This Day in Music, August 19: Gimme Five for the Jukebox

By , Contributor

On this day in 1988, "Crazy" by Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley’s "Hound Dog" were announced as the most played jukebox songs of the first hundred years. The jukebox had been around since 1906, but earlier models had been first seen in 1889.

Ah.. the jukebox - where would we be without the jukebox?

It's hard to imagine America without them. Before iPod playlists, before iTunes started charging to download and listen to a favourite song, before boom-boxes and before mix tapes, the jukebox was king. You would walk up to the machine in the corner of the bar, cool as you like, press A-34, and on it came...“Be Bop A Lula, She’s My Baby..!”

The predecessor of the modern jukebox was the nickel-in-the-slot machine. In 1889, Louis Glass and William S. Arnold placed a coin-operated cylinder phonograph in the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. This was the first nickel-in-the-slot machine. It had no amplification and patrons had to listen to the music using one of four listening tubes. In its first six months of service, the nickel-in-the-slot earned over $1,000.

The word "jook" is an old African-American term meaning "to dance," sometimes used with sexual connotations. It has also been suggested that the Southern jute crop fields had workers who frequented low class roadhouses or makeshift bars, which were called juke (or jute) joints, where these early jukeboxes would appear.

elvis_juke.jpgBy 1927, The Automatic Music Instrument Company created the world's first electrically amplified multi-selection phonograph. With this amplification, suddenly the jukebox could compete with a large orchestra, for the cost of a nickel. Prohibition assured the jukebox’s success, as every underground speakeasy needed music, but could not afford a live band. Tavern owners were privileged to have a jukebox, which drew in customers, and was provided by an operator at no charge. The importance of the jukebox to bluesmen, and the white country and rockabilly artists at Sun Records cannot be underestimated.

All of these 1930s and '40s jukeboxes used 78 RPM records. Around 1950, jukebox makers started incorporating 45-RPM records more and more until eventually it became the standard. Indeed, the jukebox was largely responsible for the 45 becoming the primary way of hearing a single, whether via jukeboxes or on the radio, until the advent of compact discs in the late '70s and early '80s.

The jukebox was colour blind in a segregated world. Black patrons thought the early rock and roll stars were Negroes - while white patrons were exposed to, and accepted, black artists, having never seen the performer in person.

During World War II, from 1942 till early 1946, jukebox production was halted by the US government to conserve labour and materials for war efforts. Wurlitzer's 1946 model 1015 was the most popular of the era with more than 56,000 units shipped under the slogan "Wurlitzer Is Jukebox."

The '50s and '60s were the golden age of the jukebox: every café, bar, and diner had one. Every film appeared to stage a scene where the bad guy would turn up at the diner to steal the good guy’s girl - but first he would visit the jukebox, insert the coin, and pick the appropriate tune to set the mood.

Jukeboxes once received the newest songs first. They played music on demand without commercials. They offered a means to control the music listened to beyond what was available through the technology of their heyday.

And now in this modern age we have the digital jukebox. Like a glorified iPod, you can buy these jukeboxes in all the retro styles, but where are the 45s? They play music by downloading music from the Internet! I want to see the record come out of its slot, see the bright red label, stare at the arm plonking down onto the grooves - and hear…

“You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the ...”


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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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