Russ Solomon/Tower Records

It was about the store on Sunset.

When you came to L.A., you went to the Whisky, the Troubadour, the Roxy and…

Tower Records.

It was on Sunset, in the era when there were billboards for albums. And on the outside of the nondescript building were paintings of albums. This was where music lived.

And unlike every other emporium on Sunset there was adequate parking. You could drop by on a whim.

And you never knew who you’d run into.

Close to midnight, Michael Caine and his wife. Another time the entire New York Knicks, I was standing next to Patrick Ewing, man was he tall.

But the key feature was the inventory. Who knows if they had everything, but they had more than everybody else, and at a reasonable price! And all the new releases were always cheap, as cheap as anywhere in town, and if you waited long enough you could pick up that catalog item at a low price too.

Now this was when Los Angeles was a bastion of neighborhood record stores. There was Aron’s in Hollywood and Rhino in Westwood. Being a company town you could buy promos in those stores. And they stocked used product. But if you wanted to see everything, if you wanted to feel on the pulse, if you wanted to go to where they opened up early for Elton John so he could fill up a shopping cart with albums…

You went to Tower.

Now right by the door were the rags, the throwaway magazines that have all been thrown away. You picked those up on your way out, you stuffed them into your yellow plastic bag.

And then in front of you, blocking your entrance, were the stacks. Hundreds of copies of new albums, not only the hits, but the obscure. You’d see all those copies of albums only you thought you knew about and feel included.

As for the help…

It wasn’t as insulting as Rhino, where they judged you by what you bought, but it was always aloof and never helpful. Ask for an item at Whole Foods and an employee will take you there. Ask for a record at Tower and they’d point you in the general direction, as if they were too busy to be bothered and you should know better.

So you got to know the system.

Under the bins were shelves of overstock. Which sometimes contained items that never made it to the bins. You’d comb through and see LPs you’d only read about. Seems amazing now, but to find a store with all the Neil Young albums, or all the Zappa LPs, was impossible. But Tower had them.

Until there just wasn’t room for them anymore.

Sometime in the eighties there were more SKUs than room.

And there was a switch from vinyl to cassettes to CDs. As freewheeling as the store was, the cassettes were in a walled-off section, to reduce theft, even though most of the stealing seemed to be done by employees, at least that’s the legend. Furthermore, they had a shrinkwrap machine in the back, so workers could borrow LPs and then return them, so product returned could be put right back on the shelves. That’s something that disappeared in the CD era, defective product, to get a good vinyl record was almost impossible.

There weren’t many events. This was not Amoeba, no, Tower was for EVERYBODY! You didn’t have to put on your look before you went, they sold no tchotchkes, it was only music, all the time.

And that’s where you got it, the store.

Radio was for discovery, but the passionate needed to own. And you didn’t want to go from store to store looking for your heart’s desire, you knew Tower had it. And buying was an addiction, however many records you had it was never enough, you needed more. And you bought ’em and played ’em, you had an investment, that’s why you knew all the album cuts.

And eventually there was a store in Westwood. With a ticket machine even. I remember lining up to buy tickets for the Boss at the Sports Arena.

And outlets in the Valley and Orange County, but they were never as big, never the same.

And, of course, Tower expanded to New York and Boston and although those stores were large, it came in the eighties, when music was in a cleanup mode, when MTV ruled and everybody knew all the acts, whereas in the seventies music still had a patina of exclusivity, you were in the know or you weren’t. And if you were…

You went to Tower.

Russ Solomon was a legend when retailers were a necessary component of the business. Now that role isn’t even played anymore. You kiss the ass of the streaming service, of which there are only a handful. And the issue is not getting your wares inside, but getting them listened to at all, the entire game has changed.

It won’t be long before Tower will be incomprehensible to the masses. You drove to a store to pay cash for only one album?

But we did.

And those times were so memorable because of the music itself, a magic elixir that drove the culture. It was what was on wax that mattered, not the amount of money made.

And it was all driven by recordings, the tour sold the album, not vice versa.

And the fact that a guy from Sacramento who was running a store could be so important…

But music always made strange heroes.

It’s not where you’re from or what you know so much as how much you care and what risks you’ll take.

Russ Solomon took tons of risk. Drove the chain to bankruptcy ultimately.

Then again, it was doomed by the internet.

But for a while there…

It all went down at Tower Records.

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