It's some kind of weird contradiction, but for some reason I really loved Tower Records. I say that because I have a long standing thing about indie record shops, and I never bought much at Virgin or HMV, but when Tower opened its two Manhattan stores I became an even bigger vinyl junkie. I lived just a few blocks away from the uptown one and would spend many nights there just looking at music and talking with music buyers. The social scene was part of the trip.
Tower's two gigantic shops were initially filled with groovy records, and later in the 1980s the CDs started to eat away, aisle by aisle, at the vinyl paradises. It must have taken three or four years before CDs occupied most of the bins. Granted, vinyl's decline was mostly market driven, but remember CDs typically sold for double the price of LPs, so Tower, like most stores figured that even if the vinyl title was still available they'd rather you bought the CD. If the LP wasn't there you'd have to pony up the extra dough for the CD. During that time I'd get my vinyl from indie shops.
One rainy spring day walking through Central Park I was listening to a classical radio station when they played Aaron Copland's "Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano." It so perfectly framed the misty day and green grass I had to buy the music. I exited Central Park, walked a few blocks over to Broadway and bought the CD. That was twenty years ago and I still have the CD to trigger those memories.
I also have to put in a word about Tower's staff. The rock guys were never especially good, but the jazz and classical staffs were tops. They knew the music and we'd get into great conversations about whatever was happening at the time. Some guys were there for decades, and made sure not just the big sellers were in the bins, but the really obscure music as well.
The first Tower Records store was opened by Russ Solomon in 1960 on Watt Avenue in Sacramento, California. Tower was gone for good in late 2006 and now when I find one of their bright yellow plastic bags I take a little trip down memory lane.
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