The jukebox: missing a musical relic
I miss the old-fashioned jukebox.
There used to be something special, something intriguing, about these seemingly magical music machines. A jukebox once was a common feature in snack bars, pizza houses, restaurants, and bars, a gleaming monstrosity of light and glass that played our favorite hit songs.
Of course by the time I came along to appreciate jukeboxes, they had become a bit more streamlined and were a lot less ornate and colorful than the ones decades prior. No matter. The ability to choose a song or two for one’s dime (later a quarter) was priceless.
I dropped a number of quarters into these machines, and pressed a number of letters and numbers which corresponded to songs by Grand Funk Railroad, the Hollies, and Elton John. The sheer pleasure of being able to choose the song one wanted to hear, then and there, provided such joyful satisfaction. It was fun to “play” your choices publicly.
It was one thing to ask a girl to dance during an after-the-ballgame sock-hop, but quite another to personally select the song — via a jukebox — that one hoped would woo a would-be dancer. The Carpenters’ “Close to You” was popular, along with James Taylor ballads. But “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton was the ultimate slow dance song.
In the early 1970s, our school’s marching band endured the harsh, humid, heat of southern Indiana summers at Treble Acres Band Camp. It was a spot out in the country with concrete block barracks, a better concrete-block mess hall, and a football field that seemed larger than the one we played on in town. But after the sun went down, students gathered at “the Patio,” a concrete slab decorated with camp lights and a few wooden park benches, and a jukebox that was rolled out each evening for our enjoyment.
Except for a few new hits, our band camp jukebox wasn’t up-to-date. In the summer of 1973 we were still listening to Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” and “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, and a number of excellent early selections by Three Dog Night. It was here, too, where I sang with fellow students the lyrics to Don McClean’s “American Pie” and enjoyed Rod Stewart’s classic, “Maggie May.”
I enjoyed playing the jukebox (three plays for a quarter) and talking to the car hops at Randy’s Drive-In. Sometimes, if the place was crowded with teen-agers on a Friday night, the jukebox would play all night. It didn’t matter that we heard “Black Water” by the Doobie Brothers a dozen times. This was our music.
During my pinball playing phase in 1975, we tried to keep the jukebox going at Max’s Snack Bar, where “Heartbreaker” by the Rolling Stones was a favorite. Hits that summer included “Sister Golden Hair,” by America, “Listen to What the Man Said,” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and “One of These Nights” by the Eagles. We pinball-crazed teens loved it when we finally got (per our request) The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” on that jukebox.
The jukebox at the Vincennes University Campus Club, a student snack bar and hangout once located in the basement of the former Beckes Student Union (now Governor’s Hall), was up-to-date and always blasting out the hits of the late 1970s. Disco-era tunes were popular of course, especially those Bee Gees tunes from the “Saturday Night Fever” album. I remember playing several tunes from the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” album.
Musicians have included references to jukeboxes throughout the long history of these fabled machines, some even aspiring to be “jukebox heroes.” Perry Como sang about his “jukebox baby,” and Olivia Newton John begged us not to play “B-17.” Alan Jackson asked us to “not rock the jukebox,” and Joan Jett asked us to “put another dime in the jukebox, baby.”
Jukeboxes still exist in our digital age, but they are not as prevalent as they once were. Folks today are plugged into their Androids and I-phones, getting their individual choices of musical selections, and keeping it to themselves.
Like the drive-in theater, the pinball machine, and a number of other unique vestiges of 20th century Americana, the jukebox has fallen out of favor, its popularity fading with the changing times. Like the transistor radio, it seems its time in the spotlight is gone.
By Bernie Schmitt