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December 17, 2006

Record Weirdo - RIP Tower Records

By Kevin Hillskemper

I will miss Tower Records. In an attempt to achieve closure, I loaded up with marked-down stuff at their going-out-of-business sales. More about that later.
The old Tower Records store in Brea always had special significance to me. It opened at the corner of St. College and Imperial Hwy in 1980. I was in High School and it was the first Tower I ever visited. It seemed huge. I had grown up buying records at rinky-dink mall stores like Music Plus and the Wherehouse. From there I graduated to smaller independent stores like Musix Box in Fullerton and Record Trading Center in Orange.
Tower was a whole new kettle of fish. Tower had everything. As you walked in the door, they had singles to the right, imports on the left, tapes (cassette AND 8-track) in the back, and acres of albums in the middle. I was in hog heaven. They even had Ticketron. Remember Ticketron? The first tickets I bought there were to see the Clash at the Hollywood Palladium.
When times were tough, I counted change to buy records. When times were good, I counted folding money to buy records.
I even had a romantic relationship begin at the store -- sort of. There was a girl that I knew from school. I would see her occasionally after that, at clubs and such. I even saw her when I was selling peanuts at Angel Stadium. She was at a baseball game with her dad. I thought it was really cool that she was reading a book during the game. Anyway, it took a chance meeting at Tower Records in Brea for me to finally ask her out on a date. She listened to The Cure but I liked her anyway.
As my world expanded to include larger, more exotic Tower Records stores in more glamorous, more exciting places like Hollywood and San Francisco, I realized what small potatoes the Brea store actually was. I have since been to Tower Records stores in Canada and Europe, but the Brea store will always have a special place in my heart. You never forget your first.
Sometime between my moving away from Orange County in the late 80s and my return in the early 00's, the Brea store moved from its original location to a much bigger and snazzier building across town. The older building is now a skate shop. Pretty soon all Tower Records stores will be something else, like earmuff and girdle factory outlets or beekeeper supply warehouses.
The going-out-of-business sales began sometime in November 2006. That's about when shameless scavengers like me started picking at the bones. Heres most of what I got in no particular order. Most of them were just a few bucks each. I excluded stuff that I will be giving out as Christmas presents because someone I know might read this.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts-Sinner. A little too slick, but still pretty darn good. Great covers of AC-DC by Sweet and Androgynous by the Replacements. What's she hinting at?

Lord Sutch-and Heavy Friends. Great early 70's hard rock self-indulgence. This album was produced by Jimmy Page and features Page, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Noel Redding, and so on. A lot of it sounds like Led Zeppelin leftovers - Sutch was considered to be a horrible singer, but he's nowhere near as horrible as Robert Plant. In retrospect, he's not so bad at all. You can hear Sutch's influence on 2nd generation English punk singers like Jimmy Pursey, Charlie Harper, and Stinky Turner.

Lord Sutch-The Hands of Jack the Ripper. Not as good as "Heavy Friends." In fact, its not very good at all. Guests on this one include Keith Moon and Ritchie Blackmore.

Roger Daltrey-Can't Wait To See the Movie. Someday, that big 80's sound will become retro-cool. You know that sound - tons of synthesizers, big echo-drenched drums, four billion background singers, and those cheesy saxophones that sound like broccoli farts. When it does come back, I'll be able to say Ive been listening to this stuff for years. Truthfully, this album is a big bucket of shit. I like it.

Buzzcocks-Operators Manual. As a best-of compilation, I prefer "Singles Going Steady", but you can't go wrong here. There is some overlap with the two albums, but not enough that you shouldn't have both.

Buzzcocks-Flat Pack on to Sanity. This came out in 2006. The last couple of their albums that I heard were pretty dull. This one is better.

Curt Kirkwood-Snow. Where can you go after the Meat Puppets? This album is mostly acoustic and almost folky. Actually its amazing. He hasn't changed his style, he's simply figured out what it is, refined it, and has even improved on it. This was a real find. I dont know what it is but it makes perfect sense to me.

Deke Dickerson-Deke Down Under. Its the same old Dick Dekerson stuff but I like it. This is a combo-pack containing a CD and a 7-inch record. It is the last vinyl I will ever buy at Tower Records. I think it was the last piece of vinyl in the store. Sniff.

The Minus 5-Down With Wilco. In case you dont know, The Minus 5 is a revolving-door collective led by Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows. The band usually includes Peter Buck of REM and one or two of the Posies. I saw them quite a few times when I lived in Seattle. Their shows were usually good, but their albums were not -- too many inside jokes and stuff. This one, from 2003, is surprisingly good. It is almost-but-not-quite conventional pop with a few odd bits thrown in.

Elvis Costello-Live With The Metropole Orkest. Im wary of the "Elvis Costello With Strings" concept. He tends to over-sing in situations like that. I prefer his rock albums where he just yells. I'm not alone, judging from the number of these left on the shelf, but this one is really good. He is backed by a big-band jazz outfit with horns, strings, and the whole shebang. "Watching The Detectives" is reworked to sound like a TV theme song from the 50s and it works perfectly. It could be the definitive version. There is a bonus disc containing the instrumental score of an opera composed by Mr. Costello. Since I am not an expert on classical music, I can't tell if its good or bad but I like it. It sounds like a mish-mash of movie soundtracks.

Wrecking Crew-Static Dreams. Heres one for the kids. These talented youngsters sound kind of like the Adolescents. I like the last song with added keyboards and backing vocals and stuff. They have the good sense to stop before they get to the broccoli fart saxophones, but I'd probably like that too.

Epoxies s/t 5 song EP. Heres another one for the kids. I saw this band open for The Damned last month. They seem to exist in an alternate new wave universe where it's always 1980. They cover both "Beat My Guest" by Adam and the Ants and "We're All Clones" by Alice Cooper. They are respectful to both songs while making them sound not only like each other but like the Epoxies. I think the singer, Roxy Epoxy, has true star quality. She looks good and she can yodel. You cant beat that.

Hellbound Hayride-Stampede. This is from 2000. They sound pretty much the same now as they did then. If Johnny Cash were alive today, he would probably still sound pretty much like Johnny Cash.

Flaming Groovies-Teenage Head. The Flaming Groovies also exist in an alternate universe, but in theirs it is always 1965. This album originally came out in 1971 and it is fleshed out here with a couple of hundred bonus tracks. The song "Teenage Head" should have been the Stairway to Heaven of 1971. Something about that last statement doesn't seem right.

Flaming Groovies-Slow Death. This is a compilation of mostly unreleased recordings from 1971-1973 on Norton Records. I trust Norton and so should you. I might have paid full price for this if I had known it existed. But I didn't so I didn't.

Misfits s/t. What a bummer. The disc has a manufacturing defect. There is a blob of label ink on the playing side and the disc freaks out and skips all over the place. I used rubbing alcohol to remove some of the ink but it still won't play all the way through. There is an All Sales Final policy. Caveat emptor.

The Dictators-Bloodbrothers. This was their third and final album. It may not be their best, but it's better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Soul Asylum-The Silver Lining. I wrote my history-should-be-kinder-to-Soul-Asylum manifesto in my last record-store-going-out-of-business story and it still applies. I could be in a rut.

Big Star-Extended Versions. This was a pleasant surprise. It looked like another budget-bin best-of compilation. If you read the fine print, it says "Recorded Live" but not when or where. It is a post-reunion recording, sloppy and no-frills, with an uneven mix, feedback, and plenty of bum notes. I like it a lot.

Motorhead-Bomber (2 disc deluxe expanded version). Every home should have this. You should keep it in the medicine cabinet and periodically use it to clean all of the worlds impurities out of your ears.

Stiv Bators- LA Confidential. In between the Dead Boys and the Lords of the New Church, Bators recorded a couple albums worth of 60s influenced garage/power-pop/Nuggets type stuff. He did it well. Since the Dead Boys covered "Hey Little Girl" and the Lords did "Live For Today", Im guessing that's where his heart really was. He probably would have done more if there were a buck in it.

ADZ-Live Plus Five. A recent release from Tony Reflex's other band. Its funnier and more rock n roll than the Adolescents. I like it.

Dave Davies-Kinked. This is a pretty good compilation of solo stuff recorded by the other brother in the Kinks. “Death of a Clown” is here as well as “Living on a Thin Line” and a couple others that a casual Kinks fan would know. This holds together pretty well.

Dave Davies-Chosen People. I liked the “Kinked” CD so much that I splurged one whole dollar for this one. I didn’t really like it on first listen and I haven’t bothered to listen to it again. I may never.

Thunders, Kane, and Nolan-You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (DVD). This is a 1987 Johnny Thunders show captured on a single video camera. Whoever shot it sure liked to zoom in and out. I actually like it better than a “professional” looking live video. It’s a little grainy and blurry, but it does a good job of capturing the essence of the show. It’s weird to think that all these guys are dead now.

Marshall Crenshaw-Field Day. This guy’s songs are just too perfect. It’s hard to grab hold of something that has no flaws. That’s probably why he never became hugely successful. I defy any sane, rational person not to like “Whenever You’re On My Mind.” It has more hooks than a pirate barn dance.*

Marshall Crenshaw-Good Evening. This has more great songs messed up with cluttery 80’s overproduction. Big Music Biz had no idea what to do with this guy. If you want a good Marshall Crenshaw album, get his first one or a compilation of demos and home recordings called “The Nine Volt Years.”

*The phrase I had originally written was “more hooks than a pirate convention.” I was very proud of this phrase until I googled it and discovered that I didn’t invent it after all – it has been used at least 78 times before. Damn. Among the other phrases I considered was “more hooks than a slaughterhouse” but I thought it might be too rough. Besides, it is too similar to another music writing cliché “more chops than a butcher shop.”


The Final Day – December 20, 2006
All CD’s were a buck or a buck twenty-five – buy 4 and get the 5th for 1 cent. Being the way I am, I had to buy in multiples of five. I ended up with these ten items.

Hank III-Rising Outlaw. A friend of mine used to refer to him as “Hank Williams Junior the Third.” I can’t think of him any other way now. I like the way the major label slick production on this album contrasts with his wild quivery voice.

Hank III-Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’. On his second album, Hank Williams Junior the Third was given a little free reign. He wrote most of the songs and the whole thing has the back-porch feel that I think he wanted. However, I have a problem with the song “Seven Months and Thirty-nine Days.” Based on a thirty day month, wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it “Eight Months and Nine Days?” That’s like me saying I’m four feet and twenty-three inches tall.

Thin White Rope-The One That Got Away. I remember seeing this band sometime in the 80’s or 90’s. They were critical darlings from Central California. They sounded kind of like Television with a little bit of twang. It’s okay, but I’m thinking that I should have got that CD by Blackmores Night instead.

The Waitresses-The Millennium Collection. A guilty pleasure. I liked the blasé, hipster art chick singer. When KNAC was a new wave station they used to play the song “No Guilt” a lot.

Starz-Stadium Rock. This band was kind of like UFO Lite. They had a great song called “Cherry Baby.” It isn’t on this CD but I got it anyway.

VH1 Hair Metal Unplugged. I forget the real title, but it’s something like that. I don’t have it in front of me right now so I’ll just take a guess. It has bands like Winger and Dokken doing stripped-down acoustic versions of their songs. Who would have known that behind all of the makeup, all of the hairspray, and all of the silly costumes were a bunch of really bad songs?
I bought this as sort of a gag gift – as if I owe anybody an explanation.

Melvins-Houdini Live 2005. Heavier than dirt. Heavier than wet stinky dirt. Heavier than wet, stinky, polluted dirt from a nuclear test site. I think you get the idea.

The BellRays-A Little Faith. I like the way they sound with horns. They should do more of that. Just when you think they start getting pretentious and showy, they throw in a song with a title like “Snot Gun.” I hope they have a good lawyer because the title track sounds a lot like “Have A Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt.

The Pirates-Home and Away, Live in the 90’s. This is ridiculous and great. The Pirates were best known for the 1960 hit “Shakin’ All Over.” The 1990’s version consisted of guitarist Mick Green, his son on bass, a drummer, and some obscure “could have been a contender” heavy metal singer. Almost every song sounds like “Shakin’ All Over,” but the only time we hear the real song is during the last minute of an eight minute jam/medley. A magnificent train wreck.

Ben Vaughn-Designs in Music. Ten years after the revival of instrumental space age bachelor pad music and forty-some years after its peak, Ben Vaughn has the final word on the genre. The word is “beautiful.”

Posted by Big Kev at December 17, 2006 5:27 PM