Whenever we went to the States, Thailand or even popped into London in the 80s and 90s, a visit to Tower Records was obligatory. The yellow store offered shopping on any numbers of floors. However a combination of the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of the internet and streaming was the death knell for the chain in most parts of the world.
Tokyo is different though. The store bought itself out and judging by appearances is rude health, catering for the local J-pop market along with the rock, jazz and classical crowd.
I squeezed through to the lifts, passing the huge crowds that were queuing up for an event involving a J-pop boyband and intently photographing a wall sized image of the band.
My primary goal was to check out the jazz and in particular, ECM section on the 6th floor.
My first observation is that CD remains king at Tower. There was some vinyl but it is dwarfed by the huge racks of CDs. Compact disc sales fell by 11/7% in UK in 2016. Word hasn’t got through to Tokyo by the looks of things.
The CD’s themselves are filed in Tower’s versions of genres and then alphabetically by artist but by christian name, which meant navigating was a bit tricksy.
The ECM section was bigger than any equivalent outlet in London. The CDs on offer reflected the current catalogue. All came without obi strip with two exceptions.
First were three ECM SACD releases – Pat Metheny’s “Bright Size Life”, Chick Corea’s “Return To Forever” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Koln Concert”. I snapped all three up. I don’t have the first two on CD and was curious to hear the third in an “enhanced format”.
The other ECM CDs bearing an obi strip were part of a 100 years of jazz collection – pretty but ultimately not offering anything different.
And that in short was what the ECM section offered – the same selection available over the internet in the UK, with no difference in presentation. There were a few LPs but again these were identical to those in the UK, be they either new issues or re-releases.
The lack of obi-strips on vinyl and CDs was consistent theme, even on the rock floor below. I didn’t therefore overly indulge. I bought a copy of the “Buckingham Nicks” pre-Fleetwood Mac LP on CD and the latest wonderful offering from Sampha, which came in a dinky cardboard sleeve with a bonus CD.
The Sampha album “Process” is a current favourite. It is the debut LP by Sampha Sisay, who had previously written for Drake and Solange (contributing “Don’t Touch My Hair” to the brilliant “Seat At The Table”) and provided vocals on the SBTRKT debut album of 2011, which still gets regular plays in our house. “Process” is an LP of stunning quality, a more urban take on the kind of music that James Blake has been making in recent years. “No One Knows Me Like My Piano” is a heartbreaking ballad about the passing of his mother, but could equally be a Radiohead ballad. The songwriting quality is stellar and the guy starts moving toward Stevie Wonder territory. He is a serious talent who I hope is playing Glastonbury this year. If so, I’ll be there (pending clashes with my daughter’s selections).
“Buckingham Nicks” is the LP that preceded “Fleetwood Mac” (i.e. the one that preceded “Rumours” from 1975 with John McVie and Mick Fleetwood on the cover. I’ve got a bootleg copy but the Japanese version is released on Big Pink records. It is a Korean record label who appear to have a nice line in niche re-releases. The LP effectively sets the template for 50% of the classic 70s version of Fleetwood Mac.
It is a signpost to where Mac went next and indicates what mark the individuals involved would make. Nicks is showing the dreamy melodic persona that would manifest itself in “Dreams” and “Sara” whilst Lyndsey’s guitar chops and taut songwriting is evident. The album was released in 1973 on Polydor. It was a major label release and they got a major label backing band with many of Elvis’s musicians from the TCB Band involved (Jerry Scheff, Waddy Wachtel, Ron Tutt etc). It was largely ignored at the time with one notable exception. Mick Fleetwood took a shine to it and the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ll try and hit a few more specialist or secondhand stores whilst I’m in Japan and provide a bit of feedback on those more selective delights.