 1999, Tower Records had profits of one billion dollars. It filed for bankruptcy seven years later. Watch the DVD of All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records and you’ll learn about the reasons for its fall. Among those reasons: corporate debt due in part to expansion into some unprofitable overseas markets, the advent of streaming music, and competition from other retailers.
Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Dave Grohl and David Geffen all appear in the film as interviewees. They share their memories of Tower Records.
It seems that most adult music lovers have memories of Tower Records. The DVD release of this documentary has stimulated people to talk about them.
Watch it and you’ll probably do the same. It has for me. I asked radio DJ Michael Tearson if he had been a customer of Tower Records. He said: “Yes, I was a customer of Tower Records, and I miss that chain tremendously. It was the one place where one could go and find ANYTHING one wanted or needed. I specifically remember when I needed a new copy of Terry Riley’s electronic classic ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air.’ I went to Cherry Hill Tower and bought if off the shelf. That cannot happen today.”
By Steven Brodsky