2006 And The Death Of Tower Records Once, Tower Records was the place to go if you were searching for obscure music in any genre. The chain's exhaustive inventory and knowledgeable staff earned it adoring fans. But it wasn't the Internet that killed the retailing star.
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2006 And The Death Of Tower Records

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2006 And The Death Of Tower Records

2006 And The Death Of Tower Records

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As the decade draws to a close, we're looking at the radical changes it's brought to the music industry. For every year of the decade, we're looking at one event that changed the landscape from musicians, fans and labels.

Today, NPR's Neda Ulaby takes us to 2006.

NEDA ULABY: That was the year that Tower Records closed its doors and took down its blazing red-and-yellow signs - at least in the United States. Tower survives overseas and online, but its Web site has a cheap, cursory feel, nothing like the enormous music emporium that Tower's founder, Russ Solomon, remembered opening in San Francisco in 1968.

Mr. RUSS SOLOMON (Founder, Tower Records): These kids that came in on a weekly basis to go to the Fillmore or the Avalon or just experience the Haight scene or the whole scene, they wanted to know where music came from. They wanted to know the roots of all the music that was being created here by those bands.

(Soundbite of song "Don't You Want Somebody to Love")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE (Rock Band): (Singing) Don't you want somebody to love? Don't you need somebody to love?

Mr. RUSS CRUPNICK (Senior Industry Analyst, NPD): Tower was an icon. It was a magnet. It was Disneyland the first time that I went in there.

ULABY: Russ Crupnick analyzes music retail for a living. He works for a firm called NPD. Back in its heyday, Tower Records was renowned for its massive inventory: rock, jazz, classical. If they didn't have it, you could probably order it - a godsend before the Internet.

Musician Will Hoge says the Nashville Tower Records was like a cross between a music store and a public library.

Mr. WILL HOGE (Musician): That was the one place you could also buy rock magazines, you know, the magazines that you didn't see anywhere else, English rock magazine rock magazines, a great way to discover new music.

ULABY: Comprehensive, yet unintimidating.

Mr. HOGE: You could go in and not be lambasted by the staff for wanting to buy a Christina Aguilera record or whatever it was that you needed. But then, you could also go and have these people really hip you to something that you'd never heard of before.

ULABY: The Tower staff guided Will Hoge to some of the music that helped shape his own sound.

(Soundbite of song "Wreckage")

Mr. HOGE: (Singing) Long gone, going on. All the doors are locked up since he's done you wrong.

ULABY: Two of Hoge's personal milestones include seeing his poster up at Tower Records and his first in-store appearance. That was another thing that set Tower apart - and had disappeared by the time it closed in 2006. By then, people were getting their music in very different ways. But you can't attribute Tower's decline to the rise of digital music says analyst Russ Crupnick.

Mr. CRUPNICK: Folks would say, well, wasn't this all about Napster? And I'm like, not so much as the fact that I think Tower just sort of lost relevancy.

ULABY: Big-box stores undercut Tower in pricing CDs. Young people stopped caring about liner notes and owning a physical product. And Crupnick says, by the late 1990s, Tower Records was no longer a music lover's Mecca. It was just a higher-end Sam Goody.

Mr. CRUPNICK: They became very ordinary, in terms of their expansion plans. And arguably, as they went to about 90 stores, they lost that whole idea of being special.

ULABY: Crupnick points out that two-thirds of the music sold in this country is still on CD and that brick & mortar music stores still succeeding seem to have remembered a few things that Tower forgot: a sense of place and discovery, a passionate staff - reasons to not go online.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: There's more exploration of the decade in music at our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)


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