All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records


Action / Documentary / History / Music

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 97%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 90%
IMDb Rating 0 10 0


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Mark Turner 9 / 10

Blast from the Past

Growing up in the sixties and seventies for me, as with most young people then, records were a part of our daily life. Possibly more so than ever before music shaped us and molded us. It was a part of our daily lives as transistor radios made it easy for us to have access to music. That paved the path for us to seek out the music we loved and in so doing directed us to the record store, that glorious haven of vinyl that drained us of money earned mowing lawns.

While record stores were mostly mom and pop joints at the same time chains began to pop up. Locally there was Karma Records and Peaches. But perhaps the most famous well known record store was Tower Records. Tower Records was the store in LA that was featured in numerous movies I saw in the 70s. The building with the huge replicas of album covers posted on the outside of the building, where rock stars showed for release parties and where they could also be found picking up the latest hits was well known no matter where you lived.

When I saw this documentary was coming out I was excited to hear about their story. Vinyl had disappeared from the music scene by compact discs but that didn't destroy the music store business. Then along came digital downloads. No longer did you have to go to the store to purchase your music. You could just get online and there it was. That brought about, to me at least, the end of the music store business. But watching this documentary I learned that wasn't exactly the case with Tower Records.

The movie starts at the beginning of the business, how it was small like all businesses are and then grew over time. It shows the gradual progression of the small business into the conglomerate that it was, an influence in the world of music it was so big. There was a time when Tower Records boasted that it made $1 billion dollars in a single year. But then things begin to change and the fortunes once thought to be never ending slowly changed.

This movie is incredibly well made. Some documentaries have that boring tone to them, a slow meandering pace that makes you anxious for it to get to the point. This film draws you in from the start with smooth storytelling and great visuals that take you back to the time when record stores ruled the world of music.

While watching the movie I found myself recalling all those hours spent in record stores looking at album art, many of those albums which I have retained for that very reason. I thought of looking at the new releases up front and the cut out albums I could purchase for less if funds were tight. I realized how many songs bring back certain memories to this day. I can't hear "Band on the Run" without thinking back to walking in a parking lot as I left a free outdoor concert and it blared from the sound system between acts. All of these thing tie in to visits to the record store.

And this movie brought back memories of that desire to see the mecca of all record stores, Tower Records. It was there in Rolling Stone magazine. It was featured in movies like FM. It was always there and now like many things from the past it is gone. Talk to young people today and they have no idea what Tower Records was and less about what a record store is.

The movie is well crafted and holds your interest from start to final credits. It includes some memorable music as well as commentary from various music royalty. It tells the story not only of the store but the history of records and the music business as well. Best of all it never gets boring. So watch this with someone young so they can see what it was all about. Show them what going to the record store was like. And relive some of those great memories you still have. Dream of what it would have been like to visit that best of all record stores, Tower Records while watching.

Reviewed by Prismark10 6 / 10

Put the needle on the record

I recall being excited to visit the Tower Records store in LA in the mid 1990s on my first visit to the west coast of the USA. When I returned a decade later to their San Francisco store, it somehow felt less exciting, the store looked a little too ordinary and it seems they were having a fire sale on. A few months later Tower Records had gone bust.

Colin Hanks documentary examines the growth of this record chain from its early years from founder's Russ Solomon's dad's drug store where he had a section which sold records.

Russ took over the business in the 1960s, starting in the west coast and moving to the east coast and then internationally to Japan.

As is the case, these heady years of the counterculture was a supposedly drug and drink fuelled hazy party for the staff (it always seem to be the case with maverick start ups.) Live hard and party hard was the motto. The staff I saw in the 1990s seemed to be mainly bored teenagers on minimum wage.

At the turn of the millennium Tower Records was valued at $1 billion. Their seemed to be no end to its success and they were determined to sell albums, preferably CDs.

The impact of online shopping was a body blow. The Apple Store allowed you to buy singles you wanted for 99 cents. Tower Records wanted you to buy the whole album for an ever increasing price and their online servers was on AOL.

Even worse the young IT savvy consumer could now get music for free from Napster and other torrent sites. Combined with the company's debt laden expansion, choppy waters awaited them.

The documentary interviews key staff from the early days as well as the man himself Russ Soloman who comes across as a charismatic maverick. We also get to hear from musicians such as Dave Grohl, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen about their joy in visiting the Tower Record stores, browsing, talking to aficionados. Elton admits he spent a fortune in their shops.

The documentary was a bit messy, in fact a little overlong. We see a former executive being fired by a new management team and how Russ took him out for a meal after a Christmas party which bought him to tears. I wanted to know why he was fired, why he could not get another job, what happened after he went for a meal with Russ and then the same executive turns up later on when the attention shifts to the company's declining fortunes.

In fact seeing some of the staff being interviewed I was impressed how they managed to become so big, it seemed to be more by serendipity than design.

Reviewed by jazzfi 7 / 10

Brings Back Memories and not a bad documentary either

Growing up in Los Angeles, Tower Records was the one stop megastore to hit for the latest LP's, imports, posters etc. It definitely has its place in the lexicon of California culture, and the Sunset Boulevard store had a nice selection of indie punk rock 45s during the late 70s where you could stop in after a show at the Whisky a-go-go and find the latest vinyl.

I don't know how much truth there truly is in the story offered here, although the cover notes state that it was not the internet that brought about this company's demise. Sorry, I find that very hard to believe.

While other reviewers have noted greed and price fixing was responsible, ultimately it was the internet, and digital technology and the obsoleting of the cassette and, in one word, progress. The founder Mr. Solomon remained mistakenly sold on the fact the buyers would always want to have a library collection of music in their homes in the form of vinyl LP's boxed sets, CDs and the like, but this would not apply to later generation of buyers with their new gadgets i.e. iphones, ipads, e-pods, a-frames, tampads, etc etc ad nauseum.

And then add Napster, Kazaa and all the other "wares" to the mix, the writing was on the wall. They were nice store personnel and more often knew their stuff, styles, genres, and history, but it just couldn't last without a product to sell. Much in the same way that X-rated theaters went the way of all flesh with the boom of the videocassette and the DVD, technology eventually trumped it all.

Nevertheless, they remain a wonderful memory in the annuls of history and made a difference in the lives of so many music fans during the earlier days of rock and roll and they should be proud.

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