The pain of heartbreak never felt so convincing as when heard through the speakers of a jukebox. The same is true for the joy of love. A jukebox always understands. The machine doesn’t judge, it doesn’t discriminate and is bound only by the curiosity of the operator. A true pop-culture phenomenon, the jukebox has evolved from saloon novelty to barroom necessity.
In late 1877, Thomas Edison filed for a patent for his latest innovation, the phonograph. This was a device that was intended to record and play back human voice and could be extremely beneficial to modern society, including preserving languages. In 1889, an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph (housed within an oak cabinet) was placed in the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco.
However, the original machine had been refitted with a coin mechanism, thus requiring the patron to pay to hear a recording. This was the precursor to the modern-day jukebox. The renovated device was the brainchild of a former Western Union telegraph operator named Louis Glass. Glass referred to his new venture as the “nickel-in-the-slot” phonograph. It was an instant hit.
Due to the success of Glass’ creation, rival inventors were soon working to improve the design, including Edison. By the 1930s, according to Popular Mechanic, “the ‘coin-operated phonograph’ took on the much catchier name ‘jukebox’. Which likely comes from an African slang word meaning ‘to dance’ or ‘acting disorderly’”. In 1949, 45 RPM records were introduced. The advance sent the popularity of jukeboxes soaring. Tech writer Matt Blitz states, “At its height in the 1950s, there were an estimated 750,000 jukeboxes in the United States”.
Companies like RCA Victor, Wurlitzer, and Rock-Ola would go on to develop and manufacture more efficient versions of the device through the years. The medium has gone from glass tubes, to records, to CDs, to digital. The technology of the jukebox has changed but the concept of pay for play music remains sound. A concept that changed the way music would be heard forever. In an effort to pay tribute to the American institution that is the jukebox, here are six select cuts with “Jukebox” in the title.
“Juke Box Baby” – Perry Como
This 1956 hit was written by brothers Joe and Noel Sherman. Legendary crooner Perry Como lends a smooth and rollicking lead vocal while The Ray Charles Singers provide backup. Unlike many of the songs on the list, “Juke Box Baby” was popular at the height of jukebox popularity. Not only did the song crack the top 25 in the U.K., it reached #10 on the U.S. Pop charts. It was also featured in the film Uncle Buck, one of the finest comedies of the 1980s.
“Jukebox Hero” – Foreigner
This one encapsulates arena rock at its very best. From Foreigner’s 1981 album 4, the song tells the typical rock star coming of age story. Written by members Lou Gramm and Mick Jones, the tune reached #3 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album hit the #1 spot on the Billboard album chart – for 10 weeks. Foreigner is a dreadfully underrated band with an unbelievable songbook, of which “Jukebox Hero” continues to be a highlight at live shows to this day.
“Brother Jukebox” – Mark Chesnutt
A classic country tale of despair via a broken heart, this tune was penned by songsmith Paul Craft and released by Don Everly in 1977. It was subsequently covered by Keith Whitley in 1989. However, the definitive version of the song was released by country star Mark Chesnutt in 1990. Whereas Everly’s cut was not a hit and Whitley’s was not released as a single, Chesnutt’s version topped Billboard’s US Hot Country Songs. This would be Chesnutt’s first of many appearances atop the charts.
“Don’t Rock the Jukebox” – Alan Jackson
Jackson co-wrote this 1991 staple with Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall. It appeared on the country music icon’s second studio album of the same name which was eventually certified 4× Platinum. The song itself made it to the top spot on the Hot Country Songs charts, one of four consecutive #1 singles for Jackson. A beautiful study in double entendre, it features a protagonist that just wants to wallow in his own brokenhearted misery. He needs to hear some Jones because his heart ain’t ready for the Rolling Stones. Look for George Jones making a cameo in the music video.
“Bubba Shot the Jukebox” – Mark Chesnutt
Mark Chesnutt continues his love affair with the jukebox with this 1992 classic. The song was written by the renowned Dennis Linde, who also wrote “Burning Love” for Elvis Presley in 1972. “Bubba Shot the Jukebox” peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. The impact of the device was never better illustrated. Bubba shot the jukebox last night because it played a sad song and made him cry…a case of justifiable homicide.
“Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox” – Joe Diffie
This song was born to be played on country radio. It was written by Kerry Kurt Phillips, Howard Perdew and Rick Blaylock and was released on country artist Joe Diffie’s second album, “Honky Tonk Attitude”. The tune peaked at #3 on the 1993 US Hot Country Songs chart. Diffie wonderfully encompasses the quintessential sentiment of a guy declaring his last wishes. And in true country music fashion, all he wants is one last night partying with his friends.
Also Check Out:
- “Two Dollars in the Jukebox” – Eddie Rabbitt (1976)
- “Juke Box Music” – The Kinks (1977)
- “Jukebox in my Mind” – Alabama (1990)
- “Jukebox With a Country Song” – Doug Stone (1991)