The following is the fourth in a series of recollections of my time working at the Tower Records store in Greenwich Village. The chain is going out of business and closing its doors by the end of this year.
I was named the pop/rock/soul CD buyer at Tower right after Christmas in 1985. At the time, the CD was still relatively new, and very few people had compact disc players. But as 1986 began, the CD industry just exploded, and more and more record companies began turning them out. When I first started as buyer, I was secondary to the LP buyer in terms of overall importance. But that changed by the end of '86.
Companies rushed to get their artists' back catalogue out, as the demand for older LPs on CDs was enormous. But the one group everybody wanted, and I must have been asked about a million times when they were going to come out, was the Beatles. Capitol finally announced in early 1987 that they would be releasing them that March. They would release the first four LPs by the Beatles, and their British LPs and not the American ones. (The earliest Beatles LPs were always different. The American LPs always had fewer tracks than the UK one, because Capitol would take the tracks not used on the US one and make new LPs out of them. That all stopped with Sgt. Pepper.)
I remember vividly the day the first Beatles CDs came out. It was a real media event. Since Tower was the big boys on the block, the reporters came down to 4th and Broadway. I remember being interviewed by Channel 5 News here in New York, MTV News, and I had my picture taken with the main CD rack in front of the store filled with Beatles CDs by a news photographer. (A friend later told me the picture turned up in a paper in Massachusetts the next day.) I was also interviewed by phone by a morning radio show in San Diego, and I gave an interview to a Associated Press reporter by phone as well.
Everyone wanted to talk to the Mighty Quinn that day. I guess you might say the Beatles were directly responsible for my first 15 minutes of fame.
Capitol continued to release the Beatles CDs in spurts, and in order of the original UK LPs release. When it came time to release Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they decided to release it on the 20th anniversary of the original LPs release: June 1, 1987.
We always got the shipment of CDs for big releases about a day in advance. So we had boxes and boxes of Sgt. Pepper CDs in basement. Capitol said we could not under any circumstances sell any of them before June 1. So Tower decided to have one of those "Midnight Sale" things, where at exactly 12 midnight on June 1 we would begin selling the CD.
We put out a lot of publicity surrounding the sale. (We weren't the only ones doing it as well, because I don't recall any reporters at the store that night. I suppose we were "old hat" by then.) I can recall having my clerks shortly after 11:30 PM bring up boxes of CDs to the main floor, and the crowd in the store got larger as it got closer to midnight. At 11:55 I went up to the mezzanine floor, which overlooked the main floor. There were three or four clerks holding boxes with customers surrounding them, waiting to get the CDs from them. One even called up to me, "John, can we give them out now?" I looked at my watch, smiled and said, "No, not until it turns 12."
I'll never forget the looks I was getting from a few customers, some of which were of the dirty variety. I did my best not to smile back at them, as I didn't want to cause a riot on the floor. When my watch hit midnight, I gave them the signal to start passing out the discs. I stayed upstairs while most of the customers got their CDs and paid for them. We sold over 100 CDs that midnight hour, and a few hundred more later that day.
But I'll never forget that feeling of power I had when I had everyone looking at me wondering when they could get their CDs. I only wish the press had been there to record that.