In 1960, Russell ‘Russ’ Solomon opened the first Tower Records store on Watt Avenue in Sacramento, California. What he started that day went on to become an enormous worldwide chain of shops, revolutionising the retail experience for a whole generation of people. The legacy of Tower Records cannot be overstated, but is unfortunately now just a footnote in history to most people. Thanks to Colin Hanks (son of Tom), All Things Must Pass is here to pay tribute to the people who made Tower Records such a beautiful thing – and perhaps finally, say goodbye once and for all to something that we’ll probably never see the likes of again.
Out now on DVD, All Things Must Pass has been a long time coming, starting life as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2011. It has been worth the wait, as Hanks’ All Things Must Pass is easily one of the most poignant and nostalgic documentaries ever crafted. The story of Tower Records is certainly a familiar one – a group of outcasts with an eccentric leader create something wonderful and innovative, it grows and grows, and falls apart leaving everyone shattered. A clear example of being in the right place at the right time, Russ Solomon opened a record shop in his father’s drugstore in 1960 during the height of music culture. The Beach Boys and The Beatles came along and music became the most important art-form on the planet, and back before illegal downloads and streaming, records were everything. Tower Records was the place to be, in every way possible. Customers wanted to be seen there, musicians wanted to be displayed in their windows, and everyone wanted to work there. It made more money than its staff knew what to do with, and it seemed like nothing could stop it.
But of course, as anyone running an independent record shop will tell you, it’s hard out there now. Downloads – both legal and otherwise, along with supermarkets undercutting prices, meant Tower Records could no longer sustain itself and the whole thing went bankrupt in 2006, just 4 years shy of its 50th birthday. Tower Records was gone. Russ Solomon’s Tower baby grew up and left home, continuing in Japan but crumbling to pieces everywhere else. So how did all this happen? And who were the people that made Tower Records such an iconic and legendary creation?
Rammed full of history, All Things Must Pass tells the story at a brisk pace over 90 minutes with contributions from all of Tower Records’ heroes – including the great Russ Solomon himself. Not only that, but expect to hear from musicians Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl who all get teary-eyed talking about the immense impact Tower has had on their lives. You might be wondering how and why a shop can change lives so much, and leave such an incredible impact - but the second you see these guys talk, you’ll be moved to tears by their passion. And if like me you never experienced Tower Records, you will feel like you have. And you will feel the loss, before wanting to run to your nearest independent record store and support them by buying everything in sight.
All Things Must Pass, like any good documentary, is also rammed with archival footage and photographs alongside the exclusive new interviews, offering a full history of this wonderful thing. And predictably, it has a bloody good soundtrack. As the story of Tower Records covers almost 50 years, you can expect a wide range of classic tunes – closing, of course, with George Harrison’s classic which shares the title.
At times All Things Must Pass feels like more of a eulogy than a film, with people lining up to pay their respects with their memories. Tower Records clearly meant a hell of a lot to a lot of people, and thanks to All Things Must Pass, it has now had the proper send-off it deserves. But not only is this film saying goodbye to Tower Records, it is mourning the loss of an era. A time when music was important. A time when music was art. Nowadays, our ears are frequently abused with overly constructed commercial pop. Gone are the days of experimenting, the days of originality and the days of creativity. And gone are the days of Tower Records.
All Things Must Pass is a beautifully poignant documentary and a tribute to not just a shop, but a living breathing behemoth of joy. Tower Records is symbolic of a time in music history that has long since gone. But music is timeless, and will always have the music that was left. “No music, no life”.
I'm giving it a 4/5.
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