Tower Records San Francisco
Once upon a time, there were huge record stores that roamed the earth. All decked out in bright orange and yellow. They were called Tower Records and you couldn’t miss them. Russ Solomon was the man who had a dream and vision about selling recorded music. In 1960 he started the chain in a corner of his family drugstore in Sacramento. On Oscar Sunday while watching the ceremonies he asked his wife for a glass of Scotch whiskey and moments later made his transition. He was 92. His record retail journey is quite a story.
Tower Records Sacramento
Granted, there are still some record stores around. And with vinyl’s resurgence, they’re doing better than they have in years. But there was nothing quite like hitting a Tower. There seemed to have been one on every block, like Dunkin Donuts in New England. Over the last few days through emails, Facebook, and Twitter, one great story after another has surfaced about these record and CD superstores with their awesome inventory, passionate (always friendly) clerks and industrial lighting. Stories about spending all your check at Tower on payday, meeting a future spouse in the aisles of Tower or running into music stars (especially at the store on Sunset in LA). The old philosopher Bruce Springsteen once said “everyone is your friend for 20 minutes” at Tower.
Russ Solomon | Photo from “All Things Must Pass”
Russ Solomon | Photo by Tower Records
In 2015 an indie film saluting the chain was released called All Things Must Pass. Directed by Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks), it’s a terrific documentary about Tower’s history and the loyal employees that worked for their charming founder. It’s part love letter, as well as a truly fascinating tale and a crazy bit of music biz history. It’s all there; the humble start, the mighty expansion, and the breathtaking collapse.
So, how could this giant company fail? Thanks to Hanks we get the backstory to how our seemingly-invincible, musical Titanic cruised toward its fateful rendezvous with an iceberg called the internet. It didn’t help matters much that the record companies were dying and management had opened way too many stores.
Whether it be the original San Francisco shop on Columbus (with the fabulous classical annex across the street), their giant, eight-story shop in Shibuya, Tokyo, or NYC’s uptown and downtown stores, it was always a fun (and expensive!!) outing.
The giant Tower Records in Shibuya, Tokyo
Tower Record’s famous Classical Annex
Thank you, Russ Solomon. I have so many fond memories of talking music in the aisles amongst the mountainous bins of your stores. Vinyl may live on but there will never be another Tower Records. Unless you travel to Japan where, believe it or not, the chain still exists.