Russ Solomon started the global concern that was Tower Records after buying a section of his father's drugstore to devote to music. That shop had been dabbling in music for a while with its jukebox (and selling off the used records from it), but one entirely selling such a product was something of a novelty back in the nineteen-fifties; come the sixties and the youth of California were seeking somewhere to buy their music and its burgeoning amounts of examples, and as you could listen to the records in booths, Tower Records became the ideal place to hang out, especially as it opened late. From such tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow - but oaks can be cut down.
Colin Hanks was the director of this documentary on the once-huge Tower Records phenomenon, and he managed to assemble the surviving players of the business's scene to relate their stories, with Solomon still very much around and finding himself praised to the high heavens for his endeavours to bring music to the masses across the planet. However, not everyone looked back on the stores with the same nostalgic glow that Hanks presented them with, as there was an argument that Tower priced the independent stores out of the market thanks to its affordability and range, leaving a rich irony when the supermarket chains did the same to it in the twenty-first century.
According to this, the staff were all enormous music fans and had a vast knowledge of their subject and what they were selling, though there are just as many shoppers who would tell you that they were the worst kind of snobs and failed rock stars; certainly the tales of them spending their time in the back room drinking and doing drugs doesn't sound quite as sunny as the interviewees seemed to think it was, though nevertheless they are not blamed here for damaging the store, it was outside forces that hammered the business. Indeed, there was a definite "everyone’s fault but ours" tone to the documentary when it came to the end of the story which you may find contested elsewhere.
The explanation of how Tower became established was interesting enough, with some decent archive footage though one shot of shoppers milling through record racks was very much like another, only the fashions seemed to change. The camaraderie of the first generation of employees and management was palpable, and you could buy into the rosy reminiscences and agree that one of the best aspects of the store was its huge choice, plus when it expanded to foreign markets shoppers had access to a vast array of imports from the United States which as Solomon acknowledged was a very strong selling point in those territories. What it doesn't say is that they still were not cheap.
A few celebrity fans appeared, Elton John endorsing them and relating with a sigh how shopping at Tower was one of the highlights of his week, and Dave Grohl tells how he went from employee in the Seattle branch to seeing the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind as a massive display some time later. But the most interesting part was how they addressed when it all went wrong, the struggles that record shops across the board, not just Tower, faced when customers basically started wondering first, why bother getting CDs at the music stores when the supermarkets sold them a lot cheaper, then the internet loomed and delivered the tunes for free thanks to piracy. David Geffen points out that the record companies could have put their prices down and still seen a healthy profit, but didn't act till it was too late, and now if you do buy music it will be in digital format that plays on a device rather than be purchased in a physical format and the concept of the record collection has dwindled as the media becomes so disposable. Food for thought, almost despite this film's selective nature, though if it had room for the whole gamut of opinion it would have to have been twice the length.