FILM REVIEW: All Things Must Pass - The Rise And Fall of Tower Records

On December 21st, 2006 Tower Records closed it's last operating American retail store, a clear example of the massive sea change taking place within the music industry.

No other record store came even close to the ubiquity of Tower during it's four decades of existence.

All Things Must Pass, the brand new documentary directed by Colin Hanks seeks to tell the story of this unique piece of cultural history.

Beginning as simply a shelf of jukebox records in his father's drugstore, Russ Solomon founded Tower Records at a perfect time in the early 60's where the record selling business was growing in leaps and bounds.

Groups like The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles released new music at a furious pace while the youth bought music at a furious pace, making Tower Records a conduit for this blossoming retail sector.

So while Tower quickly became a financial powerhouse, the more important part of it's legacy is the idea of record store as a cultural hub. All Things Must Pass perfectly portrays this with interesting recollections from Tower-lovers like Dave Grohl and Elton John.

Elton, in particular, would have a weekly routine of going to Tower and leaving with hundreds of dollars worth of new music.

Where the internet has brought the trading of information to our living rooms, even our phones, Tower was certainly a destination where one could gather all the latest music, books and magazines, similar to a brick-and-mortar Google.

As with any business, Tower had a charismatic leader in Russ Solomon. A visionary who didn't exactly fit the mold of CEO, Solomon never cared for school and operated Tower with a freewheeling spirit that was very of it's era.

Solomon gives his candid take on the story of Tower, with a self-assured swagger. He doesn't candy coat anything giving his first person takes on the rise of Tower and also it's inevitable downfall.

While the CD era was not quite the halcyon days of their 60's heyday, the 90's continued growth for the business and remaining the cultural touchstone for many. However in 1998 Solomon's heart surgery left him unable to mind the day-to-day business of the chain and he left it up to his son Mike Solomon who had less experience than his father and some say less charisma.

The growth of Tower becoming a world-wide entity also meant that the business was borrowing more and more money, with the bank's losing their patience.

Just as Tower was experiencing all this internal struggle, something was about to happen that Tower and 95% of the record industry couldn't and didn't control. The advent of file-sharing.

So the next year Napster made headlines with their illegal service of simplifying the method of sharing files.

The next year Apple announced iTunes and the iPod, bringing a legal way to buy music and have it on your computer and in the iPod's case, in your pocket.

Tower scrambled at the end, not to make money but to minimize their losses. All Things Must Pass emphasizes the human element of Tower Records, so when VP after VP gets let go, some after working their way up for 30 years, there is certainly a palpable devastation.

At one point, Russ recalls standing across the street and watching as his last store closes for it's final time it is definitely a gut-punch.

One could watch Brian's Song while dicing onions and still emit less tears than during the final minutes of All Things Must Pass.

Will the newer generations know the feeling of going to a store, interacting with strangers and then purchasing a solid product? Is the record store the first to go and perhaps the grocery store will be next? No one expected the downfall of the record industry only 20 years ago, so anything is possible. All Things Must Pass and the story of Tower is a microcosm of the entire music business.

It will certainly be interesting to see where the business goes from here but it can't match the feeling of walking inside a Tower Records. All Things Must Pass is a colorful account of a unique American institution.

All Things Must Pass is now running at Garden Cinemas in Norwalk CT.