Fans watch Elton John perform live on the Sunset Strip on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in West Hollywood, Calif.

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No Music, No Life: The Legacy Of Tower Records

March 7, 2018

Russ Solomon, founder of the international music emporium known as Tower Records, died Sunday at age 92. Solomon transformed a one-man enterprise into Sacramento-based Tower Records, subsequently transforming himself from a high-school dropout to the owner of the record store chain, a sprawling enterprise that peaked at $1 billion in annual sales. 

At the age of 16, Solomon sold jukebox records from his father’s drugstore in Sacramento, demonstrating an entrepreneurial spirit that carried him into a music empire and a legacy that spanned decades.

Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to discuss the business savvy that transcended Tower Records from a record store to a cultural institution.

"The defining moment ... happens for this business in 1968 when he opens his third store in San Francisco in a very hip and happening area, and he just becomes this cultural mecca, because he has all the latest music," Koehn said. "Think about San Francisco in 1968, it in itself was an agora of cultural, political, social change — and Tower Records was sitting right where the action is." 

Tower Records stores were a hub for music of all genres and formats, visited by music aficionados and celebrities alike, including Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Lou Reed and Michael Jackson, to name a few.

Despite its international prowess as a worldwide emporium with superstar appeal, Tower Records worked so well for so long because of a mom-and-pop-shop aesthetic that brought music to the people with an unpretentious vibe and an audiophile-friendly slogan: “No Music, No Life.”

Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006, marking the end of an era. 

Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joins us every week. She holds the James E. Robison Chair of Business administration at the Harvard Business School. Her latest book is "Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times." To listen to her entire interview with Boston Public Radio, click the audio player above.

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