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Tower Records, RIP

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After its sale yesterday to Great American Group, Tower Records is closing the doors of all of its nearly ninety stores worldwide, effectively ending the reign of record stores as we once knew them. Great American plans to liquidate the chain beginning today with closeout sales across the board. Over 3000 Tower employees will be impacted by the closings.

The demise of Tower Records registered barely a pling on the wires and TV news radar. It is, after all, indicative of the shifting buying habits of the music consumer. Between downloads and the big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target, coupled with the harried pace of society today, destination locations such as record stores are relics in their last throes.

But is it really that cut and dried?

While it is undeniable that the advent of MP3s, music file-swapping, and just the outright convenience of the Internet altered the way people listen to music, those factors alone cannot explain the decline and the fall of record stores. Nor can the one-stop mentality of big-box thinking.

The truth is, the record industry itself is at least partially responsible for the slow death of the free-standing record store. Well before the Internet or the Wal-Mart juggernaut even existed, at least traceable to the early 1980s, the bean counters at the labels had unwittingly set in motion events that altered how we listen to music.

In those days, label money was flowing freely — every act with a new release on the roster was promoted as the Second Coming. Reps showered retailers with unlimited promo albums, margarita-soaked release parties, primo concert tickets, t-shirts, anything and everything. And that was just store managers.

Then the bottom dropped out — the labels had pinned all their hopes on skinny-tie bands (the Knack) and hair bands (Cinderella) and when they didn't explode on the public as planned, the labels panicked. Promotional support to retailers was among the earliest casualties.

Not surprisingly, record sales slowed even more. The labels tightened their return policies, forcing the smaller retail chains such as Disc and Sound Town out of business early on, swallowed up by Sam Goody and the like, who were swallowed up by Trans World Entertainment — and so on and so on. Sound Warehouse, devoured by Blockbuster and Wherehouse, kicking and screaming all the way, fell by the wayside.

Only Tower was left standing, and now it's gone.

It's sad, really. For those of us who grew up honing our music knowledge browsing the rows upon rows of neatly alphabetized albums categorized by genres not even recognized anymore, while obscure "deep album" cuts blared from wall-mounted Altec speakers, it's a time that won't be recaptured.

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About Ray Ellis

  • Theres a lot more to it than that Ray. I’ve both worked for record labels and owned a small record store myself, and though every single thing you say is true–it’s a lot more complex than that. The demise of the record industry in my mind boils down to two things:

    The number one thing is that record labels are no longer run and staffed by record people. As a result, labels are more concerned with pleasing their shareholders than about the quality of the product they put out there. The music business is in a slump largely because of the music itself. Record labels sign teen pop crap looking to make the quick nickel rather than wait for the slow dime. Attention spans are short these days. Careers are no longer developed over the long haul, which means that labels depose of todays Britney Spears to make way for tommorrow’s Justin Timberlake.

    Meanwhile, no one is bothering to develop acts with any longevity like a Rolling Stones or even a Radiohead. Music doesn’t sell the way it used to, because the music being put out by the major labels by and large sucks.

    The other factor at play is the industry focus on delivery systems. With MP3’s and cellphones the new delivery system of choice…it’s no longer about albums but about mere tracks.

    What is going to motivate an artist to create the next Born To Run, Dark Side Of the Moon, or OK Computer knowing full well that it’s going to be played through a speaker the size of your thumbnail…? And cheery-picked for individual at that?

    Great article Ray…but you are only scratching the surface here.

    R.I.P. Tower


  • That last sentence should have read “cheery-picked for individual TRACKS. When I’m hot about something, I type so fast entire words get left out sometimes…LOL


  • I miss the local mom and pop stores that were put out of business by the bigger record stores. Those little shops were where I used to pick up all my promo materials, and they were many. I once had no less than 56 Tusk promo props. I would hang out at this store where I became friends with the owner. He knew what bands I liked and would always save anything and everything for me.

    When it came time for concert ticket sales, he made sure to grab a pair of tix for me, too.

    You don’t get to make those kind of connections with people anymore.

  • So you were one of my customers then Joan?


  • Vern Halen

    To recap the acute observations cited above, some factors that have contributed to the demise of the music industry as it once was:

    1) delivery systems – used to be large 12″ vinyl artifacts artistically packaged vs ethereal, invisible, mp3 “files”; and,

    2) monolithic record companies’ desires for the quick buck rather than investment in economically sustainable long term artists.

    I’d add a third, perhaps more intangible factor: the changed nature of rock and roll itself. It’s no longer the exclusive domain of rebellious youth – nowadays, it’s the soundtrack for geezers. Everyone knows the price you’ll pay for strutting the stage & living in the spotlight…. actually, it’s a pretty good wage if you can make it into the big leagues, much like how pro sports turned out, unlike forty or fifty years ago, when teling your folks you were going to play baseball, hockey or guitar for a liviing would’ve brought derision from your dad and tears from your mum.

    In other words, it’a acceptable to age (gracefully or otherwise) and make a living in the industry, and in some ways, that goes against the youth centered premise of the original idea of rock and roll. Which leads me to another point (or maybe a variation of the same point, I dunno, I’m on a roll here) – the aging rock audience has been forced to fall back into nostalgia for their heroes because the industry hasn’t bothered for the most part to market older acts as contemporary and vital to today’s scene. Other than the occasional rave like the latest Bob Dylan release, most new releases by veteran rockers go by invisibly – an example being Cheap Trick’s absolutely wonderful current album Rockford – praised here in many threads on the relatively small blogcritics community site but unnoticed by the public at large.

    Who’m I kidding? Maybe it’s the nature of rock and roll to eats its progeny; or put it on ice floes as it were. Johnny Ramone once said there ought to be a mandatory retirement age of 40 for rockers, but many artists, both major and even small time in that age category are making the best music of their careers, and it’s being lost and unheard, and that’s a sad thing.

  • It appears we’re all pretty much on the same page here. ..

    You’re right, Glen–I did scratch the surface. When I first heard the news that Tower was kaput, my first instinct was to wax nostalgic, but that angle led me to the same take that Joan has about the indie stores. Since that was going to turn into a piece about how Goliath got his comeuppance, I went with the other angle. But since this was supposed to be about the demise of Tower, and not the workings of the insustry, I pulled in the reigns before it turned into an utter rant.

    But that’s an article for another time…

    I managed several record stores, and even did a brief stint with EMI. Even in those halcyon days, the record people were overruled by the bottom line people. The only difference between then and now is that reps had to suck up to the retailers more then–computers didn’t exist. If you published a magazine, as I went on to do, the sucking up was even more intense.

    Vern, the labels’ objective has always been to make a quick buck. That’s why it’s called the music “business.” As a result, at least 97% of the output has always been garbage. But I will concede that the timeline for failure is a lot shorter than it once was–let’s face it. The last great rock album was Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

    And, no, Gem–there will be no rapture bown under– but you guys may get a Virgin superstore…

    Anyway, thanks to all for the feedback!

  • It was a damn good piece Ray.

    One that obviously opened up a lot of emotional thought in me that I take quite frankly, well personally. I’ve had a much broader article percolating in me for some time now about the demise of the music industry that I hope one day will show up here. And I guarantee you it will be a rant and a half when it does. Frankly it just amazes me how the industry cries the blues over it’s woes when the answer is staring them so squarely in the face.

    It’s the music stupid.


  • Nik

    I’ll miss Tower. The one in Sacramento was probably my first “real” record store experience, and knocked me flat. I still loved going in one whenever I had a chance, a lot more soul and character than Best Buy and the like. Alas.

  • Vern Halen

    But the questions are these:

    1) is today’s music bad compared to the golden era (better yet – which golden era?)

    2) isn’t that inevitable?

    3) if not, whose fault is it?

    4) and can it be fixed?

  • I don’t think it’s a then vs.now issue. Truth is, the best music has always been on the fringes. The Velvet Underground’s first album was released in 1967, but the general public was so enamored of the Monkees and the like, it went largely unnoticed. There’s a lot of good music out there… you just have to search for it. But that’s the way it’s always been.

  • Well dammit Ray, look at you’ve done. You’ve gone and inspired me to finally write my music business rant. Assuming our beloved editors like it, you should see “When Are They Going To Let The Hippies Back Into The Record Store?” up here later today.

    I had a lot of fun with this one. Thanks for the inspiration.



    Didn’t “The Wildhearts Must be Destroyed” come out the smae time American Idiot did? I think thatwas that last good R ‘n’ R album.

    Tower Records in Boston was great because it had a local artists section, if I could go back in time I’d spend at least $1000 there on stuff no longer in print.

    It’s not that the music was better then, hell an argument could be made that outside of emo, a lot of bands are remaking their parents favorite records today. (Some of you have children conceived after a Ratt or English Beat concert, you know who you are). It’s that the purchase price of CD’s is outrageous (CD’s are cheaper than vinyl or cassettes to produce, but cost far more in today’s money.), and all but the best bands out out a product that has one or two hits and a lot of filler, no thanks. The industry really tried to squeeze all it could out of the consumer, and missed the internet age business model entirely. They’d have come out ahead if they’d accepted Napster’s initial compromise offer; instead they told the customer to pound sand, and the customer has responded in kind. The industry also forget the first rule of sales: Volume, Volume, Volume! I buy a lot of CD’s but I’d buy more if they were cheaper.
    Another thing, why sell a reissue of a classic album for the smae price as a new release. A guy who owns the vinyl, the cassette, and the initial CD release is going to balk at paying the same price again. Not only that, everyone knows that MP3 and other formats can pack an artist’s entire collection onto one or two discs, why not offer complete works that way for a reasonable price? (Bootleggers from Baghdad to Bangkok offer just such a thing, and can’t keep enough in stock, caveat emptor!) People would be rebuilding their libraries and the industry would still make money.
    Antother thing, in Europe the customer can sample the whole CD before purchase, why not o that in the US? (I think we know the answer, most albums are filler)
    I spend most of my time outside the US, the last real record store I went to was Vinyl Fever in Tampa, great selection and the guys knew their music. I prefer going to a record store, how else will I find out about great non-commercial bands? My lifestyle makes iTunes and Amazon the sellers of choice for me.

  • The Truth

    Tower could have been saved. It was for sale two years ago. The bid was $170 million, and the three idiot bondholders who controlled the company’s board said the money was not enough. They were so arrogant and smug, and now I hear they are unemployed. Paul Lukaszewski — you’re a moron! And then there was E. Allen Rodgriguez, the CEO at the time. He had his own personal agenda, and huge ego. He thought he knew best, and knew best for Tower. What a joke. He cost 3,000 employees their jobs. See you in hell, Rodriguez…


    I think the music forum eventually ignites more vitriolic and more passionate comments than any other. Politics be damned, but don’t look askance at my Smithereens collection.

  • #12. I was rather hoping you’d write something on the topic. Looking forward to reading it. Up the revolution!

    #13,15. SKI, I couldn’t agree more. Your mention about product knowledge at Vinyl Fever raises another…not just in music, but across the retail board, that quality has pretty much fallen by the wayside.

    #14.Truth, I don’t know the history that you mentioned, but I know from personal experience that Boards of Directors usually have their golden parachutes locked and loaded before the kaka hits the fan.

  • TSS

    I don’t think all record stores are going to die, I live in Portland, OR where you can’t swing a deadcat without hitting one. They still go strong mainly because of the stuff they sell. You’d be more likely to find a record by say, the Pop Group at some place like Second Ave. records here in Portland than you ever could at a Tower or Sam Goody.
    If all you’re selling is generic crap than of course you’re gonna go under.

  • OH…sad to see them go, one of my fave brick and mortar shops.

    More notibly, it will be strange to go down the Sunset Strip and see other vendors where the two Tower stores (one classical, the other for everything else) used to be for as long as I’ve lived in SoCal.

    BTW–SFC SKI–anyone that’s a Smitties fan is okay in MY book!!!!!!!

  • I stopped going to record stores a long time ago. I don’t care for the latest popshit album the music man is trying to sell me, and most record stores have a very limited selection (if any) of what I’m interested in. Direct distribution is today’s reality. The best record store in North America is CDBaby.com, but I still prefer to buy directly from the artist via their website or at shows.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Amen Anna!!

    I personally like the way Mr. Ellis held back and made an article that was true to the title.
    All this crying about the major labels & “Industry” standards is old news! The internet has blazed the way for numerous indie labels to distribute their product and keep the little guy alive. The reason why these major cd shops don’t have a great selection is due to the noose that has been applied to “physical” distribution by the conglomerate(AOL-Time/Warner).

    If you’re a band that wants to do anything with your cds, it has to be on the internet. Moving mass quantity of anything physical to a store is just no longer cost efficient. Having a shop is too much overhead. Besides, if ya wanna find your ” next Born To Run, Dark Side Of the Moon, or OK Computer” it’s gonna be through CDBaby or some website like that. Face it, the future of music is gonna be when they make Internet2 available & inexpensive for consumers. Then you’ll be able to download whole discographies in a .wav format or .avi files in seconds. By that time there is going to be something that totally blows SACD/DVD-A or HD DVD out of the water, Especially, considering that digital is almost at the same sound quality of analog.People aren’t going to want to store CDs or DVDs in their homes anymore… Download it & store in your 5 Petabit HardDrive.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *WHAT?* You don’t believe me? Look at the advertising for X-Drive right here on Blogcritics…

  • Quite a shock for me: I loved their huge magazine rack for the horror and sci-fi mags (especially smaller ones you normally wouldn’t see at Borders or elsewhere). I rarely bought any music there anymore since I could find it at lower cost on Amazon. Ditto on the DVDs, though browsing the shelves was always informative.

    But it is the passing of a way of music life for many of us that is sad.

  • Tower was one of the only retail music stores where a person could actually find a fairly large quantity of NON-shit “deep catalogue” music — that was the beauty of it, especially for us Classical and Jazz fans. Hell, they even have a “20th Century Classical” section in the Chicago stores (try finding that at Walmart, Best Buy, or Borders.)

    I’ve found so much great stuff just aimlessly browsing at Tower and other stores like it over the years (and years). There’s still nothing quite like the thrill of buying an album on impulse (without listening to it first), running home, and playing it. Sometimes you get burned. But the times you take a chance get your mind blown by something new — very exciting.

    True, the cool indie-shops will survive — but they don’t tend to stock much Jazz or Classical. So — I guess Amazon, etc. is the last place to shop for that stuff, until all music becomes downloads, at which point I’m going back to strictly 78s and 8-tracks.

  • I had gotten to the point of driving two hours to Nashville to shop at Tower. Damn, this rots.

  • JD

    All I gotta say is come to Amoeba records in LA. Incredible, full-spectrum selection in a space the size of four or five Towers. Used CDs of recent, good stuff for $5-$8. A staff that is lightyears ahead in terms of new music. Truly a record lover’s utopia…I would be surprised if it ever goes under. But if it does, THAT would mark the end of what everyone thinks the demise of Tower is signifying. I know everyone can’t live near Amoeba but it is worth a trip from anywhere if you’re reading this page.

    Love Garden in Lawrence, Kansas is also awesome.

  • sugarfre

    I am very sadden by this news. I worked for Tower Records in Sacramento in the early 80’s. It was the coolest job ever. This is truly the end of an era.

  • JR

    JD: All I gotta say is come to Amoeba records in LA. Incredible, full-spectrum selection in a space the size of four or five Towers. Used CDs of recent, good stuff for $5-$8. A staff that is lightyears ahead in terms of new music. Truly a record lover’s utopia…

    That shithole on Sunset? It’s the size of two Towers at best, their jazz selection isn’t that good, it’s a dump and they don’t beat Tower’s sale prices. I regularly bought new CDs for $7.99; I even got a couple of Steely Dan remasters for $5.99 (new, not used).

    Looks like I’m left with J&R Music, even if they don’t have free shipping.

  • Bobbyshoes

    From a boomer born in 1957:
    The reality is not enough bands today have the songs, the voices and the chops to warrant me making any further investment in them. Being a music lover, based on reading reviews and being at a work location in close proximity to a Tower store, I have bought thousands of dollars of CDs over the past five years. And I now regret it. Most, if not all, are forgettable. I rarely, if ever, listen to anything I bought over that 5-year time period. If anything, I’ve invested in reissues of the 60s, 70s and 80s stuff I grew up with.

    Maybe, it’s a chicken or the egg thing. Are bands putting out mostly trash because we’re buying songs one at-a-time, or vice versa? What I do know is that from now on, I’ll do what my kids are doing. Get my iPod, go onto iTunes and see if I can find anything worth paying $0.99 a track for. However, in my opinion, there really isn’t that much new out there worth spending a buck on.

  • Mark Saleski

    if you can’t find interesting new music out there, then you’ve just stopped being interested in new music.

    there was no “golden era”. sorry. at least i don’t think so.

    as far as stores go, i’m lucky enough to have a little mom & pop store just a few miles from me. it caters to my fringe tastes.

  • Wow.. . I stay away for a day and the topic just keeps going.

    Like Anna, I do most of my shopping online these days–not just for music or books, but for anything that saves me from going to that darkest of all the circles of Hell..the mall.I never left my apartment last holiday season, and I still ended up with a bill of over $700 in gifts, none of which were shoddy.

    My point is, the Internet changed everything–it was the next logical step in the evolution of consumerism. As much as we like to mourn the passing of Tower, I can’t help but think that in some ways, it’s fitting. The megastores all but killed off the mom and pop stores, and they were, in turn, killed off by the big box stores, which, in turn will die, when somebody outmarkets them, be that the Internet or some unknown nerd contemplating that as part of his plan for global domination.

    And I have to agree with Brian in his assessment of distribution. While I do like the sense of physicality that a CD offers, I also know that the world ain’t getting any smaller. I had over 3500 vinyl albums, nearly 6000 comic books, and god knows how many novels, reference books and the like at one time, not to mention my audio/video system, with massive Cerwyn Vega speakers, et cetera.Now I have all of it (or the parts that matter)at my fingertips via my computer and a few components.

    Bobbyshoes also touches on this subject. And Mark is absolutely correct when he says that if you don’t think good music isn’t out there, you’re not looking hard enough.

    What I’m getting from all these comments is music is in no way dead. And so long as you guys are around, it can look forward to a long and prosperous existence.

    I thank you all.

  • Travis Zirkle

    I was a manager and buyer at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The news that Tower was to cease existance was a huge blow. It is the death of a legend in music retail. It is a shame that the new owners think they can make more money by “salvaging” the assets verses fixing some of the problems. Even if Transworld had bought it, at least it would have continued to exist and may have retained some of its own character though many of its brands became more Top 40 types of stores, such as what happened to Wherehouse (I managed there too) before and after its aquisition. I agree with Ray and Glen on much of what they said and think that it is really sad that the art of music has become dictated by the bottom line verses a line of talent.

    My job at Tower Records Sunset remains my favorite job to date. After I left there three years ago to move back home to Kansas, I still made a point to stop in to shop and visit when in LA. It is definitely the end of an era. To any current and former Tower people out there, best wishes.

  • -E

    Congrats! This article has been selected as one of this week’s Editors’ Picks.

  • CJ

    I have a great fondness for the Tower in Campbell, California. I’ve been going there for 25 years. Way back when the building was split up into 3 sections, Tower Records/Tower Tapes/Tower Posters (which was basically a head shop) they always had a great selection of artists that were hard to find, and I really loved the import section. Plently of knowledgable and friendly empoyees. As a kid they used to let me have some of the promo posters of my favorite bands. A big deal when your 13! Like so many people pointed out, the internet and the industry of today really affected the store. Sad news, indeed……..

  • I remember growing up in tiny Tigard, Oregon hopping on a bus as a youngster and going to the Tower in Beaverton on my days off and buying dolby cassettes for my clunky walkman. It was a nice couple of years before working and going to school in Portland, Oregon, where they had Djangos, Second Avenue, the Ooze, Park Avenue, and Music Millenium. And then shortly after that I purchased my first cd player sold my entire collection to Djangos with the idea that I would replace all the cassettes with cds. It took a long time, but with the concept of purchasing used cds from these independants and their more eclectic collection of materials and staff, I would never really go back to that Tower in Beaverton or in Gateway again. Maybe the music business changed but what changed even more was my growing interest in music, and the librarys cd collection grew just as swiftly. I feel there is so much great stuff that was made in the past its going to take me forever to exhaust the supply of older stuff, I may not get a chance to get to what is currently being made unless its by a select few artists that I still follow. I still go into Music Millenium, Park Avenue records and his awesome gallery of one of a kind psychadelic poster art is gone, but i think Jackpot records a newer store with that old-school record store feel is in the same space, the Ooze became ozone became defunkt along with Djangos, and second avenue I havent been into in forever so i do not know if it exists anymore. Thanks for the memories, Tower!

  • I live in Louisville, Kentucky, and we’re lucky enough to have Ear X-tacy, the best record store in the region; but when I lived in Henderson, Neveada, I was very pleased when they opened a Tower Records. It was a decent store with a large selection.

  • Rob K

    Ive been reading the above comments and want to add some mo. In fact some NOT touched upon. First off all, Music IN GENERAL, is not a HIGH PRIORITY as it once was in the 70’s.


    Someone mention the price of cd’s is outrageously high. GEE does the one who GOES gambling in the plethea of CASINOS across the country SEE IT THAT WAY, when they FUNKIN blow that amount in about 30 seconds or less (slot machines etc)

    Or when they go to an OVERPRICED RED LOBSTER, GO WELL OVER that $ 17.00 price tag, ordering appetizers drinks the main meal and desert. No qualms there. (YA eat it digest it and shit it out the next day!!!)

    I dont KNOW of any person who has gone in one of these places (quite sure there a few but most are hopeless to resist) and say NAH TOO EXPENSIVE wont go in!!!
    Now someone mention about the slew of garbage being released. Dont know WHAT one’s criterion is for “appreciating” an artist or how something is considered junk. Good Music is out there. Just gotta LOOK FOR IT.

    Look how gas HAS risen over the last two years. I say the rise is a HECK of a lot higher than how music has risen in price over the last 30 years!!! (That $17.00 CD will last a LOT LONGER than that Tank full of petrol)

    Will end here HAVE A LOT mo to say….but waiting for any replies.

    To Todd from above…EAR X TACY is good. Purchased vinyl from them in recent times when up there from Nashville such as XTC and PAUL WELLER. Though the “help” there has something to be desired. Life is a “LITTLE” beyond the latest “alternative” sounds of the second and when someone mentions LEE MORGAN DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER CARL KING JAE SINNETT WISHBONE ASH VAN DER GRAF GENERATOR even the DELLS OR THE OJAYS etc…get vague looks like what’s that?

  • I remember growing up in Southern California and making trips to Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles just to visit Bleaker Bob’s and Vinyl Fetish. Those were the days of browsing music, scoring a cool ep from Europe, etc. And, I actually left the store(s) with vinyl, a cassette, even a cd (late 80’s) in a bag. I kind of miss that, but not too much.

    I’m not going to say that the current cultural shift in music is “bad” nor am I going to be crowing purist a la Jack Black in “High Fidelity.” What I will say is that the industry was destined to be overrun by technology (iPods, iTunes, hard drives) in its most basic form. Still, the record companies are kicking and screaming their way into finding solutions that will still make them money. Tower’s closing may be a sign of relent, but I doubt music sales will look different numerically; just what is being sold will be altered.

    I have a box in my garage that is filled with compact discs that are destined for a trip to Amoeba in San Francisco before they close their doors. I will tell you, though, that If I were to look in the box(es) there will not be one cassette tape in there as that shift happened fully form me about 15 years ago.

    I much rather prefer my music catalogued and accessible from anywhere in my house, my car, and in my gym if I wanted. My “blank” cd’s are even collecting dust because I don’t have a mechanical music player anymore to play a burned cd on.

    I’m content with this new music shift and , like my cassette to cd change-over, I barely noticed.

  • Music has always, in one way or another, been the driving force in my life. Noting that this thread is still going shows that I’m not alone.

    Contrary to what Rob K implies, you’ve all proven that music is the driving force it’s always been. The delivery of the message may change, but the message remains the same.

  • JR

    Ray Ellis: Contrary to what Rob K implies, you’ve all proven that music is the driving force it’s always been.

    Only the people who still care about music would respond here. This thread probably isn’t representative of society as a whole.

  • You may be right, JR. But if societ as a whole doesn’t care about music, or the arts in general, then we have indeed become a soulles society.

  • Willet Weeks

    The evening before the liquidation ads appeared in the Times (and they weren’t even very big ones), I had stopped off at the Lincoln Center Tower Records, on my way home from a concert, as I have done so often over the years. The vast classical & opera rooms have always been a peaceful (too peaceful, obviously) haven on the West Side, and it’s where I — like others above — have so often happened upon terrific releases, old and new, stuff (some dross, but plenty of pure gold) that I would never found any other way.

    The loss will be particularly felt among classical, jazz and world-music fans. The gaps on the shelves were growing wider, the chances of finding a any specific recording in stock for instant-gratification take-home had been going down, and you knew that real estate realities made those sections the retail equivalent of a rent-controlled $500 two-bedroom. But for the idle browse, the sudden thrill of a find, the aimless wander that ended at the register with a stack of 20 CDs and the leaving behind of another dozen you wished you’d picked up as well — there will never be anything like it. For proof, all you need is to try searching anything on Amazon or its likes: it works half the time, at best, and then only after endless rejiggling of the query. How would you ever have come across that great live Oistrakh-Richter recital? How do you count the numbers of listeners who’ll never stumble onto Clara Nunes or Papa Wemba, bought them on a hunch, and wound up as rabid fans? You won’t — you’ll never know they existed. Nor will you ever again get to share your browsing time with musicians straight off the jacket covers, or generations of students from Juilliard, or get into a heated argument over which version of “Nozze di Figaro” should be recommended to a first-time listener.

    The equivalent sections at Virgin or J&R (or their far less discriminating or useful equivalents at B&N or Borders) will doubtless soon follow. A vital link between performers and listeners, between past and present, has been snapped, and there is nothing out there in the virtual world remotely likely to replace it.

  • Mark Saleski

    well said WW. seriously.

  • I agree with Mark’s comments in post # 30. There’s tons of great music out there, but the problem is you have to really look hard to separate the stuff that appeals to you from the chaff. I still experience that wonderful sense of discovery due to all the reading and listening that I do online. But there’s a lot of popular music out there that you have to wade through to get to the stuff you would like.

    In previous decades, record companies were intent on developing bands. When new albums came out by popular artists, people would snap it up without hesitation. Today, many fans are loyal not to artists but more so to hit songs. Consequently, many artists on big labels don’t get a chance to grow. They either sell or fade away. Thankfully, the smaller labels can develop bands and loyal fans over time, without the presure to recoup stupidly expensive recording and promotion costs. I can’t recall the last time I saw a music video for an indie band that I listen to. Music videos mean very little to me and I hope they become more irrelevent to the masses as other sources for promoting bands grow in popularity.

    I prefer small independent stores that cater to those with eclectic tastes, and when I’m near one, I’m buying 5 or 6 cds at once. I live closer to an HMV (the largest chain in Canada, I think) and while much more mainstream, they do have a wide enough selection to satisfy people like me. Without a doubt though, almost all of my purchases are due to my discovering the artist through the Internet and through indie music magazines.

    Forgive me for mentioning some points that have been raised elsewhere in this thread. Great article, by the way.

  • WW — you hit it right on the money. As I’ve been scavenging Tower’s “liquidation” sale over the past week, I’m amazed how much stuff I’m stumbling upon that I would have never thought to search for on Amazon or elsewhere online (and that I’m sure Amazon wouldn’t have recommended to me based on my “purchasing history.”) And besides, shopping online is just no damn fun.

  • Amazon.com should have bought this chain and made it a destination store.
    Their business model would have kept Tower flourishing and consumers would have had a brick and mortar representation of Amazon’s video, book and music market.
    i.e. You go to the Amazon/Tower store check out a song/album/video/book and either buy it new on the spot or order it on the spot used for less and shipped to your home from wherever in the US. Which would have been a big KA-CHING for Amazon.

    Savvy internet shoppers were already doing this at Tower anyway, so it would have been win/win for Amazon to own the brick/mortar store and the cheaper alternative.

    Regardless of price, consumers will always be willing to pay more for convenience, which is THE newest market when it comes to any form of digital media. Tower Records could have really made a mint from being an in-store mini concert artist/merch venue because MP3’s, although convenient lack any of the tangible packaging of even the lowest costing CD/DVD.

    Of course everyone at Tower hopefully could’ve kept their jobs and Tower’s excellent underpaid team of sullen (yet helpful) employees could still be providing customers with face to face service.

    I think the way to go for the digital media industry is encrypted USB static drives that include music videos, lyrics, movies, pictures, video games, text and anything else that can market the artist. I would have no problem releasing my own music media on a short run of USB drives and it’s probably what I’ll try to do.

  • Pete

    Years ago I worked at 2 of the Towers, one being the monster 4 floor flagship store at 4th & Broadway in Manhattan as a buyer. It’s a shame to see this company die. Music will be here forever and so should this company have been. To thoughs who mis-managed and let it die . . . . . you SUCK!

  • JR

    Stephen V Funk: As I’ve been scavenging Tower’s “liquidation” sale over the past week…

    Whoa, last I checked the liquidation sale was only at 20% off. Tower used to have fairly regular storewide 25% discounts. I’m sure as hell not going to pay the liquidators more than I would have paid Tower; I’m recommending everybody hold out until it’s at least 30%.

  • AKS

    I read of the demise of Tower records in the local Newspaper about 5 weeks ago. Upon reading the news I made a trip to one of the local Tower stores, one I’ve patronized for over 25 years to buy an armload of CDs before the store was sold out, but exited the store with one EP in hand.

    I left with only 1 disk not due to a lack of good titles to buy, it was due to Tower’s way over infated prices. I then realized why tho, I am a big music fan and avid CD buyer, I seldom shopped at Tower any more. It wasn’t a lack of selection, it wan’t the aloof staff, it was more than anything, the HIGH prices.

    I buy most of my CDs at second hand stores and from online retailers these days. even with postage added, CDs are much cheaper that way. I bought many vinyl LPs at Tower back in the day. Back then tower had both great selection and great prices, especially with their frequent sales.

    I pesonally refuse to buy downloaded music, I like haveing something tangible in my hands for my money. I also enjoy the album artwork, and liner notes, lyrics etc and let’s not forget sound quality, MP3s jsut don’t cut it in that respect.

    I too spent many hours just browsing at Tower and often bought albums by unknown artists on a whim, sometimes to be disapointed upon a listen, sometimes to be very pleasently suprised, but that was the fun of it. I will miss Tower, I will continue to buy CDs, but it will never be the same.

    R.I.P. Tower

  • Travis Zirkle

    Granted, prices on music has risen drastically in the last decade. However, Tower Records was not price gouging. As a former Supervisor and Buyer for Tower Records Sunset, I know what the store itself was charged for cds and what the markup was. The pricing for business requires the business to pay for the product, the cost of operation (utilities, phone salary, etc), and marketing. Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, etc use music as a sideline. They have other products that are their main money makers. When the movie Titanic came out on VHS, Best Buy sold it for less than what they paid for it. Those kinds of practices hurt the stand alone music stores.

    Granted that isn’t all that hurt Tower, Wherehouse, Sam Goody, and Virgin. There are always bad choices made by company management from time to time. However, I think most of the damage has been done by a society that is more interested in cheap prices verses a quality product. We want more for less and constantly make that demand on our domestic companies which results them trying to bend far past the breaking point.

    Tower Records was good to its employees. Yes, Russ Solomon’s influence waned over the years but Tower still offered its employees benefits and assistance that many companies would never thought to have offered. Sometimes store level management or district level management hurt morale but if you looked at Tower’s central policy and practice, it was very employee friendly.

    There is a yahoogroup for the Tower family to keep in touch.

  • Lamorak

    While I’m a little sad to see Tower go, I’ll probably not miss them as much as I would have before the emergence of online music stores. I used to avidly shop for music at various Tower Records stores. They were really the only place to find anything and everything music related at reasonable prices. Then the prices started to climb and I stopped buying as much. Anyone remember when CD’s were literally $21 a pop? I pretty much stopped buying them at the store and found that shopping online was much more economical for me. I would still occasionally drop by Tower to get something that I just couldn’t wait to purchase. But then I would look at the prices and remember why I stopped going.

    Online retailers were the ticket for me. I could find just about everything I could think of trying and the prices were $3 to $4 dollars less than going to the brick and mortar stores. Wishlists were a Godsend for when I had to watch the budget and wanted to remember to pick up something later. Then the recommendations for new music and the ability to sample clips were pretty much the closer deal for me. It was easier, quicker, and less expensive to do all my music shopping online.

    I’ll miss Tower Records and the pure atmosphere of the music store itself; but not as much as I would have before the Internet.

  • MT

    I just found out about Tower’s liquidation last week and I wasn’t surprised, because of the massive changes in the industry and in culture in the past decade or so. But I am somewhat sad and certainly regretful.

    To those who suggest Tower might have been malicious or deserved their “fate”, I would disagree.

    Tower was a music store for music lovers. Those who truly love music understand why this is a terrible thing. “No Music, No Life.” So correct–and now, what do we do?

    I live two states away from any Tower Records but I visited them anytime I was near one, and I got the same feeling as posters above:

    Great, thorough selection
    Knowledgeable sales staff
    Dedicated to music

    The first and last were certainly part of the issue, because the wholesale price for music is very close to the retail price, and Tower couldn’t make money on music alone. To do so they would have had to raise the prices, which they did on *some* releases but not all. The prices often were actually as good as or better than Amazon, IF Amazon had it at all.

    Someday I hope to see a concise and precise explanation for Tower’s demise (and pop/etc. music and the business as well) but I would suggest the following…

    The cultural shift that the internet has produced is part of the trouble with the music industry.

    There are so many subgenres and smaller divisions of music that fans can get into these days and find out about on the internet, there’s no way Tower (or anyone) could keep up.

    I was at a Tower just last week and I’d say they were doing a good job. I bought a CD by a 80’s german heavy metal band, harpsichord music from the 1600-1700s, old school hip hop, among other things. I was looking for these things and found them. Available on Amazon? Sure, but it’s not the same. Also, before the discount, the sticker price on two CDs were $12.99, and $8.99–comparable for those releases, or a dollar over Amazon.

    I would never have found this stuff at an independent music store, even, on a random stop. But who else would have bought what I bought, and made Tower more than $5 on a single visit by buying at least 2 CDs? And how many people? I’m guessing not enough.

    The classical section in the many stores I’ve visited is amazing, and suggests just how dedicated to their mission they were–I would imagine they tried to keep it going even though it was probably an absolute loss, especially given how much space it often got.

    Sure: somehow, maybe, some individuals at Tower may have contributed to its demise, but I doubt there was a 3000 person, chain-wide conspiracy to raise prices, which were bad on some and great on others.

    It’s quite regrettable, for those who will be out of jobs most actually probably liked, as well as those fans who still shop for music in the real world.

    I think that the internet provides the possibility to both expand one’s world, and to get even more narrow minded about things, and you can see this in music, too.

    The fact that I’m writing this on a web page I’ve never otherwise visited is testament.

    I wonder what this might do for the future–will it be good?

    CDs at the mall (yes, I even look there just for kicks, occasionally) are now near $20. Same as at Virgin. And somehow those stores still operate.

    There are a number of factors, but I think the fractioning of society is part of it. There will be no Dark Side of the Moon, or anything like it, again, because it’s way too specific anymore.

    As above, great music is out there and actually, you only need to be one step away from a major label to find it. But you need to look.

    You can’t beat the physical world for the experience. Meanwhile, the virtual world is moving capitalism. It’s sad.

  • Q

    What about the hight prices Tower Records were charging for CD?

  • In reading these submissions, I couldn’t help but think of my Saturday mornings spent at Tower Records after payday. I spent a lot of money those days in Tower. I’m old enough to remember the days of the LP’s. I remember the average price for an LP, in the early 80’s, was about $10. I can remember Tower being hesitant to go full on into CDs when they first came out. I remember CDs first came out in those long waste of cardboard packages. Tower didn’t have the racks that could accommodate CDs, so they just put them next to the LPs. Tower’s costs for the CDs were so outrages, that I didn’t get into CDs right off the bat. I finally took in the CD format but, Tower really never lowered their prices. You would have an occasional AC\DC Cd for about $10 but, on the average, Tower’s prices were too pricey for me. This was about 1989. I remember thinking that it would not be a big surprise if Tower Records went out of business. I remember abandoning Tower for the used cd stores. I would still go there to browse but, I knew I could find what I was looking for somewhere else. Today, I’ve adapted to the ways of the internet, and it doesn’t bother me. I think Tower Records, for me, was a good place to browse. I don’t buy much music anymore, I have everything I would want. Tower Records gave me a good place to pass the time and it gave me ideas of what I would want to buy. I’m fine with their demise but, RIP anyways.

  • Ryan

    Very sad to see tower gone. I have always been a music fan and never got to visit the Flagship store on Sunset. Somehow though, I just found out that a few years ago, my Dad got his hands on the audio system from the original store on the Sunset Strip – complete with the huge Altec speakers. I don’t know why he had never told me before, but now he is looking to sell the system to a collector. I hope I can get my hands on it to keep a piece of the history. Does anyone know how it may be worth? Just in case I have to compete with a collector to buy it from my Dad?

  • Sophia

    Dang, sad to hear they have closed their doors and I am even more disappointed that i’m only finding out now. What the heck? Where have I been living under a rock? I use to work part-time at the one in Boston on Mass Ave & Newbury St. while I was going to Berklee College of Music in the mid 1990’s. I must say my fellow students and Boston Consevatory’s use to rob their jazz and classical department. OMG they were ridiculous, a bunch of thieves lol.