All Things Must Pass
March 11, 2018 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Russ Soloman, founder of Tower Records dies at 92

If you were a music fan in the USA in the second half of the 20th century, you may have stepped into a Tower Records at some point. I probably spent a little too much time there in my 20's, but I had plenty of company. There is also a great documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records from 2015.
posted by freakazoid (36 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Every monday night in Heaven will now have Midnight Madness.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:56 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by cashman at 7:01 AM on March 11, 2018

I loved that store. The Tower Books part too - they had a lot of stuff that wasn't so easy to come by, in the pre-Web 90s.
posted by thelonius at 7:19 AM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

When I was in high school in the Marshall Islands visiting the Tower Records in Honolulu when visiting or on a layover (it was often an 18-36 hour layover) was mandatory. You were expected to come back to the island with at least a dozen new albums.
posted by COD at 7:21 AM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Our city didn't have one that was easily accessible for me at least. So I only managed to visit Tower Records once. But I was overwhelmed with the selection and variety of music.

All those memories of jewel cases. So much plastic. What a trip back in time.

posted by Fizz at 7:44 AM on March 11, 2018

Tower was one of my happy places. I spent hours and hours in their D.C store, often finding some great import or obscure recording that I, of course, had to have. Ditto their magazine racks and books. And each store's buyer seemed to have a fair amount of latitude, because the Tower on Rockville Pike had a huge collection of zines and even mini-comics, with a lot less classical music, but a lot more indie rock.

Thanks, Mr. Solomon.

posted by the sobsister at 7:47 AM on March 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm from Sacramento, so I've been to a lot of darn Tower Records in my life and this makes me sad. The gift cards from aunts and uncles and subsequent trip to Tower together with cousins was my extended family's Christmas tradition. My cousin is still annoyed with me for supposedly telling his mom that he bought Ritual de lo Habitual (on cassette thank you) when we were 14 because she took it away from him (this is a thing that never happened, but he doesn't remember trying to drown me at Waterworld when we were 4, so who knows what really happened).


Sadder still, I think the last Tower Records I actually bought something in before they started liquidating (when I went to the Sunrise and Watt Ave and Broadway stores in Sacramento) was the one in Trump Tower. Ugh.

posted by elsietheeel at 7:58 AM on March 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I remember when Tower came into my college town.

It drove our locally owned music store under, only to succumb itself in less than 2 years.

Kind of ironic I guess, that the market competition pressures that killed Tower were first shown to me visually by the effects of Tower itself on my local store.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:01 AM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

I worked at Tower Books in the late 80s and early 90s. Probably the funnest job i’ve ever had, although calling it a job may be misrepresenting it a bit. Goodbye Russ, and thanks for the memories.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:05 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by evilDoug at 8:21 AM on March 11, 2018

I used to love going to Tower Records with my dad... Although my mom would always point out their driving out of local shops, which is certainly true. But I spent many a weekend afternoon wandering through their endless aisles.

posted by Reynard Digitalis at 8:32 AM on March 11, 2018

Tower Records at Piccadiily Circus had its own entrance to the tube station ticket hall. When I first moved to London - well before the CD and those 'jewel cases' of which you speak - it felt like I was living in the future, albeit one built out of the pre-war aesthetic of the Underground and the 70s vinyl cornucopia of Tower. Which was not a bad future.

And of the three megastores in the vicinity - Virgin, Tower and HMV - Tower seemed the most exotic and the best suited for random discoveries. But I was just up from the provinces, so it was all flippi' amazeballs. I remember finding one collection of obscure 60s British psychedelia on a Saturday morning, going home, taping it over lunch, and being on Hampstead Heath listening to it by, oh it must have been around 4:20 that afternoon.

No, not a bad future.
posted by Devonian at 8:41 AM on March 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I remember fondly the Tower stores in Astor Place and at Hynes Convention Center.

posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:42 AM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

The local shops thing is something I never really thought of before because Tower was a local shop to me. Granted it wasn't indie like Esoteric or The Beat or even Dimple, but it started in Sacramento and it was ours; it wasn't a mall music store like Wherehouse or Sam Goody, you know? I guess I never really thought of how national/international it was and now my mind is kind of blown.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I bought Elvis Costello's "Spike" on the day it came out at the Piccadilly Tower in 1989. And he was there to sign it.
I also spent a lot of time thumbing the racks at Tower Records near Telegraph Ave in Berkeley in the early 1980s.

Good times.
posted by chavenet at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

He was an early pioneer in selling CDs when most record stores were holding back and taking a 'wait and see' approach. He devoted more and more of his stores to them. I remember reading an interview where he said that the other companies didn't want to sell them because the percentage profit was lower (CDs were expensive to make at first), but he said that this is the problem with looking at percentages. His percentage per sale was lower, but overall he was making more because people wanted CDs and were buying them.

On the other hand, he still sold lots of LPs when other stores went entirely to CDs.
posted by eye of newt at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mid-nineties memories of Tower will always be perfumed by the vague scent coming off the CK-One rack by the registers.
posted by corey flood at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2018

What's up with all the related posts being from 1999 and 2000 (also, two of them feature mathowie talking about Napster)?
posted by box at 10:04 AM on March 11, 2018

I worked for the 66th St. store in NYC in the mid-80s for a while. It was "not the cool one" which was downtown, but it was exciting enough. Miles Davis came in to shop for records once. Yes, it was still mostly records. I watched CDs eat up most of the classical section during my time there. Which was great, because all the records went to the famous Annex behind the downtown store. A good chunk of that store is still sitting on my shelves here, and I don't even have a turntable anymore. Never met Russ, but he was often in the downtown store and kept an apartment in the same building.

I was always amazed at how much cool stuff Tower still had in their stores in their twilight years when all the other big outlets had already gone down the toilet.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:20 AM on March 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Devonian - I was in the Tower in Piccadilly back in the early 90's. I'm from San Francisco. I remember finding loads of stuff there including the VIZ compilation books that were a new compulsion for me. (I now subscribe to it.) What shocked me were the people who worked there. As I told the guy who rang up items, he looked exactly like the Tower people here in the Bay Area. There seemed to be a definite look to Tower people. And attitude. Despite its chain store reality, Tower and its individual stores had some kind of overall uniqueness that made it good place to go and just stumble on to something new. Here in San Francisco, we have Amoeba, for now, but I don't know, shopping for music ain't the same.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2018

I was never all that big of a customer, but it seemed like Toronto lost some character the day that the Tower Records at Queen and Yonge was turned into an upscale yuppie camping store.
posted by 256 at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bought the CD Tuesday Night Music Club from Tower Records on a whim. Many good memories.

posted by filtergik at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Every time I hear the Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson" ("drove downtown in the rain, 9:30 on a Tuesday night/just to check out the late-night record shop"), I think of the vast classical music section in the Tower in Harvard Square. Even if I have no idea whether there even were Towers in Canada...
posted by praemunire at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

It drove our locally owned music store under, only to succumb itself in less than 2 years.

As a counterpoint to this: I overheard a conversation between a customer and the staff at Other Music shortly after the downtown Tower had closed (to eventually be converted into some sort of Major League Baseball "man cave" reality TV set, I guess): the customer had commented that OM must have been pretty happy to lose the looming behemoth of a competitor right across the street. On the contrary, the staffer replied: OM and Tower existed in a sort of symbiosis suggested in the store's name: their customer base would often shop at both places, and when one store didn't have an item or genre, the customer would head across the street. Beyond that, it was clear the OM folks weren't about to celebrate the death of a record store, even a corporate titan.

Now Other Music's gone, too, of course. The MLB Man Cave might still be there, but who goes down there anymore, anyway?

And yeah, the downtown NYC and Boston Back Bay stores occupy a permanent, treasured part of my brain. Thanks, Russ.
posted by multics at 11:53 AM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

9:30 on a Tuesday night/just to check out the late-night record shop

Yes, there were Tower Records in Canada, but what I loved about that song was the idea that 9:30 was "late night" in Canada.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:55 AM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2018

Summer 1996, Annapolis, MD. I worked Wednesday to Sunday at the Tower store there while my girlfriend at the time—I'd moved to Maryland for the summer so we could spend it together—worked a standard Monday to Friday 9-5 job. We rarely saw each other, and it was largely a miserable experience.

I never met Russ Solomon, but I heard his name on our store's PA system all the time. "Russ, pick up." "Russ, come to the front." "Russ to the Jazz department." "Russ" was our in-store code for the plainclothes officers who worked security for us. I always wondered if that was true at other stores, or if it was just unique to ours.
posted by emelenjr at 2:01 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tower Classics in Berkeley.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 2:45 PM on March 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Truth must be told. The fan and clan stores and their big inventories would never have existed without the casual visitors coming in. Thanks to the now-and-thens for financing a place for the geeks and diggers to hang. And thanks for your oddball picks that somehow percolated over to Goodwill to become unexpected treasure.

Will that world ever return? Never say never.
posted by Twang at 3:29 PM on March 11, 2018

Russ had a showing of photos he took at my community college a couple of years ago. Seemed like a pretty grounded dude.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:20 PM on March 11, 2018

Both Tower Records and Borders Books came into my life in the mid-90s (suburban Long Island), during the four years after college but before my first grown-up job, so they are always going to be linked in my mind - places with much wider selection than the local Friar Tuck Book Shop in the Gardiner Manor Mall or the Sam Goody in the Bay Shore mall. Places with authors or artists I hadn't heard about before.
Once I moved back to Chicago and was making grown-up money, way too much of that grown-up money went to Borders and Tower locations around the city.
I still have a couple pictures on flickr the stairwell of the Tower Records on Wabash, from the last visit before it closed. Batman painting. graffiti

. for Tower.
. for Mr. Solomon.
(and a . for Borders, while I'm at it.)
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 8:06 PM on March 11, 2018

Good memories of the Rockville, MD store! That was where I first met the guy everyone I knew referred to as Punk Rock Old Guy. He had white hair and a mustache, and could always be spotted at local record stores and punk shows (hence the nickname - also like anyone over 25 was old). He walked up to me, and I thought he was talking to me, but he was kinda more talking to the albums I was holding.

I also distinctly remember buying a Man... or Astro Man? album at the one on Sunset in LA, probably close to 20 years ago. I may have also bought some Devo on that trip.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:24 AM on March 12, 2018

I was just in a Tower Records a couple of months ago that was bustling with customers, though I can't say I bought anything - I'm not even sure what I would do with a CD in this day and age.

Their stores in Japan are still operating under separate ownership, but that familiar Tower Records branding, as the obituary mentions in passing, and I can report that the Tower in Shibuya is a literal, nine story tower, and certainly still doing a very brisk business. It's very interesting which technologies Japanese people adopt and which they don't, but even the fax machine thing makes more sense to me than CDs.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:43 AM on March 12, 2018

He will be buried in a longbox.
posted by fungible at 12:18 PM on March 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Still miss it after all these years. You never knew what you might find in their clearance/used sections (esp. if it was a store far from the hipster rack-dwellers). Not to mention that it was one of the few places you could find maga/zines like Record Collector or Short Fast & Loud - or even Mojo and MRR - in Suburbia. (It's probably not a coincidence that more than a few magazines went under once stores like Tower, Borders, and Virgin closed down).
posted by gtrwolf at 1:24 PM on March 14, 2018

posted by homunculus at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2018

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