There’s a programme on the local radio station called ‘Jukebox Saturday’, or something like that. It’s not really a jukebox programme, that would mean the listeners choosing the music; instead, it seems just another request show. With current technology, a jukebox programme would be feasible – you could just text in the number of the record you wanted from an online menu and 20 cent or 50 cent, or whatever, would be charged to your bill – though that wouldn’t be a real jukebox and might mean one or two records being played for the entire programme (which is what the Chart Show sounds like anyway).
The old jukeboxes were masterpieces of engineering; the selector arm picking up the requested 7 inch single and placing it on the turntable and for two or three minutes the sound you wanted filling the bar or the café where you sat. It’s hard now to remember when I last saw a jukebox, possibly Becket’s pub in Glastonbury in 1979, or maybe some student place soon afterwards.
Jukeboxes had a mystique about them. There was one in a café called The Malibu in the Devon seaside village of Westward Ho! where we went for our holidays in the early 70s. It had records by The Osmonds and David Cassidy which were liked by girls; a good reason to take careful note of them. Choosing the right record was important; you didn’t want to be the butt of jokes, so if a selection attracted unfavourable comment, you pretended it must have been chosen by someone else.
Perhaps jukeboxes started disappearing thirty years ago as 7 inch vinyl began to disappear, or perhaps it was just that I stopped going to the sort of place where you might find a jukebox. Moving to Northern Ireland in 1983, I have no memory of being anywhere that the sound of a jukebox could be heard; though living among Northern Protestants who frowned on pop music, it is possible that there were places down the street that were hopping with life and that we just didn’t go near them.
Jukeboxes reappeared with Eddie Rocket’s Diners in Dublin. Being able to put 20 Cent coins in a slot and push mechanical buttons to choose songs brings memories of pressing in the numbers to get ‘Sultans of Swing’ to play in Glastonbury. The trouble with Eddie Rocket’s is that the volume is so low that the music is barely audible over conversations.
The best in recent times was in an apres-ski bar in Austria; a computerised version with a touch screen menu allowing the playing of Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’ followed by the Hermes House Band’s version of ‘Country Roads’. That was the thing about jukeboxes, they were eclectic.
There was something about the jukebox that cannot be recaptured; it brought people together, created community. In a society atomised by the curse of the individualistic iPod, the old jukebox represents a lost idyll.