Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Remember When Records Had Grooves

I have been thinking about the 80s lately.

I turned eleven in 1980.  It was a big decade for me.

For weeks, I have been knocking around ideas for a 1980s themed post.  Then, last week, Leah over at The Weather in the Streets beat me to it.  She did a fabulous job, and really lit my fire to write about my own 80s memories.  The problem is, I can't get them all to fit.  Every memory, every song, every lipstick shade, just sends me off onto another tangent, like a big box of nostalgia chow mein.  You can't pull out just one noodle.

And, I can't write just one post.  So, I've had to prioritize.

Many of my trips down memory lane, I found ended here.

 The corner of 16th Street and Broadway in Sacramento, California.  The home of the original Tower Records, and still the home of the Tower Theater after which it was named, by way of a drug store, but I am getting ahead of myself.

First, the disclaimer.  I have not researched this story, but it is well known in these parts and I did use to work there.  This is what I have picked up over the years.

The Tower Theater opened in 19-I-don't-know-what.  I would guess the 1930s, based on the architecture and the neighborhood.  In the 1950s, the Solomon family operated the Tower Drug Store, adjacent to the theater, when their son Russ asked his parents if he could sell records at the back of the store.  Soon, the store was more records than drugs.  Eventually, Tower Records became it's own entity, right across the street.  Then across the world.  Until and then iTunes ruined record stores forever.  But in 1983, when I began attending the all-girl Catholic high school a mere five blocks away, business was booming, and records were still made out of vinyl.

Sometimes in groups, often alone, I would walk down there after school, still wearing my blue and white hearing bone pleated skirt and white ankle socks.  My taste in music changed often and the list of records I bought I has no reason, thought there might be rhyme.

I bought a Def Leppard album, and Loverboy.  The very first Maddona album anyone I knew had ever seen.  We'd never heard of her, or any of the songs on it, but I thought it looked interesting and I was an adventurous spender.  That is also how I ended up with imported 12 inch singles from bands with names like Strawberry Switchblade.  Joy Division, then New Order, the Cure, OMD, ABC, A-ha whose lead singer looked just like this German boy I was madly in love with and secretly kissing when my parents weren't looking knew.  Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel.  U2 , INXS.  My mind boggles.  I can't even remember all the music I bought there.  And this is just the high school years.  I went to the Junior College not too far away too and that opens up a whole new can of Edie Brickell (the first CD I ever bought) and 10,000 Maniacs.

All this talk of music reminds me of Friday Night Videos.  Before MTV, before the whole country had cable and could see MTV, there was Friday Night Videos.  I think it was on after Johnny Carson.  Super late.  Once a week, for 90 minutes, you could see videos of some of your favorite songs.  And some of other people's favorite songs, which you hated, but you had to sit through, because this was before the DVR.  I remember staying up with a friend until 1:30 in the morning to see the video to Wham's Wake Me up Before You Go-Go.  We had heard the song, but never seen the group.  We were stunned.  Man, that was a lot of neon, and boy were they tan.

Do you see how I got off on the little television tangent when I was meant to be writing about Tower Records?  I haven't even gotten to the part where I tell you that there was a Tower Books, too (before Borders and Barnes & Noble and, again).  You could buy copies of Melody Maker, imported from England, which always seemed cool, because all the English bands talked about reading it.  One of my classmates was even so bold as to go down there, in full Catholic school girl regalia, to buy a copy of the nudie magazine Playgirl, because it had an interview with Paul McCartney in it.  I bought my copy of The Bell Jar there, so that I could be bleak and depressed like any self-respecting fifteen year old girl.

Oh, I could go on.  A little later in the 80s there was zinc pink lipstick and a job at, not one, but two ice cream parlors.  A little earlier, and there was my tween obsession with Princess Diana, which sort of dove tails into my own coming of age story.  But, I can't.  I just can't go on now.  Twenty-ten beckons.


  1. In general though I don't remember all that much that stands out about the 80s. For us in Ireland it was a very dark period economically, with a general hopelessness and helplessness to the entire decade.

  2. The 80's were pivotal for me, but in a very different way from you. Got married and graduated from college in the early 80's. Had my first baby in the late 80's.

  3. Lots of great memories there, Tracey. All that music you mentioned - I listened to it all! I won a Loverboy record on the radio and my older brother used to buy at least three records every paycheck, so we had hundreds to listen to. I remember a girl I went to school with, who had moved back to England. She came to visit one year, bringing a Wham! record with her. I remember secretly thinking they were lame, but went along with liking them for the sake of my friendship. A girl from California introduced me to Madonna (she also dressed like her) and it was hate at first sight. I preferred Weird Al Jankovic making fun of 'Like a virgin'. And man, I loved that 'Take on me' video by A-ha. The one that is all in pencil drawings? My sister had a pink ghetto-blaster and we used to listen to all those English bands on the beach. Ah the memories...but yours of working at Tower Records are wonderful.

  4. Oh, and I forgot. Happy Canada Day (today) and then Happy Fourth of July! xo

  5. Vince, things here were pretty good economically, or so they seemed. Ronald Reagan took out a huge loan so we could have a prosperous decade.

    Rebecca, Happy Canada Day to you too. My Madonna record was her first and I bought it before she hit it big. I loved it, but she lost me soon after. I didn't work at Tower until college. These were just the high school memories. And, sadly, my knowledge of music end at about 1992.

  6. This is fabulous. And you reminded me of Friday Night Videos! My sis and I would watch that secretly on our tiny little black-and-white tv. Music was my sine qua non, and so it was a lot of fun to read about yours.

    By the way, Edie Brickell may have been the first, or at least one of the first, cds I ever bought as well...I will have to check with my sister.

  7. So many memories. I loved walking down to Tower after school! Thanks for bringing it all back.