Growing up on Long Island, New York I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Tower Records store in Manhattan, and later to a much closer store near my home.  I spent plenty of money there -- and saw the store close and the shelves emptied in its last days.  All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records is a talking-heads documentary about the creation, success, and ultimate failure of what could be the most famous music store of all time.

All Things Must Pass spends most of its time on several people who had been with Tower Records from its early days in California in the 1960s -- especially its founder, Russ Solomon.  He had an easygoing way of running the store: People could wear what they wanted, treat the customers how they wanted, and even show up drunk or stoned, as long as they opened the store on time.  The people who stayed got promoted, and as the the stores expanded -- to the east coast, and internationally -- these people often moved on to run other stores.
We also hear from musicians -- Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Sir Elton John -- and David Geffen, all sharing their memories of how great the store was at a time when there was no Internet for music lovers to discover new sounds and connect with fellow fans.  And there's plenty of archival footage of the shoppers in the stores, flipping through actual records.
As for the history of the store, this documentary focuses on the early years and the final ones.  We know that the store was a hit with the hippie generation, and near the end the store suffered not only from Napster but other stores selling CDs, taking on lots of debt, and the failure of some of their expansion stores.  There's a definite bias against the mean, strict financial people closing the stores down that's a sharp contrast to the fun and freedom the employees enjoyed in the store's early days.

Despite the overwhelming positive attitude towards the store -- employees loved working there, musicians loved shopping and visiting there -- All Things Must Pass is a good look at how Tower Records became famous and successful -- and how it all came crashing down.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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