For fans of what was once the record business, the Colin Hanks film All Things Must Pass — which chronicles the history and demise of retailing giant Tower Records — can’t be recommended highly enough. While not a complete or thorough (or necessarily accurate) account of what happened to the chain and record retailing in general, it is a fabulous look inside the head of music retailing’s superstar — owner Russ Solomon. Fiercely loyal to his employees and a close friend to many in the label community, Solomon had one great (and at the time courageous) vision for retailing — marketing records in volume in a storefront devoted to music only. This was at a time when consumers would typically find a limited selection of records in a rack in the local appliance and furniture store.
Solomon’s vision carried his company for over 40 years and through multiple music format changes, but ultimately too many disruptive technologies (and poor management) overcame his ability to carry on profitably. Napster hurt, and Amazon — the company Tower really could and should have become — gave consumers the ability to buy anything in the universe from the comfort of their own home. A stark image from the film was the price of CD’s in the early 2000’s. Clerks were seen ringing up CD’s for $18.99, which was such an obvious rip-off to consumers that it led them out of the stores devoted to retailing music and, ironically, back into the appliance stores (Best Buy) who under cut Tower, Wherehouse, Camelot, Record Bar, et al.
The film captured the sociological essence of the record buying experience — meeting up with friends (and making friends) in the store, browsing the stacks of albums, lining up for the new releases, and dealing with the surly guy behind the counter. Hanks also included interviews of Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, who spoke of their memorable experiences shopping the store. Great footage of John is shown as he moves from rack to rack, an armful of vinyl under his arm. He claims to have spent more money at Tower than any other consumer — buying multiple copies of albums, one for each home.
This is an excellent film on the music business, loyalty, nepotism, and genuine friendship that can also feed your nostalgic soul. Go see it!