The Story Of Tower Records
Released by MVD Entertainment , directed by Colin (son of Tom) Hanks, released on 19 Sept 2016, and reviewed by Brian McGowan
The story of Tower Records is an object lesson in how to get it right, and how to get it wrong. It’s two sides of the same coin. The Record Store giant’s fast rise and even faster fall is told in All Things Must Pass – Colin Hank’s 96 minute, sometimes rose tinted documentary.
The company was born in the sixties, selling second hand singles (7” vinyl), and by the end of the decade it had become the pre-eminent retail seller of LPs and eventually CDs on the US East and West coasts. Later spreading rapidly into Japan and Asia, with a small UK presence. For 30 years it rode the baby boomer wave, progressing from singles to LPs to the CD recycling of back catalogues.
In the end, that rapid expansion – funded by huge loans – faltered, and the size of the debt holed the business below the waterline. Those are the headlines, underneath is the real story.
Using face to face interviews with ex Tower and Record Company execs we learn that Tower was as much a cultural force as it was a business. Stores had a family friendly approach and the staff were teenage music lovers, just like their customers. They knew how to party and did so regularly, often on company time. Elton John would browse for hours and no one would bother him. He’d buy dozens of new albums on a weekly basis. Bruce Springsteen was exactly the same : “the presentation of music was physically exciting”. You went in to buy of course, but mostly you went in to browse, to immerse yourself in music. Row upon row of vinyl albums in bright, often artistic covers, and floor upon floor, arranged by Category – Rock, Pop, Classic and so on. A music lover’s Nirvana. How could it fail?
Like all good stories, All Things Must Pass has its own narrative arc, and an ironic, if unstated start and finish point. Not much is made of the fact that the business founded by Russ Solomon in his father’s Drugstore was based in vinyl singles, then ended 45 years later when digital singles (almost) rendered the long playing CD obsolete. In reality, the single, in different forms, launched Tower Records, then killed it stone dead.
Between times, drugs, Disco, MTV, new technologies, Napster, price wars, all played their part.
The DVD is sharply edited and creates a human story, engrossing and entertaining. From its beginnings in the innocence and ideals of the US Westcoast “counterculture”, to its tragic end in New York’s bankruptcy courts and liquidation, in 2006. A moving story, it reminds us that buying music was once a shared experience. All Things Must Pass is a documentary that every music lover should watch.
10 out of 10