Film Review: All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records
Release Date: Oct. 2015
I have a soft spot for Tower Records even though I did not step into one until the downfall was already well under way, in 1999. That story involves meeting Paul Stanley at the downtown Toronto location while he was on his stint as Phantom of the Opera.
Being Canadian, HMV was the big record store chain and one of my favorites, as well as independent store Rock En Stock in downtown Montreal. My experience with Tower Records had been very minimal even with travels into the USA. That said I knew much about the aura, the so-called experience of visiting a Tower Records store. Hence, when the documentary was released I was excited to watch and learn more. Here are some of my takeaway points.
It is a well-directed documentary, done by Colin Hanks. The flow is good, the stories are fun and the sadness of it all is always surrounded by the complete silliness they had while “working” yet they were still so very purposeful in what they did, perhaps not even realizing it which is often what makes magic happen.
Believe it or not, the story begins around 1941 as Tower Drugs and the owner’s son; Ross Solomon, suggesting they sell the used 45’s from the jukebox when they get replaced with new singles. Smart, and successful!
Moving along to 1968 when they opened the infamous San Francisco store they operated on a massive inventory policy, have everything all the time. Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em low! It also helped with the timing of the 60’s massive music movement in the city.
They also realized the store within a store concept decades before massive corporations have latched onto this. Essentially each music genre was a department unto itself with amazing product knowledge, usually.
I found it intriguing that almost all management began as clerks. Even well into the 80’s they still found reason, which I believe is critical to success, to begin any new hire as a clerk regardless of experience.
Throughout the documentary, there are some interesting stories from Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, David Geffen, Elton John, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton and more. Specifically the Elton stories are amazing and a wonderful depiction of the cultural impact.
I also chuckled at the hand truck fuel reference that would show up on their ledger.
Obviously, many have differing conclusions of what caused the demise. Some would default to Best Buy/Target/Walmart when they began selling music. Some would believe it was the mp3. Some would focus on the massive expansion to so many countries after the success in Japan. Believe it or not, I think it is a combination of all, sadly. It also left me thinking that since Japan’s Tower Records, which was sold off at the onset of trouble, still survives that this may be yet another casualty of North American culture really.
Give it a watch, it is worthwhile.
– Blair De Abreu