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tower records movie

The Belcourt showed a few screenings of the documentary on the once great record outlet; All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall Of Tower Records which documents the once billion dollar music retail chain while trying to gain some understanding as to what happened to the great mothership of deep catalog outlets.

Tower Records Fresno

Tower Records Fresno, 1978, The Fresnan

So many of my teenage years were spent going to and deciding what to buy at the Fresno Tower Records location after opening in the mid 70’s next to a brand new Pacific Stereo store. While I waited for the “everything-in-the-store-for-the-same-low-price” sale that came every so often, I would go through every bin of vinyl as well as the eight tracks, cassettes and reel to reel releases.

I knew where everything was. I learned during the screening that Elton John has me beat. He knew where everything was at the Los Angeles store which dwarfed every other location back in the day.

I remember the day they opened at the strip mall on Blackstone. They had a rock trio on the back of a flatbed truck in the parking lot blasting through Orange Amp Stacks. They were playing ZZ Top covers. They sounded great and that was the first time I had ever heard or saw Orange Amps.

One time, they had a Wet T-Shirt Contest out in front and I was little embarrassed because a girl from my Drama class at Hoover High School who was 16 and posing as “over 18” won.

van halen women and childrenI finally got to the Sunset location in Los Angeles when I was down in the area with the Snow College Jazz Band in 1980. I purchased a copy of Van Halen Women and Children First on cassette for the car while we drove around Southern California.

After I moved to L.A.in 1984, I avoided going into the store for fear of spending my entire paycheck. I mainly would just drive by to see the big cover art displays and signage. I saved my dollars for the occasional purchase at a local record store in Costa Mesa, California because of my tight budget at the time.

the smiths how soonI noticed every store was different. It was like every location had its own vibe and bands they would push. I saw how big The Smiths were in Orange County at the Mission Viejo / Lake Forrest store near my work. The Smiths had their own display rack of every single they ever made.

ramones sheenaTower Records in Buena Park had a lot of Punk Rock and obscure Ramones stuff.

I actually made the trek to Tower Records when I lived in Birmingham, Alabama after seeing that there was one in Nashville, Tennessee. By the time I moved here in 2008, it was either gone or on the way out.

I remember FYE was there for a while but they never had the deep catalog of Tower Records.

the cretones

The last thing I bought from Tower Records Nashville was a Russian 2 CD set of the Best of Angel. Angel was difficult to find on CD. In fact, there are a lot of things that never were released on CD that were at the top of my list. There has never been a CD release of The Cretones Planet Records catalog. The Cretones were kind of like Elvis Costello & The Attractions if they lived near Joni Mitchell’s house in Laurel Canyon. In fact, three cuts made it onto Linda Ronstadt’s “new wave” album Mad Love including the title track.

There-in lies the rub: the turning back to vinyl for music lovers of all ages. I now own The Cretones first two albums in pristine quality for a few dollars as well as a couple of 7 inch singles.

The big question is how did Tower Records grow into a billion dollar business only to file for bankruptcy a few years later? They try to answer that question in the last fifteen minutes.

They talk about not selling singles. The youth quit coming and that meant death to future development business. The seven inch and twelve inch singles had the artwork and some exclusive B-Sides and mixes prior to the advent of YouTube. A CD single was not worth a dime. It still isn’t.

The other one was the price of a CD. The list price and average price was exorbitant. The actual cost of manufacturing was much less than vinyl so while this was to cover some marketing and the cost of promotional videos, much of this was a cash cow for the record companies and retailers that actually made the record business bigger than the film business in the Nineties.

The beginning of the end was Napster and file sharing. Lars Ulrich [Metallica] was right. At the time, he was demonized by other bands and his own fans for suing downloaders. If the record companies and bands had lined up behind Lars and took the whole file sharing scheme on in court and stiff fines were imposed for stealing music maybe the industry would not be where it is today.

It is missed opportunities like that which eventually drove the once gigantic Tower Records to be liquidated by its own creditors. It is hard to believe that every time a Tower Records opened up, there were hundreds of people lined up at the door much like an In N Out Burger joint opening is today.

The big chains are all gone and the small Mom and Pop shops and segmented Indie start up stores have taken their place. This is a mere ghost reflection of what sales figures were less than twenty years ago.

herb alpert whipped creamRecord buying was a part of almost everybody’s life whether it was Mom and Dad buying Herb Alpert & The Tijuana BrassWhipped Cream and Other Delights or some stoner blasting an 8-track of Black Sabbath Vol. 4 from a 1969 Chevelle SS with a 396 and tuck and roll interior.

Everybody was building their collection, a physical collection that was where friends and party goers gravitated.

Songs and records were a framed reference for friends, loved ones and events that transpired through the time space continuum. It was not background fodder or best of song lists in Pandora or Spotify.

There were jobs involved in the music business; everything from retail clerks to buyers, distributors, manufacturers, advertising and so forth. There are thousands upon thousands of jobs that are gone.

The one bright spot in the documentary was how Tower Records founder, Russ Solomon pushed to get a store open in Japan after a couple of investors came forward. He was met with a lot of resistance but pushed forward and in 1980 opened in Sapporo, Japan. As the business de-construction Managers came in, Tower Records was forced to sell off the Japanese division. Tower Records Japan exists to this day with 85 locations.

The implosion of the music business story begins to show a real personal toll as the story of Tower Records is told from the very beginning to the aftermath by Russ Solomon and the key players, some of whom breakdown telling the story of the final days of the once renowned Retail Giant.

  • Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN
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Tristen performing at The Groove, Record Store Day 2013, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tristen performing at The Groove, Record Store Day 2013, photo – Brad Hardisty

2013 proved to be a year where Nashville didn’t make as  big an impact nationally as it should have with no major album from either Country or Nashville sub-genres making any real impact on any national or international best-of lists from Rolling Stone Magazine [other than Keith Urban noted] to Mojo or anything else in-between.

It’s not that there were not any releases with big expectations from our region, but apparently they didn’t catch on nationally or internationally for that matter. Missing in action on the best of lists were Kings Of Leon, Paramore, Jack White, The Black Keys, Taylor Swift and pretty much every record that Nashville Scene listed as the best this year including releases by Tristen and Diarrhea Planet.

Zac Brown continues to chart his own path in the Country music scene with his Southern Ground Festival, Southern Ground group of artists that is now headquartered in Nashville  and charting records that have more to tell; just recently putting out the Dave Grohl Sessions Vol. 1, the problem is, can one list a four song EP as an album? As an artist, I definitely can give Zac kudos for songwriting, performance and outright tenaciousness.

MODOC, Soulshine Pizza, Nashville, TN, photo - Brad Hardisty

MODOC, Soulshine Pizza, Nashville, TN, photo – Brad Hardisty

It’s not to say that these were not good records, but it shows the deepening divide between well crafted music and the ability to get it out there in some way where it becomes part of the collective consciousness and not just affect the local pub crawl or mini festival.

Most stateside best-of lists had Vampire Weekend at or near the top of their lists whereas in the rest of the world they might have made the Top ten in one major publication and barely scratch the Top 40 in other important music rags and blogs outside the United States.

Luther Dickinson, North Mississippi Allstars, Cannery Ballroom 2013, photo - Brad Hardisty

Luther Dickinson, North Mississippi Allstars, Cannery Ballroom 2013, photo – Brad Hardisty

Rolling Stone probably had one of the most bi-polar lists that included everything from real music artists to “entertainers” such as Miley Cyrus – Bangerz in their Top 40 list whereas Miley Cyrus isn’t on any major serious list outside the United States. Henry Rollins had a polite way of putting it this way: there is a lot of stuff that Rolling Stone writes about that isn’t on his radar.  Rolling Stone has gotten so far away from its original intent that the 360 label controlled deal signed Entertainers make the front cover regularly as well as politicians and a great amount of type space is spent driving home the Editors personal political point of view. I can’t fault them completely; there is the occasional Ginger Baker or Merle Haggard interview perfection. They even have a great local Nashville writer, Adam Gold, who doesn’t really get to write that much about the real Nashville. In a town where a 1600 word piece could be written every week about records being made and shows being played by regional Artists, nine out of ten articles are reviews of the previous Nashville TV Show plot.  Why don’t they give Adam free reign and really show what this town has to offer?

Tim Easton & JD Simo at Grimey's 2013, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tim Easton & JD Simo at Grimey’s 2013, photo – Brad Hardisty

As far as America’s perception of Nashville, I can’t fault the Nashville TV Show. There are some great aspects that I enjoy such as the cityscape backdrops and watching the “Live” performances to see who is playing in the band as well as T Bone Burnetts choices for locally written music. I always like to see folks like Colin Linden or Jim Lauderdale on the small screen!  I am still waiting to see JD Simo, Kenny Vaughan or maybe Dave Roe. Of course, if they put Joe Fick on there, he would probably steal the thunder away from the movie star. Honestly, Hayden Panetierre does really well playing a damaged girl that is trying to do her best to be good / bad at the same time. She has a heart of gold and a heart of stone that makes yin and yang seem as normal as Corned Beef Hash and Shrimp and Grits on the same plate. It just seems that when she tries to do something good she ends up screwing it up. I’m not sure if she is suppose to be bi-polar or her Mother smoked crack while she was in the womb but she sure does need the reassurance of her fans.

Mojo is probably the best music major publication in the world and they managed to have a list that was almost devoid of pop schlock and had an Artist, Bill Callahan – Dream River at number one that didn’t even make a stateside list.

In Mojo, Memphis inspired Mavis Staples – One True Vine sat at number 21 whereas it was not featured on any lists in any major American publications. What used to be true is still true, foreign music fans seem to appreciate real American Artists more than we do ourselves. Guy Clark’s My Favorite Picture Of You  as well as Jason Isbell’ Southeastern cracked some great lists without making a whisper on any stateside lists outside of Americana specific publications.

lorde pure heroineOkay, the Artist that probably really got the short end of the stick in all the lists was Lorde. Lorde’s Pure Heroine probably had more impact than any other record this year whether I like it or anybody else does. Lorde has already been ripped off by K-Tel style sound-a-like commercials for Boss and Victoria’s Secret.  They ripped her off as blatantly as if somebody had tried to write a commercial that sounded like “Honky Tonk Women” or “Brown Sugar” back in the day and just call it advertising Muzak. Lorde definitely brings more to the table than Lady Gaga’s “Fashion” going after David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” instead of previous attempts at Madonna’s eighties catalog.

Okay, as far as local goes. I think Nashville Scene got it right for the most part, but, what about Ricky Skaggs or Modoc’s new albums?  There is a much larger alternative scene in Nashville than even where Nashville Scene went with its own list.

DeRobert & the Half Truths at The High Watt 2013, photo - Brad Hardisty

DeRobert & the Half Truths at The High Watt 2013, photo – Brad Hardisty

Although regional albums didn’t seem to impact national lists this year, there are prospects coming up in 2014. For one, Nikki Lane has those Dan Auerbach produced tracks still waiting for a drop date. GED Soul is putting out their first full length vinyl, De Robert & The Half Truths – I’m Tryin’ on January 14th. Jack White is putting out new music by The Dead Weather.  One could hope for a new Kenny Vaughan album or even a revolutionary new Country album like Miranda Lambert’s Revolution  or how about a historical Live recording like Jerry Lee Lewis Live at Third Man from a couple of years ago.

Probably my biggest anticipated Nashville area release will be the new Mike Farris album which has been a couple of years in the making and should get a release date some time in 2014.

With the prospect that album buying is an ever shrinking source of revenue and has started to become a vanity project for almost everybody but a major label 360 signed Artist / Entertainer /  Dancer / Avatar, will the “best of” album lists start to disappear and be replaced by the “best live” performances since that is where the hopes for revenue are? I can’t answer that one. I still buy CD’s and vinyl and I don’t buy shrill sounding MP3’s. That is my line in the sand. I like liner notes, credits and photos so downloads don’t do much for me.

Doyle Lawson at Simply Bluegrass, Nashville, TN 2013, photo - Brad Hardisty

Doyle Lawson at Simply Bluegrass, Nashville, TN 2013, photo – Brad Hardisty

It seems that music in people’s lives is as important as ever, yet twenty million views on You Tube might only translate into 80,000 units sold.  In this kind of environment, an Artist might be safer to build a following in a sub-genre such as Americana, Blues or Bluegrass and tour on that specific festival circuit rather than to try to get a grass roots following on some new angle of Indie music and try to build up from the clubs. The prospect of never getting bigger than the clubs and eternally couch surfing are enormous in the current all-music –should- be- free- to- listen- to conundrum.

I have to admit that bands are becoming creative.  The Cult talks about sending out “capsules” of music in the future such as three new songs every quarter. Jack White has printed different band names on the CD’s he has taken on tour to sell to make collectibles out of “tour bought” merchandise. Infinity Cat has put out different covers or changed up colored vinyl to keep its catalog collectible among label followers. Creative marketing is as important as creative songwriting nowadays. A limited quantity of whatever seems to be a “buy” even though it may only bring in a limited amount of money.

Will there ever be a big budget grandiose masterpiece like Rumours or Dark Side of The Moon in the future? Maybe not but, if so, it would probably come out of a big budget Kickstarter campaign for a complete vanity piece that may only sell 20,000 units due to current radio formats and the free listening or subscription services now available. If there are less units of such a great masterpiece out there than the original Ramones album, will it be found and enjoyed 20 years down the road?

I can’t give up on the fact that somehow the music business will survive in some fashion that will keep creative people out there producing something new. I love going to see a band live but, will there ever be a budget for Quincy Jones style production on real music and not the flavor of the month?

Anyways, my best of list is based on a couple of criteria. I like it and it is regional, as in, from the south or with ties to the south and not necessarily middle Tennessee. I’ll keep it to ten because there are 20 and 30 and 40 lists; why not just make it essential?

andy t nick nixonNumber 10: The Andy T Band and Nick Nixon – Drink Drank Drunk

Andy T has been a regular guitar slinger on the blues scene all around town after arriving here via California and Houston, Texas. Nick Nixon is a native son following in the tradition of the Jefferson Street scene. This mix of a stew of standards produced and mixed by Texan Anson Funderburgh was the strongest Nashville Blues record out this year with a definite Gatemouth Texas Swing Blues influence and got the two with their band on Blues Festivals nationwide in 2013. Stand-out tracks: “Midnight Hour” “Drink Drank Drunk” “Have You Seen My Monkey?”

ricky skaggs bruce hornsby coverNumber 9: Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby – Cluck Ol’ Hen Live

Ricky Skaggs has been an Ambassador of Bluegrass to the world and his collaboration with Bruce Hornsby on piano turned out to be one of the greatest live events of the past few years. This recording captured from a couple of those shows features some great jamming with Bruce Hornsby kind of going to the roots after having toured with The Grateful Dead years ago. The in-between banter gives the feel of really being there. Stand-out tracks: “How Mountain Girls Can Love” “The Way It Is” “The Dreaded Spoon.”

MODOC_AlbumArtNumber 8: MODOC

MODOC has had great song placement in the last year or so that has put their music on television.  MODOC just plain rocks and “Runnin” has been all over the local airwaves. This album still has some legs after its release in August and will get a vinyl release after the first of the year. The Indiana natives have really stuck to their guns since arriving in Nashville about three years ago and have really improved their song craft and play every date they can.  A solid album is the pay dirt. Stand – out tracks: “Runnin” “Coward” “I Want You”

patty griffin american kidNumber 7: Patty Griffin – American Kid       

You could say Patty Griffin is from Austin and you could say that Robert Plant is from England, but let’s be real, they spend a lot of time here in Nashville and therefore are just as much Nashvillian as most of us who come from everywhere from California to Australia and spend perhaps a good majority of our lives here in pursuit of musical nirvana.  This may be Patty’s current album as the reigning Queen of Americana, but Robert makes enough guest appearances to let you know he is there without calling it a duet album. The North Mississippi Allstars make an appearance as well. Stand-out tracks “Don’t Let me Die In Florida,” “Ohio” and “Highway Song.”

jason isbell southeasternNumber 6: Jason Isbell – Southeastern

215 reviews and this album is still five stars on Amazon. Southeastern should be on every Top ten list this year.  Unfortunately, this was mostly shunned by American media while in Britain and Europe, where The Drive By Truckers were treated like The Rolling Stones, this gets what it deserves. Muscle Shoals will live on forever and Jason is definitely one of the favorite sons.  There are guest spots by Kim Richey (“Stockholm”) and Amanda Shires on “Travelling Alone.” There are a couple of southern rockers but most of this set would go over well at The Bluebird Cafe. Stand-out tracks “Flying Over Water,” “New South Wales,” and “Super 8.”

tim easton not coolNumber 5: Tim Easton – Not Cool

Tim encapsulizes everything cool about Nashville in one album that includes members of Robert’s regulars from The Don Kelley Band, Joe Fick [The Dempseys} on bass and JD Simo on guitar. The recording puts you front and center listening to real new Nashville Honky Honk music. What a concept! People travel from all over the world to hear it, so why not put it out to the airwaves.  If you missed the in-store that featured JD on guitar at Grimey’s, you missed one of the best in-stores of 2013. The songwriting has some gritty stories and moves things out past toney East Nashville to Riverside.  The old plywood acoustic sits in the middle of the mix. This one sits somewhere between Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and John Mellencamp’s Sun records effort a couple of years ago.  Stand out tracks include “Little Doggie (1962)” and “Four Queens.” “Troubled Times”

north mississippi allstars world boogieNumber 4: North Mississippi Allstars – World Boogie Is Coming

What can you say when the first two tracks start out with Robert Plant on harmonica recorded at Royal in Memphis? The Dickinsons along with Lightnin’ Malcolm are taking us for a ride through Holly Springs on this essentially covers album that plays out like a Midsummer Night’s Dream where R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough are still alive and Junior’s Place is still open for all night jams and ribs. Although Blues can let out your frustrations, this one puts on a smile and gets your groove going. Stand-out tracks

“Snake Drive,” Meet Me In The City” and “Goin’ To Brownsville.”

diarrhea planet artwork 2013Number 3: Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

Diarrhea Planet is probably the best live show in Nashville right now, especially if you like guitar. They one up Lynyrd Skynyrd with four guitars. I repeat, FOUR GUITARS!  Watching them is like watching a Jack Black music skit on SNL, but the guitar work is pretty good and they are always entertaining and have some strong music that is designed for live consumption. Stand out tracks:  “Separations” “Ugliest Son” “The Sound Of My Ceiling Fan”

guy clark my favorite picture of youNumber 2: Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture Of You

Guy Clark pays tribute to his wife and wears his heart on his sleeve and his favorite picture of his wife on the cover. My Favorite Picture of You is an introspective soul searching masterpiece that makes one stop after every song and process the lyrics they just listened to. If Nashville is about songwriting then this is this year’s litmus test. Stand-out tracks, “My Favorite Picture of You” “Cornmeal Waltz”“Heroes”

tristen cavesNumber 1: Tristen – Caves

Tristen proves a point that you can follow your muse no matter what style in Nashville and create something cohesive, beautiful and unique. If this doesn’t become the huge record it should then it will become a cult album that everybody will want to show their friend and turn them onto. If Mojo ever gets a hold of this one, Tristen will be over in England and Europe playing to sold out crowds for the next year and it will be tough to ever see her play in the backyard at The Groove on Record Store Day again.  Tristen comes from the world where Pop means great songs like The Beatles, The Smiths, Fleetwood Mac or Blondie. Stand out tracks: “No One’s Gonnna Know” “House of War” “Dark Matter” “Monster”

–          Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN    thenashvillebridgeathotmaildotcom