Stacks and Stacks of Vinyl: Tower Records in the ’70s

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Tower Records

The legendary “Tower on Sunset” store, in a photo taken several years later

It’s the record store equivalent of the old TV game show, Supermarket Sweep. Imagine going back in time – decades before the term “big box store” existed – with a crisp hundred-dollar bill and someone told you that you had to spend it now. In this Tower Records footage from 1971, there are all those new crisply shrink-wrapped, sale-priced LPs priced at just, gulp, a mere $2.77.

Some amazing footage has surfaced from the Sunset Boulevard store of the once powerful Tower Records chain —“Tower on Sunset” as it was known to all in the Los Angeles area, over the years the site of many huge in-store album release events, strategically situated near many record label West Coast offices. As the clip starts, the needle drops on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” The camera follows an employee carrying cardboard boxes on the sales floor, and we pass stacks and stacks of pristine vinyl, in that unique way that Tower sold music, with the top box open sitting atop more of the same title below.

Tower Records Vid Pic - Grand FunkWe see an employee opening a box of George Harrison’s superb album from the year before, All Things Must Pass, and try unsuccessfully to get a peek at the price that the three-LP set is going for. The camera stops in front of a display revealing a handmade sign touting “Grand Funk Live, 2-LPs, $3.33” and another boosting “Eric Clapton $2.77 Per LP.” Classic rock acts before they were classic…

Then there are the bins, alphabetical by genre including the all-important “Misc.” section for each letter, where a patient shopper would unearth a hidden gem.

As teenagers in the ‘70s, we would spend hours in record stores amongst other fans buying new elpees and scarfing up back catalog from artists that we had just discovered. Traffic’s 1971 release, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, led me to John Barleycorn… and Welcome To The CanteenThe Lamb Lies Down on Broadway  by Genesis in 1971 begat Nursery Cryme and Selling England by the Pound. And so on.

Believe it or not, although the Tower on Sunset store closed in 2006, its facade remained up for years

Back to the Tower footage…. There’s the iconic yellow bag with the red letters. Sly ends and Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” starts. We see a shot of her Pearl album and realize that it’s a new release in 1971. There’s the year-old Sweet Baby James album. Why is the Elton John bin so small? (Oh, right, in 1971, he had only released four albums.) There’s the Hair soundtrack! Where are the Queen, Aerosmith and AC/DC bins? Oh, right – their first records weren’t released until two years later!

There’s someone wearing a paisley shirt, bell bottoms, long hair, and we see are mustaches galore. But not a single designer logo or licensed product. No baseball caps. No team jerseys.

But plenty of delicious vinyl. Watch the video, filmed and produced by Sacramento City College professor Darrell Forney, to travel back in time.

Related: Interview with Tower founder Russ Solomon

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9 Comments so far

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  1. geminiprodj
    #1 geminiprodj 4 August, 2015, 13:53

    Who would have thought that 40 some years later, one could listen to everyone of those albums online in your own home or business!!! What a country!!!

    Reply this comment
  2. MHW
    #2 MHW 20 May, 2017, 14:24

    I had that Grand Funk Live Album. Mean Mistreater, Inside Looking Out, Into the Sun…what a great record. I bought it when I was 12 and played it to death. Finally saw the band many years later when they had a reunion tour. Good times. I chuckled when a middle-aged woman near us stood on her chair and screamed, “Bring Out the Funk!” What fun.

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  3. martyh
    #3 martyh 7 July, 2020, 18:35

    Of course, one of the real joys going each week to Tower Sunset was to see who adorned the ginormous billboard that over looked the parking lot!

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  4. Steve o
    #4 Steve o 8 July, 2020, 04:54

    Loved tower records, hated to see them disappear, used to spend hours in there, they had everything.

    Reply this comment
  5. Cisley
    #5 Cisley 8 July, 2020, 11:17

    What a walk down memory lane. Use to hang out at the Tower on Watt in Sacramento in the 60’s. They even had listening booths. If you didn’t have plans or a concert to go to, it was the place to be. Loved albums. So much to look at while you listened.

    They opened Tower Books right next door.
    You could buy tickets to concerts so you didn’t have to go downtown and stand in line there AND you would get great seats.

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  6. RGL
    #6 RGL 8 July, 2020, 15:47

    Early 1971 I was in this store and noticed a small guy with platform shoes carrying stacks and stacks of albums to the front desk. Going back and forth through the store and bringing them to the front. It was Elton John. Used a credit card and rang up about $500 worth of music.

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    • RecordSteve
      RecordSteve 17 October, 2021, 16:28

      Nice story about EJ=now that he is retiring, he’ll have more time to listen to all his USA
      purchased music….

      Reply this comment
  7. Jas
    #7 Jas 15 October, 2022, 01:21

    Who would have thought that 50 years later this 10-minute clip would be as classic as the records in the store. I spent untold hours at that location, the one in NY, and others in the 70s and I still have all the vinyl to prove it! Just one of the wonderful things we had growing up in that era.

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  8. Howling Diabetic
    #8 Howling Diabetic 7 November, 2023, 04:56

    1971’s $2.77 would be over $21.00 today. So you could buy 5 albums with that $100 bill. (Of course, you would to also consider sales tax!)

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