Who played this song, again? Do you know why they call it a jukebox? Have a seat on your favorite bar stool and I’ll reel off what I know.
- Juke Joint
Originally referred to as music boxes, jukeboxes are basically coin-operated, partially automated music-playing devices. Variations of them have been around since the late 1800’s, but it wasn’t until the 1930’s when they really started to gain popularity. After the great depression, people were looking for cheap forms of entertainment, while record companies were looking for ways to sell more records, and music boxes fit the mold for both demands. Dive bars or hole in the wall restaurants were among the first use them as affordable entertainment. The reputation of these “low-class” places played a defining role in how the music box got the name, jukebox.
The word jukebox can be broken down into two different parts. The first part is juke, which was another word for disorderly or rowdy, and would often be used to describe a location such as a bar or a restaurant. These places were sometimes referred to as juke joints. Second, we have the box. Seems pretty self-explanatory, but just to be clear, early jukeboxes looked like large, well, boxes. So with the reputation of their locations, the music box became known as the jukebox across this nation.
- Happy Days
The freshly named jukebox enjoyed a boom in popularity from the 1940’s until about the mid-60’s. Record companies were sending three-quarters of all the records they produced into jukeboxes during a portion of this era. They received the latest releases of new albums and became an influencing factor in music being produced. Jukeboxes kept a tally of songs played, making them direct indicators of what songs were popular among listeners. Some people associate the jukebox with helping launch early rock and roll into the American music culture, but jukeboxes also played a variety of genres as well, such as classical, jazz, swing, and more.
The popularity of selecting the music you hear with just some loose change and your fingertips grew beyond the juke joints and into other places as well. Military barracks, video arcades, laundry mats, and more were among places to began featuring jukeboxes. Musicians started mentioning them in songs, albums were named after them, they were even featured on TV shows and movies. The jukebox became so influential and engrained in American culture we still boast about them over half a century after their heyday.
As music technology became more advanced, so did the way people listened to music. Portable radios were invented, followed by portable cassette decks, sending the need for listeners to find a jukebox to hear their favorite music on a steady decline. Over time most manufacturers stopped producing them, and slowly as they were used less and less, places started removing them to regain the floor space they took up. Thankfully, however, some jukeboxes were saved from the junkyard and found homes with collectors, museums, or just put away in storage. Today, some of the rarest models are worth over $100k.
Thankfully, the jukebox didn’t just fade away like a forgotten fad. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, some jukebox manufacturers tried to resuscitate the drowning industry with new models featuring compact disk, helping keep the industry alive. Nowadays, to our enjoyment, they are still hanging around. Today’s jukeboxes are smaller and smarter, with more user-friendly features and nearly unlimited musical selections. They stream their music from the internet and even have apps that can be downloaded to users smartphones, allowing them to select their favorite songs without getting off their barstool or seat. More fitting still is that most jukeboxes today, once again, are mostly featured at places that could be considered a dive bar, a hole in the wall restaurant, or should we say, juke joints.
If that guy plays Journey one more time, I’m closing my tab. Thanks for listening. I’ll save you a spot at the bar and see you next week.