This is third installment in a series of articles I'm writing about the years I spent at Tower Records in Greenwich Village. The chain will be shutting down for good later this year.
I always hated when we had in-store appearances by musical acts. Not seeing the celebrities themselves, but it always interrupted my routine. I became the rock floor CD buyer in December 1985. It was at a time when CDs when just exploding in popularity, and quickly started to overcome LPs as the favored way for most people to listen to music.
The in-stores always seemed to occur at a time when I had a ton of work to do. I was basically in charge of getting the CDs up from the basement to the rock floor. In the beginning I did just about all the pricing and bringing the product upstairs. (It was murder getting them up there when the elevators went out, and they did often.) We had the appearances right in the middle of the rock floor, and we had to move the middle racks into the aisles at the back of the floor. It made it almost impossible to move around and put any product away around the places the in-store was going on at. So I had to shut down work until it was all over, and on occasion that meant staying later until everything got done.
Some of the most memorable in-store appearances happened before I became CD buyer(and I was usually put on security detail for them back then). The most famous was the Tina Turner one, which happened just days before I was hired as an employee. It is famous because she was in the middle of the in-store when her manager told her that she had the number one record in America (which she mentions in her book, "I Tina.") Two of the wildest ones I was at were in 1985 by Tears For Fears and the pop singer Paul Young. They both had crowds going down East 4th Street, and around and on to Lafayette Street. The Paul Young in-store may have been the craziest one I ever saw. We put up barracades along the route to keep everyone in line, and they were constantly being knocked over. And the crowd was overwhelmingly a large group of Asian teenage girls, for whatever reason.
I remember the Frankie Goes To Hollywood appearance (remember them?). All of us employees were given an extremely oversized "FRANKIE SAY" t-shirt to wear (they were all the rage back then), and I had people on the line offering me money for the shirt, which for some reason I turned them all down. I ended up tossing the shirt out years later.
I did get a chance to meet a few of the artists who appeared. The nicest guy was Tommy James, who I talked to at length about his music career, and got an autographed CD and picture with him. Bananarama were a bunch of stuck-up twits, and when 10,000 Maniacs made an appearance, their lead singer (whose name I forget) basically ignored me when I was introduced to her. I felt badly for the country singer Ricky Skaggs when he was there. He was a really nice guy but almost no one showed up for his appearance. (It was before country music boomed in the US in the 1990s.)
I always enjoyed telling my friends and family that some famous person was in the store, be it in an in-store, or at some other function. In the late '80s, I remember three occasions that I was invited to two listening parties to check out new records. The first was for Simply Red's new CD, and I got the chance to meet Mick Hucknall, their lead singer. Nice guy, with a strange red hairdo.
The second was the new CD by George Harrison, "Cloud Nine." A friend from Tower and I got the invite, and on it was that some guy with a strange name would be at the party. I always remembered that George liked using pseudonyms for different things, and we both thought it might be George himself appearing at it, without telling anyone directly. I recall going there in the cab talking excitedly to my friend that we might actually meet a Beatle. When we got there, the guy with the strange name was in fact, only a guy with a strange name and not George. I was really bummed, but the CD was really good.
But the next year, 1988, I met the biggest celebrity I have ever met in my life. I was invited to a party to hear Elton John's "Reg Strikes Back" CD. And the man himself was there. Elton was always a big Tower Records supporter, and wanted to meet some people from the store. I met him and got a picture taken with him and another friend of mine, taken by his record company. Elton was just a sweet guy, and I still have the picture, put away on one of my shelves at home.
Hobnobbing with the celebs. It was a great fringe benefit from my days working at Tower.