Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Amazing Story of Tower Records

Tower Records. For me, the name brings back memories of browsing through endless aisles of CDs, videos & books in their New York stores, with that now-famous yellow & red logos. These gargantuan record stores were a meeting place & frequent destination for true music fans from the 1960s thru the 1990s. The 2015 documentary All Things Must Pass: The Rise & Fall of Tower Records is an insightful look at the story of this amazing company. The film charts the creation & expansion of Tower, from its small beginnings in California to its eventual expansion, with new stores all across the country. There were even Tower franchises opened in Japan. Featuring interviews with founder Russ Solomon and many of the staffers who helped shape the business into the retail powerhouse it became, its an insightful movie that also shows how the music business changed over several decades, and how some companies (like Tower) didn’t update their plans enough to ride out the after effects of those changing times.

In addition to the comments from the staff, there are interviews with Bruce Springsteen, David Geffen, Dave Grohl (who worked at a Tower store, and was pleased he got to keep his long hair) and others, who talk about why Tower was beloved by music fans & artists as well. Tower wasn’t just a record store, it was a destination where fans could meet & talk about music. It’s clear that Solomon was a visionary; he encouraged a work hard, play hard attitude, and treated his staff like family. This policy served the company well in its formative years. Everyone who worked for him talks about how employee suggestions & ideas were encouraged & welcomed. Many of the key players (some of whom have unique personalities) in the company moved up in the ranks throughout the years. They had fun, were extremely loyal, and contributed significantly to the company’s success.

Tower didn’t just change the way music was sold in stores; it was a force for change in the music business. They were one of the first chains to offer in-store appearances & performances by artists, and even published their own music magazine, Pulse. The large displays featuring artists & album covers inside & outside the stores were a calling card for the company, which had its own art department, a rarity at the time. But like many entertainment-based corporations, problems began when mismanagement and over expansion (as well as the advent of digital music) hurt the business as a whole. The later portion of the movie which chart’s the company’s downfall, is a bit sad, but ultimately this is an entertaining story of a company that started small, got big, exploded onto the landscape, and left a lasting legacy (and some wonderful memories) for music fans everywhere.

Directed by Colin Hanks, this incisive film will resonate most deeply with music aficionados, but it’s worth seeing for those who enjoy a balanced & well-told story, and this one is all the more fascinating because it’s true. It’s effective not only as a history of Tower, but also as a perceptive look at the arc of the music business from the 60s through the present day, and how the way we listen to & buy music has changed so dramatically. The film is available on some digital services, but has also been been released on DVD, and the disc has some excellent additional interviews & clips as extras. Check out All Things Must Pass: The Rise & Fall of Tower Records, you wont be disappointed. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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