Colin Hanks’ New Documentary Charts History of Tower Records

Colin Hanks' Documentary Looks at History
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records” is not the movie you want it to be.

Colin Hanks’ documentary is a business story — about the power of individuals, with big dreams and the ability and desire to make them come true: Without Russ Solomon, there would have been no Tower Records.

Your heart will go pitter-patter when you see Elton John combing the aisles in a tracksuit, hoovering up LPs as Tower’s best customer — representing our incredible yearning for what once was. But even Solomon knows it’s never coming back.

He took a risk his own dad did not want to. He opened up a record shop and then another and another. And along the way, he hired his family and then the longhairs no one else would. No ties, and you could wear your street clothes.

But the paradigm remains the same as it is today: It’s about scale — being able to replicate an item at low cost and sell it to everybody. That’s what music was. It was the cultural grease of an entire generation. It was the radio and the stereo and the concerts. It was the iPhone of its day. With a lot fewer zeroes at the end.

We’re never going back to the past, just like the industrial revolution looks quaint compared with the 1960s. Walmart leveled the corner store, and then Amazon leveled everything else. The customer is inured to products at the lowest price delivered nearly instantly. If anything, costs are gonna come down, and delivery is gonna speed up. You expect people to start going to a retail shop? You think they’ll stand in line for tickets?

“All Things Must Pass” is about the financial nuclear bomb. It was exploded a couple of decades back, and we’re just feeling the effects now.”
@lefsetz

“All Things Must Pass” is about the financial nuclear bomb. It was exploded a couple of decades back, and we’re just feeling the effects now. Not only did it kill physical retail, it took those jobs, too. We might get free music, but we’re paying for it with our way of life. The only thing that doesn’t scale is us. We keep clicking, looking for attention, but fewer care. Otherwise why would YouTube start to charge? There’s just not enough money in placing advertisements against your home videos. No one cares to watch.

But we all cared about music.

So Solomon kept saying yes. Primarily to expansion. If you had a good idea, he’d let you run with it. And he had a financial wizard to keep him in place. And when the CFO left the company…

The truth is, though, the tide had turned. No one could have saved Tower Records.

But the story of how it was built is a lesson those with MBAs should study: Money comes last; the idea is first. Then comes execution.

Tower was not the only record chain. But it won by doing things differently: refusing to overcharge and carrying a staggering amount of inventory. Kind of like Amazon today. But instead of visiting online, you went in person.

It was such a part of the culture that when the Tower on Sunset closed down, the Strip faded. It’s nearly history. Rock is gone, and condos are rising.

Because Tower was a mecca, a shrine — where all the music was. It was the Apple Store on steroids.

But we don’t need more Tower Records. We don’t need more vinyl. We don’t need higher prices. We need more Russ Solomons: a guy just like you and me, but different. A guy who knew work was supposed to be fun, who operated with a gleam in his eye, who knew you didn’t have to have all of the money — just some.

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  1. I can recall my family and I visiting the Tower Records store on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. since I was a kid in the early 1970s. Ever since it closed, finding music has not been the same.

  2. Kevin Bebe says:

    “One of the last constructed Tower Records stores that still operates as a music/video store by FYE, will be closing its doors in the South Bay of California”
    An originally constructed Tower Records building currently owned and operated by FYE will be closing their doors to the Torrance community on Jan 23rd 2016. A small crew of 14 employees with retail backgrounds from Tower Records, Wherehouse, Music Plus, Blockbuster and Suncoast will be saying farewell to their days of keeping the torch lit for the music/movie retail business in Torrance. The said reason for the closure is due to a property leasing issue that has opened up the opportunity for a new restaurant at the location. For the last 6 years FYE has held strong by continuing to keep the once Tower Records building intact with all the original lighting, interior, and huge selection of new and used product that has surpassed its local competitors in sales and selection. As customers enter the building and read the signs they are in disbelief, but mostly sad about losing their last local music store. Almost every customer has had something to say, storytelling of their first vinyl record/CD/tape or waiting overnight with beach chairs and blankets for concert tickets. If anyone is interested in seeing the store for the last time or shop for that “out of print” gem of music or a movie…the countdown has begun.

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