“In 1999, Tower Records had sales of over one billion dollars. Five years later, they filed for bankruptcy.” The opening lines of Colin Hanks’s documentary sets the tone for a chronological tale of the legendary record retailer that begins in 1941 at the drugstore of founder Russ Solomon’s dad. When they realized used records sold like hot cakes, they also began to sell new ones—and suddenly, they were in the record business.
A first store opened in 1960 in Sacramento, and—from then on—the story is inextricably linked to the history of pop music. Quickly spreading to strategic locations (San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City), Tower Records conquered the country, got big in Japan, and even launched a magazine, Pulse!, which was published monthly between 1983 and 2002.
All Things Must Pass is a fitting title for this documentary. Firstly, because it employs a direct reference to pop music, inarguably the motor behind Tower Records’ overwhelming success. It also describes the inevitable cycles of life, which always include a rise and a fall. Finally, it suggests the replacement of one paradigm with another: just like Tower Records gradually swallowed local record stores, digital music, internet piracy, and mass discounters did the same to the giant chain. What comes across in this film most strongly, though, is the joy and passion that still shines in the eyes of Solomon and his employees so many years later, as they reminisce about 45 years of a life surrounded by shelves of music.