All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

After the football game, I spent a few minutes in the library before going to the theatre where “All Things Must Pass” was showing. It wasn’t a documentary about George Harrison. It was a history of Tower Records, the place where many of us bought record albums for years. It all started in Sacramento in 1960. Russ Solomon was the chief person behind the store, although he had people working for him who made major contributions to the business. They expanded to San Francisco. The thought of that store fills me with nostalgic feelings. They set up a store in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard, which became a big deal with the pop musicians in town. David Geffen talked about what the music business was like, and I’m rather glad that someone like him is still around to tell the tale. It was fun to see all those people buying George Harrison albums. The regular single albums cost $3.88 during those times. Two of the people interviewed for this documentary were Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. We see some footage of Elton looking through all the record bins with a checklist in hand. He claimed that he was the one human being who spent the most money at Tower Records. I thought it was rather touching to see his enthusiasm for music. I think that out of all the pop musicians out there, he is the one I would most want to discuss music with. Russ was contacted about opening a store in Japan, and while some people warned him against it, the expansion into Japan would prove to be his lasting accomplishment. The disco craze would be a turning point for the record business. It was the first downtown in business for the company during it existence up to then. CD sales would keep the business afloat for years, but Solomon made mistakes in expanded to places like Argentina. When the new millennium came along, with Napster and a new generation, Tower Records found itself in financial trouble. The banks put pressure on Solomon and his people to pay the debts, and it didn’t go well. Solomon’s carefree managing style wasn’t enough to offset his major mistakes, and he had to close everything down. He sold off the stores in Japan, which were profitable. I would have questioned the strategy of selling the strongest part of your business. On December 21, 2006, it was all over. The documentary didn’t discuss this year’s increase in vinyl album sales. I thought this film had strong qualities in showing the emotion of seeing the good times end. It was like seeing a family come apart. Perhaps, though, it was too many people talking. Maybe that is part of what went wrong. Dave Grohl talked about working at Tower Records in Washington. There were parallels between Tower Records and National Lampoon magazine, to compare this film another recent documentary. The difference is that the record selling business got a reprieve because of technology. Elton John thought the closing of Tower Records was a personal tragedy. One of the people I’ll remember is the woman who ran the classical department of the La Jolla store. She was a snob, but knowledgeable. The other stores I visited were in San Diego, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It was a great time, but it makes you wonder what other institutions will go under because of technology. We might not have libraries anymore. Many more people will lose their jobs. I was glad I saw this movie, which left me with such a sad feeling. I went home and watched the World Series game. I wasn’t shocked that Tyler Clippard led to the Mets’ loss. I saw that Cespedes made the final mistake of the night with his overanxious baserunning. The movies “Bullitt” and “Married to the Mob” were on KQED.

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