I saw something a while that I hadn’t seen in years: a jukebox. I don’t mean one that plays CDs. I mean a real, honest-to-God jukebox that plays 45 rpm records.
We were a ways outside Nashville, and we’d stopped for lunch, and I knew there was a real jukebox as soon as I walked in and heard Alan Jackson singing “Little Bitty.” I knew it, because the song sounded grungy and a little wobbly, like maybe the band had been out partying too late the night before and hadn’t quite sobered up.
Old jukeboxes sound that way because of bad speakers and because of the records themselves. I know guys who wear that vinyl sounds better than CDs or MP3s, but I don’t think anyone would defend the 45.
When I was 14, I got a job as a disc jockey (it was a small town, and there was only one station), and I don’t think there was a lot of quality control when it came to 45s. You’d pull a 45 out of the shuck and it might be a little warped, or the hole in the middle might be a little off-center, so even new records sometimes sounded bad.
On top of that, a record dies a little every time you play it. When the needle rides along the groove, it erases a little of the music. The sounds start to fade, the highs and lows giving way to a murky middle.
That’s the sound I heard when we walked in the restaurant.
“Look at this!” I said.
The jukebox had a window, and I wanted Things 1 and 2 to see how it worked, how pressing A-6 makes the mechanical arm slide down a rail until it finds the record you want and grab it and hold it upright against the turntable, but they couldn’t have cared less.
We were the only ones there besides the owner, so I played whatever I wanted – some Brooks & Dunn, some Alan Jackson – and I suddenly remembered the peer pressure that goes along with playing a jukebox.
When I check Facebook, I see what my friends are into on Spotify. I know, for example, that my friend, Andrew, has a previously undocumented weakness for Daryl Hall & John Oates.
Well, when you play a song on a jukebox, you’re telling everyone within earshot, friends and strangers alike, who you are.
Every song you play on jukebox is a statement, and there is absolutely nothing as embarrassing as pressing the wrong buttons and playing Barry Manilow instead of the Boss (which I did once, back in high school, when a buddy and I were at Pizza Hut).
You hear a lot today about social media, of sharing your likes and dislikes with your friends online. Jukeboxes let you do that, too, one quarter at a time.