Before there was Napster, iPods, iTunes, Pandora or other digital forms of music, there was Tower Records. During the recent blizzard, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records, produced by Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks. Most of the documentary consisted of interviews with the owner, Russ Solomon and various employees who started in Sacramento in the early days and worked their way up to become executives at the company.
What was most fascinating as many entrepreneurs can attest to, is the “fly by the seat of your pants” nature of most start-ups, with Tower Records being no exception. There were no high level executive meetings to decide what to call the company or what its sign and logo should look like. Russ’s dad owned the Tower Pharmacy where they decided to start selling used 45 records at the soda fountain counter and that’s how they got the name “Tower Records.” The colors were chosen by an early employee who said “let’s use the colors of the Shell gas logo—yellow and red” and that’s how the first sign was printed with a yellow background and the red lettering.
Tower Records was such an important part of the music industry back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, so much so that Elton John would visit the LA store every time he was in town to check out how his records were selling along with other recording artists of his time. Bruce Springsteen also marveled at the fact that there was a huge store in California that sold nothing but records, and made it a point to stop in when he was in the area, too.
If you have a chance, check out All Things Must Pass (which is a George Harrison song) about the ups and downs of Tower Records. The company was in business for 40 years and still thrives in Japan, although there are no longer any stores left in the US.