Tower Records, Barry and Helen. A Two-fer: Flashback and Think Piece in One!

Thursday, August 16, 2012
For those of you too young to remember: back in the 1970's there was a place that young people used to hang out in all day long, and night sometimes. It was a destination- like going to a mall only cooler. It was a record store.

The most popular by far was Tower Records, though there were others. You could buy almost anything related to music in these stores- they were HUGE. The one in Brooklyn was four floors high, and it was only one of three on the block. Some branched off and focused on vinyl, which was becoming obsolete in the late 1970's. In the Brooklyn store you could buy punk music from Britain that hadn't quite become popular here (yet).

Artists would come to the stores to sell their stuff, sign autographs...you could meet all kinds of interesting people in a record store. The one on Sunset Blvd., in Los Angeles was one of the more famous for celebrity sightings.


Thinking about Tower Records got me to thinking about music that was popular in the late 70's, when I was inclined to hang out there. The late 70's were a very eclectic time in music. We were listening to rock and roll still, but some people were migrating to punk, some to disco, and some to m.o.r. easy listening music that was very popular at the time. Some of those artists were Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, John Denver, Barry Manilow and Helen Reddy.

I'm sure most people know very well who Babs is- her music has lasted through decades and she is still considered a top headliner anywhere she performs. Neil Diamond, whose eyebrows and hair have required their own zip code of late- is still selling concert tickets and because of his early music in particular (more from the late 60's to early 70's) has a nostalgia that appeals even today. They used his "Girl, you'll be a woman soon" in Pulp Fiction and made it cool all over again.

So...what happened to Barry Manilow and Helen Reddy? Honestly, when I was just growing out of High School and into college years they were EVERYWHERE. You could not turn on a radio station or t.v. show without seeing one of them on it. They were absolutely HUGE. For those who were not around then, I'm not sure I can adequately even express how huge they were. Millions of records huge, top ten or number one hits almost constantly huge, sold out concerts huge.

I can still remember most of their hits and even where I was when I listened to them. I liked rock and roll then, too, and some later moderate punk bands, but I loved these guys. Helen Reddy's "No way to treat a Lady", "Somewhere in the Night", "Angie Baby", "I don't know how to love him", "You're my World", "Leave me Alone"...they were the soundtrack to 1977 and beyond for me. She is most well known for her Womens Lib anthem "I am Woman" (which she co-wrote incidentally) and "Delta Dawn", which were big hits for her. I recently did a little dedication to Jay of one of her songs, "Candle on the Water" from the movie Pete's Dragon, which is still a lovely song.

And Barry. I remember standing in a record store in Seattle with headphones on, listening to "Weekend in New England" for the first time and just falling in love with that song.
He had so many hits I can't name them all here, but some I still love listening to are "Mandy", "Even Now" (I defy anyone to listen to that and not think of someone they once cared for), "Trying to Get the Feeling Again", "Looks Like we Made it", "I write the songs". I remember seeing him at the Greek Theater in 1977 and that concert still stands out as one of the better ones I've seen. He was certainly a showman on stage, and he owned his audience.

But Helen and Barry, like Tower Records, have vanished into the past. Helen has not performed much at all in many, many years and lives quietly in Australia. Barry still puts out records but battles old age and being forgotten. What I wonder sometimes is how is it that some artists do manage to withstand the test of time, at least to some degree, and others do not? I know Disco is pretty well dead though when Donna Summer died recently her music was remembered for what it was. Still, Helen and Barry are alive- and forgotten. Their music is still beautiful- their talent is still unmistakable, they were so enormously popular in their time that you could not have lived on the planet and not known who they were- and yet today, they are faded memories and their music has not lasted-even as nostalgia. I'm not sure I understand it, but I kind of think it's too bad.

Videos after the Jump





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