It’s the time of year for saving money!
Among the best times of my life was when I lived in West Hollywood at perhaps the most rock-and-roll address in all of Hollywood: 8787 Shoreham Drive. Shoreham Towers was a trendy yet historical, totally hip building that soared above the original Spago, right across the street from Tower Records at the heart of Sunset Boulevard.
You could walk over to The Rainbow and bump into Lemmy from Motörhead. Secret shows by grungy bands like Stone Temple Pilots and the like would pop up at places like the Viper Room, The Roxy, or The Whisky A Go-Go, with executives literally a two-minute walk from nearby Geffen and Atlantic Records. I am absolutely dating myself by talking about strolling to Tower Records, which was only 100 paces down the hill from my condo at Shoreham Towers to buy Compact Discs with the coolest crowd in arguably at the most iconic record store ever, but it was super fun for so many years. Monday nights at midnight, you would bump into the likes of Rick Ruben waiting in line to buy that newly released Rush album just like you. It was the rock-and-roll lifestyle defined.
I curse myself for ever selling that 800-square-foot deluxe apartment in the sky. Yes, it needed new Fleetwood double-paned windows to block out the sound when the nightclubs let out at 1:30 AM, but the unobstructed views were nothing short of mesmerizing both day and night. The audiophile gear that I had jammed into that place was also downright silly for the day. At that stage in my life I was into total excess, which in audio terms meant having redundant gear even if I didn’t have room for it. I had a Mark Levinson amp as well as Audio Research tube monoblocks. I had a Meridian 861 AV preamp as well as a Mark Levinson No. 40. Flat TVs were in their infancy, thus the cost was prohibitive even at 40 inches (like $20,000 each), so I had a Sony seven-inch CRT projector with a Faroudja line doubler on an automated roll-down Stewart Filmscreen hidden in the ceiling. Everything was neatly rack mounted. I had Lutron lighting control, Transparent cables, Wilson WATT Puppy speakers in Audi Pearl white paint, and a big 15-inch Revel Sub 30 that allowed me to torment my neighbor (Neil Sedaka) with 115 dB of audio paired with my absolutely terrible guitar playing. It was the best of times. Simple times.
Tower Records, from my college days until when I could move to the Sunset Strip in my early 20s, was an institution. The silver disc ruled supreme, and I dropped money on them like there was no tomorrow. I would buy records on spec that I never heard before in a time when there was no such thing as YouTube, much less Tidal, to preview such music. The staff at Tower Records worked there because they really wanted to. The middle desk was filled with guys and girls who had bolts in their lips or eye brows (or elsewhere) but could talk about The Meat Beat Manifesto’s entire catalog of industrial electronic music or Karen Carpenter’s last solo record as if they had a degree in music. They were passionate, and the customers loved it. The inventory at Tower Records was also really deep. They stocked items like rare Prince singles that you couldn’t find at a random Sam Goody in Cleveland. They had Mobile Fidelity gold discs selling at a premium price. They had expensive imports, too. Basically, they had everything and people came there to buy and buy a lot of.
Then one day Tower Records went away. Bankrupt.
I wrote about this audiophile tragedy at the time, and ultimately (after writing the story) was introduced to the man who founded Tower Records. Russ told me how the judge wouldn’t let the company restructure to keep the highly successful stores like Sunset Boulevard, Newport Beach, San Francisco, the original location in Sacramento, Cherry Hill New Jersey, South Street and Broad Street in Philadelphia, and a few others. The judge took one bid increment higher ($500,000) and ordered the chain closed. And with that one decision, the music business, the Sunset Strip, and audiophiles were never the same. You gotta love bankers and lawyers, right?
Jump forward to 2014, and Gibson Guitars (at the time owners of Onkyo, Gibson, Kramer, Wurlitzer, and many other brands) took out a 15-year lease on the legendary Tower Records location on Sunset Boulevard. Much like its neighbor, Spago, not much had gone on in this iconic retail location other than parking for local nightclubs and coffee shops. Gibson’s plan was to revive Tower Records with its yellow and red paint job backing all of the cover art from the latest music, thus making the location a Sunset Strip playground for any and all of their products. A novel idea if there ever was one. And then Gibson got themselves in big, big financial trouble. According to CurbedLA.com, they are bailing on the lease just a few months in. They’ve sold off brands like Onkyo and made other huge cuts to try to save the core business.
That raises an interesting question which is: what to do with Tower Records going forward? Vintage record buyers who still believe in physical media view this store as a Mecca for music and likely will return there if for no reason other than to relive a time in history when physical media ruled the world. With that said, 2017 RIAA domestic music sales were nearly $9 Billion total, with about 80 percent of that number coming from downloads and streaming. Physical media made up about 17 percent of all domestic music sales with less than $400 Million from new vinyl sales and about $1.1 Billion coming from Compact Disc sales in 2017. With streaming and downloads making up the lion’s share of music sales, does keeping Tower Records open for historical and/or promotional sale make sense?
The real estate in West Hollywood has boomed (don’t get me started on my regret for selling my condo in 2003), and that has changed the culture there. Rock clubs are still there, but the people that go need to be able to afford $20-plus parking, cover charges, and expensive drinks. Home and condo prices have skyrocketed. Retail has gone more and more upmarket. Selling low-profit-margin physical discs might just not make sense if you had to earn a month-in and month-out profit. On nearby and super-swanky Rodeo Drive, many of the uber-luxurious stores operate at a loss just to allow the brands the cache of saying that they have a Rodeo Drive address. That’s the opposite of profitable unless you can write off the location as Gibson was trying to do with Tower Records.
Sadly, perhaps it is time to say goodbye yet again to one of the coolest record stores ever, as the physical disc has little to no future, and with extremely high overhead, the hopes of eking out a profit with a traditional, iconic record store seems unlikely.
RIP Tower Records, one more time.
Did you ever visit any of the famous Tower Records locations? What was/is your favorite places to buy physical media? Are you discless yet? Will you be soon? If so, tell us all about it in the comments sections below.
I’ve visited famous and not famous Tower Records locations. Favorite place to buy physical media is and has always been live concerts. I still have all my disks for two reasons, one is backup, the second is my Turbo Miata has a six disk changer built into the dash. Going discless would mean placing my trust in people and things that had proven themselves to be untrustworthy.
And a Miata is trustworthy? 🙂
Tower Records. Went there all throughout the 90’s to my local store in
Huntington Station, NY. In 1995 I had the opportunity to spend some time
at the Sunset Blvd TR. Used to buy a lot of physical media from Virgin Megastore when it was in Times Square. Laserland in Syosset, NY was also a wonderful source for discs. I could even go back to when I would shop Sam Goody, Coconuts, Waldenbooks, Borders, and The Wall!! I’m not disc-less and don’t plan on being disc-less but seem to be headed to mostly streaming.
The Virgin Store was also a favorite as it was a little more east on Sunset and in a shopping mall-center thing at Laurel Canyon.
That store had more imports and more places to listen to music on headphones.
The store I LOVED was called Aaron’s Records on Highland Blvd. in Hollywood as that was were the labels dumped off their samples and I could trade mine for other ones.
All of these stores are long gone. Long live Tidal, I guess.
I remember the first time I went to TR in DC. I think it was an entire city block (middle 80’s) to get a CD for my mother.
It was some classical piece she wanted for her birthday. I can remember being awestruck by the place. They had more than one Peter Rowan title and Lothar and the Hand People (on vinyl – wish I had that one now). I couldn’t find the classical section and when asked was told, “Classicals are on the second floor”. What a place!
My childhood best friend’s Dad was who got me in to high end audio and he is a MAJOR collector of classical music. Tower Records’ Classical Annex on South Street in Philly was his happy place.
I can’t imagine how much about $100,000 he spent on silver discs but it was a lot and that was 25 plus years ago. He never stopped collecting.
He had a nice system the last time I saw. Linn LP12 very tricked out, All Naim gear, Nice 800 series B&Ws.
Back in my Thousands Oaks decade, I used to make a road trip to that Sunset store (and the bookstore across the street) every month or two (also would make a stop at the Virgin store once that showed up and probably go see a film of some sort (foreign most likely) too while we were out that way). The other Tower I frequented even more often was in Encino I think it was. Annual storewide sales were quite the lure. Got me gobs of CDs back then.
Jazz primarily was my focus at the time, and running across those rare imports or bootlegs of Coltrane was one of the things I enjoyed, though if Tower had it and it was free jazz or the like I probably got it there. I sooner or later made it to all their stores in the L.A. area at one time or another, probably chasing some label sale or other, or hunting down a out of print CD (recall looking for Blue Notes that had gone out of print, and Hat Arts too). Also liked their store in Palo Alto when on my road trips up there. (Thousand Oaks eventually got their own store, not the same, and Denver had one too when I finally moved back here, not too bad, but nothing close to that Sunset (or Palo Alto) selection.)
Anyway, not much here in the boonies, too much effort to get up to Twist&Shout’s presumably still current location. So my occasional disc procurement is just about always online. (Or once in a while B&N will have a CD of interest in stock… I always prefer store-bought, but pretty slim pickings.) Doubt I’ll ever be discless, still trying to get to stuff I bought long long ago for the first time (sadly).
When I worked at Cello (right down the street and above Gefen Records – a little closer to Beverly Hills but still close by) I once was ordered to go to Tower VIDEO and buy EVERY Laserdisc. Not in the store. Every Laserdisc in print.
It was for a 440 foot converted icebreaker that we were installing a home theater on for a Las Vegas (really from AU) “whale”.
The guy looked at me like I was insane but I was serious. I want EVERY Laserdisc. Order them up!!!
I moved from Miami in 1974 and lived in a two room apartment in Hollywood a few blocks up the hill from Grauman Chinese Theater….I remember this store….it was a landmark…a great place……that is when you could buy a very nice house in Laurel Canyon for $50,000….remember???
I moved to LA in 1993 RIGHT after the riots to go to USC. The neighborhood was still smoldering and $50,000 bought you NOTHING. Not in South Central.
I paid $225,000 for my condo in like 1999 or 2000. I should have NEVER SOLD IT but I was young and needed the money (for another house).
As if I could see this far into the future but I could have easily paid off the mortgage on the condo with the sale of AVRev.com money in 2008 and then rented it out. Rents are like $7,000 there. Even with HOA fees and taxes – that’s like $5000 plus per month clear. I suck.
what sucks, in my opinion is the absurd prices you wrote about! Rent $7K? An apartment? (Condo…same thing) Wow! I suppose I would think it is great if I were the owner… LOL
My recollections go back to LPs – in quantity – in the Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose (multiple locations) stores. Tower would NEVER lower themselves to have a store my home town, but all the above were close enough for me and my friends to make at least a monthly round-robin trip. The semi-autonomous administration of the stores meant each one had different albums on sale, and, in some cases, a wholly different emphasis on what was important. If you managed to get a manager talking, you could also find out what was coming up and plan how you were going to “make the run” next month.
Unfortunately, the coming of CDs was a harbinger of a downward spiral. All the stores started emphasizing the same thing – and not necessarily what we were interested in. Trips got to be a little more spread out. When Tower died, we were pretty well unenthused anyway.
Tower Records was the place to go. I always went to the one in Seattle.
I really enjoyed the Tower Records in Sacramento on Watt Ave. (One sign was modified to TWatt ave. I found that hilarious as a teenager.) Cool people behind the counters. Relaxed atmosphere to browse as long as you liked.
I lived in the one on West End in Nashville TN. Loved the store…bought a many a laser disk along with countless LP’s and CD’s….only other store that was this fun was the classic Ernist Tubb’s down on Broadway where they were actually still selling mint condition 78’s from the 40’s and 50’s (mainly minor country artists and unknown songs)….
“Rubin” is an incredibly talented music producer who has breathed new life into older artists from Johnny Cash to Tom Petty and beyond.
“Reuben” is a delicious heaping of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread.
“Ruben” is commonly a boy’s name.
I live about 5 miles from the original drugstore in Sacramento where Russ Solomon sold records, in the same building as the Tower Theatre, which lent the chain its name. (That building still has the original neon sign but has been the Tower Cafe for nearly 30 years — a local mainstay.) Not only did I spend a lot of time in Tower Records, Books, and Video, I also know several people who worked in the administration of the company, loved it, and thought they would never work anywhere else. You can see and hear from lots of people like them in the excellent documentary “All Things Must Pass.” The Tower Records and Books building are still a record and bookstore and look similar inside. There are also two delis, one in Sacramento and one in Davis,CA called Solomon’s Deli, named in honor of Russ Solomon. The decor is a nod to the 1970s, with Tower photos, calendars, and Pulse covers on the walls. All of the menu items are named after music styles or members of the Solomon family.