Tower Records celebrated with great documentary

There was once a time when record stores ruled the world. These ancient buildings weren’t just a place for music lovers to buy the latest album, but also gave fans a chance to congregate each weekend. Tower Records was a pioneer in the record store industry. Vinyl records, 8-track tapes, cassettes, CDs and more once graced the shelves of two hundred stores in thirty countries on five continents. However, after grossing $1 billion in 1999, the company started to see a decline in sales and eventually closed its doors seven years later.

From its establishment in Sacramento in 1960 to its downfall in 2006, All Things Must Pass is a must see for all lovers of music. The film made its debut at the SXSW Film Festival in 2015 and takes viewers on a nostalgic trip through 40 years of musical bliss! For most, picking up an album in stores is a thing of the past. Technology has made it easier than ever before to retrieve an album or song with just a click. Some music stores such as Amoeba Records in Hollywood and Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis are among the survivors, but Tower Records was once the go-to place for all things music.

Directed by actor Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks son), the film features interviews from founder Russ Solomon, Bruce Springsteen, Sir Elton John, Dave Grohl, Geffen Records founder David Geffen and former employees. The viewer is taken on a journey into the background of the record store business and a historical look into Tower Records and the legacy it’s left behind.

“If you loved music and you loved having a record collection, which I did, it was exciting to walk through the store,” Geffen states. “I went three to four times a week.”

It explores the expansion from Sacramento to international locations such as Japan. In 1971, Solomon opened a location on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood where Sir Elton John used to shop every Tuesday. He’d arrive with his limo driver before the store opened and leave with boxes of albums. He’d have a list of titles he wanted and would buy a copy for each of his homes. He was such a regular at that location that he wasn’t bothered by other shoppers for autographs and photos.

“I knew the guys in the store very well because I was such a regular,” John states. “It was comfortable. It wasn’t intimidating whatsoever; it was inviting. I can honestly say, I spent more money in Tower Records than any other human being.”

Tower started out selling 45 RPM singles at $.49 each in the early Sixties. They made a transition from singles to full length LPs when The Beach Boys released Surfin’ Safari in 1962. Believe it or not, full length LPs sold between $3.99 and $5.99 each during the period and Tower would sell over a thousand copies in a single weekend. This marked a rise for the record store industry.

“It’s that place where your dreams meet the listener. That’s where the final connection was made. That audience you dreamt of is walking through the door right now,” Springsteen recalls of driving down Sunset Blvd and seeing the store lined with people. “And you could stand there and watch that happening. There are your listeners.”

Music sales continued to rise when CDs were released in the 1980s. In 1999, the company made $1 billion but closed its doors in 2006 due to declining sales from competition. Was the internet Tower Records’ competition and ultimate downfall? For that answer, you’ll have to watch the film.

Today, Tower Records may only exist in Japan, Ireland and online, but its legacy will always be remembered worldwide. The industry is in a sad state, but the semi-annual Record Store Day (RSD) is a great throwback to independent record and chain stores and is a great place to find rarities. As a collector of CDs, record stores are dear to me. I’d rather purchase a physical copy of an album than digital any day. I still may purchase digital singles from time to time, but you’ll still find me at the store on release day picking up a physical copy for my collection.

I was young with Tower Records was popular, and since I lived an hour away from a location, I didn’t get to visit very often. It wasn’t until two months after I moved to Nashville in 2006 that I really discovered Tower Records. Editor Ryan King and I were told by our colleagues at the time that the stores were closing, and we would find some great deals if we made it by 6 pm. They had purchased about twenty CDs for around $18 the night before, and since I wanted to grow my expanding CD collection, it was worth checking out. However, their doors were closed and the store was dark when we arrived. A local news crew pulled up at the same time we did and interviewed us both. I can’t find the footage or I’d include it in this review.

Yes, the film is available digitally, but do yourselves a favor and enjoy it on Blu-ray or DVD.

Blu-ray | DVD

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.