I spent my Thanksgiving picking through the bones of a San Francisco Tower Records. I saw the bankrupt store was open with it's "Everything Must Go" banners, and since I wasn't interested in football or turkey it was a logical choice.
The dead chain beckoned me with "Going Out Of Business" banners and I found myself there with a little downtime perusing the racks for likely the last time...
Nowadays in the post millenial environment with CDs copied at random, and music downloaded in ever increasing quantities, the demand & business model for vast stores like Tower has shrunk...
Since the height of the summer of love in 1967, Tower Records has maintaned a San Francisco flagship store at the corner of Bay & Columbus. The chain that started in the back of a drugstore store by Russ Solomon in Sacramento a few years earlier in 1960 had been in hot water as of late, twice declaring bankruptcy in the last four years. Despite being the first record store to sell online in 1995, and opening it's own download store this past June, the cash hemmoraging retailer could not make it in the modern era. With big box retailers undercutting margins, downloading of MP3'z, and home CD burning now commonplace, the bankrupt retail chain has announced they will shut down all their locations once the inventory is liquidated.
Here is Tony Bennett from a Tower Records complation put out a few years ago
Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco
At it's height in the late 1990s, Tower's operation, generated more than $1 billion in worldwide sales each year, via some 200 or so locations worldwide. The company championed indies through it's sizeable onestop operation, and published a widely circulated magazine. Tellingly, the magazine's former editor Jackson Griffith, is now employed at something called Digital Music Group, an online music operation.
Those without Griffith's foresight, the 3000 Tower employees left, will lose their jobs, and since Saturday, the Tower inventory is under court approved liquidation by Great American Group. Shoppers can currently get discounts of 10 percent off music, 20 percent off books and 30 percent off magazines, but crowds seen this weekend were not thick enough to keep the chain afloat.
Read on after the jump for a lil 'wistful look back at Tower and the the heydays of the late great record biz...
But first a few tracks from the late Anita O'Day .. one of the great ladies of jazz, a woman who earned her living on the road, and could act, scat, scoot and skedaddle...
During her most famous stint in the 1940's she sang with Gene Krupa's exceptionally rhytmic band...
She also got purty messed up on some of that junk back in the day, starting a heroin addiction at just 16. Despite some rough times, she eventually made a righteous comeback through the years, continuing to musically explore a variety of styles...even releasing an album earlier this year called "indestructible"...
Her husky voice was still a popular one and she kept performing throughout the years, with her inimitable precise delivery smooth, on key, o time, quick & dare I say a tad funky...
Anita O'Day - Whisper Not
Here she is on a Verve remix of a Louis Prima tune that was also Benny Goodman's biggest hit & signature tune for a long time...
Anita O'Day - Sing, Sing, Sing (RSL Remix)
At it's height in the late 1990s, Tower's operation, generated more than $1 billion in worldwide sales each year, and operated over a 200 locations worldwide. The company operated a sizeable onestop operation, and published a widely circulated magazine. 3000 people will lose jobs, and since October, their inventory is under liquidation by Great American Group, with the days numbered for the stores. Shoppers can currently get discounts of 40 percent off music.
As it goes down the tubes, Tower has 89 stores in the US, and 144 stores run by licensees in nine seperate foreign countries. Tower had lately been facing off with major record companies that stopped shipments after Tower's debts went up to the $200 million range.
Sadly the winning bidder for the company's assets decided not to keep the stores open, unlike the other main bidder Trans World Entertainment which had intended to keep some of the company's more profitable stores alive. Trans World operates 1,100 stores it has acquired mainly from other faltering chains like Sam Goody and Wherehouse Music, consolidating most of these mall based acquisitions under the name FYE.
Tower was somewhat legendary in the music biz, with a rep for creative handpainted ads on the stores, large inventories, deep magazine & book selections, and stocking vinyl long after it's "official" demise. Sore managers tailored to their customers & often did special orders for imports and collectibles. Since 1979, they were one of America's first retailers to open up shops in Japan, before KFC, Starbucks and Nike bothered. Heck their stores were even immortalized in the video game Crazy Taxi.
Pictured at right is founder Russ Solomon in 1967 standing in the center of the once thriving SF store shortly after it first opened. (Seen in the bins is the Rolling Stones' "Her Satanic Majesties Request" with the 3D cover at $1.99).
Tower's famous Sunset Blvd location in L.A has held numerous record release parties and in-stores since 1969 with artists ranging from Prince to Tori Amos to Soul Asylum, but the store is expected to go onsale for about $12 million. Here's ABBA hanging out there back in 1976 .
The SF store held many record release functions as well, including this Love release for their album Elephant's Memory, to Sonic Youth performing in the parking lot in 1989, to this recent Chris Isaak appearance from You Tube.
R.I.P Tower Records...
I nostalgically trolled the corporate wreckage looking at numerous faceless recent pop CDs by groups I was uninterested in ever hearing.
After awhile I found a few gems amongst the discounted detritus. I picked up an imported boxset of Immediate era Small Faces CDs, and an out of print import from Elvis Costello's Demon imprint of "The Wild Sound of Tousan", which was Allen Toussaint's 1958 RCA instrumental debut.
mong my other picks from Towers bins was a CD reissue with bonus tracks of Sweet's Fanny Adams LP, and a Johnny Thunders retrospective CD with a DVD included.
I got a few DVDs as well, including early 1970's era performances from Johnny Cash & Alice Cooper plus some oddball cheesoid flick with Dennis Hopper playing Frank Sinatra.
I also found another intriguing disc there buried in the various artists section...
Did you know that by the 1970's, the Canadian Babylon city of Tornto had a large enough West Indian population that it produced a fair number of reggae hits?
Like this one, from the son of legendary ol school Jamaican dub/ska artist Alton Ellis, his child Noel recorded this track back in '79. It's a tune that you may also recognize from The Clash, when under their auspices, it mutated and hence became their Armagideon Time.
Noel Ellis - Rocking Universally
These remaining tracks in this post are from a label called Light In The Attic, who with help from an archivist Dj named Sipreano are attempting to highlight the late 60's & 70's era Toronto to Kingston sonic connections.
This exodus is documented in a series called "Jamaica To Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974". The CD version includes a 36 page booklet, and many groovin' dub & rock steady tracks...
Jamaica To Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974
Both British colonies, Jamaica and Canada seemingly had little in common, but for rudeboys looking to escape the shanty towns, and with with visitor Visas generally easier to obtain than those to the states, Toronto became the Caribbean's New York. So an unlikely Canadian city on the shores of Lake Erie became a hot bed of imported Carribean/Canadian talent. Soon island imports like like Jackie Mitoo, Johnnie Osbourne, Wayne McGhie, Lloyd Delpratt, The Mighty Pope, Noel Ellis, Jo-Jo Bennett, and others were making some smooth sonic moves in North America .
Here's from that compilation series, a skank worthy groovy soul break-beat jam out of 70's era T-town...
Jo Jo & The Fugitives - Chips - Chicken - Banana Split (MP3, 192kbps)
Here's a cut with some downhome organ grinder appeal...like a Jamaican Jimmy Smith, Jackie Mittoo could work up a feisty feast for the ears & dance floor.
Jackie Mittoo - " Soul Bird" (MP3, 192kbps)
Another reissue from Light In The Attic Records is the long out of print 1971 LP masterpiece of Jamaican/ Canadian Soul Reggae artist Jackie Mittoo. The Studio One keyboard king also known as "The Cold Ruler" played on numerous late 60's ska & dub tracks. He was known to work with Ken Boothe, Heptones, King Tubby & Prince Jammy. His 1971 album Wishbone has never been on CD until now...
For more info check out some comprehensive Jackie Mittoo discography at the Roots Archives or the Roots Dub discogrpahy