Jukeboxes were social media, one quarter at a time

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I saw something the other day 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 out in the country, about 30 miles south of Nashville, and we stopped for lunch at this mom-and-pop place by the highway. I knew there was a real jukebox in the room as soon as I walked in and heard Alan Jackson singing “Little Bitty.” I knew because the sound was grungy and a little bleary, like the band had been out partying too late the night before.

Old jukeboxes sound that way because of bad speakers and because of the records themselves. I know guys who swear vinyl sounds better than digital, but I don’t think anyone would defend the 45.

I bought a lot of singles as a kid, and I was a disc jockey back in high school, and I don’t think there was a lot of quality control at the record plant. You’d pull a 45 out of the shuck and it might be warped, or the hole in the middle might be a little off-center, so even new records sounded wobbly.

On top of that, a vinyl record dies a little every time you play it. When the needle rides along the groove, it wears the music away. The music starts to fade. The sound isn’t as crisp. The highs and lows give 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 the kids to see how it worked, how pressing A-6 makes the mechanical arm slide down a rail until it finds the record you want then grabs it and holds it upright against the turntable. My kids, who’ve grown up with iPods and Pandora, couldn’t have cared less.

We were the only ones there besides the owner, so I played whatever I wanted – the jukebox was stocked mostly with country records, so I played some Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson — and I flashed back to high school and the peer pressure that goes along with playing a jukebox.

When you play a song on a jukebox, you’re telling everyone within earshot who you are.

Every song is a statement, and there is nothing worse than pressing the wrong buttons and playing Barry Manilow instead of the Boss.

Pandora and Spotify share your playlists with your friends online. Jukeboxes did that in real life, one quarter at a time.

Photo by Anonymous Account (Flickr)

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Before there was Spotify, there were jukeboxes

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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.

Photo by Anonymous Account (Flickr)

Little Jimmy Dickens is beloved

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Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night, I was grilling hamburgers and listening to Little Jimmy Dickens on the “Grand Ole Opry,” and I thought, this is a good Saturday night.

There’s just something deeply satisfying about hearing Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio and knowing he’s there at the Opry, knowing that Little Jimmy Dickens has always been on the Opry and probably always will be.

If you recognize his name, chances are it’s because of his only No. 1 song, “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” but while he may be most famous for a nearly 50-year-old novelty song, here in Nashville, Little Jimmy Dickens is beloved.

Little Jimmy Dickens is 4-foot-11 and 90 years old. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983, and he’s been a member of the Opry since ’48. Hank Williams nicknamed him Tater. The name suits him.

If you don’t know a lot about the Opry, it’s the country’s longest-running live radio show. It’s on every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night, and Little Jimmy Dickens is usually there. I’ve heard he loves the show so much that he’s usually the first performer to arrive at the Opry House. He just likes hanging out there.

Little Jimmy Dickens’ voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but no one listening seems to mind. On nights he doesn’t sing, he talks and tells jokes. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor.

“I’d like to play a song from my latest album,” he’ll say. “It came out in 1963.”

One night we went to Opry, the auditorium was about half empty. He said. “There aren’t a lot of people here tonight, but that’s OK. We’ve played to smaller crowds.

“One time, we drove all night, and when we got there, there was one person in the audience. I said, ‘Sir, we drove all night to get here, and we’re gonna do our show just for you.’ He said, ‘Well, hurry up. I’m the janitor, and I can’t go home until you’re done.’”

He tells the same jokes over and over. People who don’t listen to the Opry a lot don’t notice. The rest of us, I think, find it comforting.

Here are 2 videos of Little Jimmy Dickens. In the first, he pulls a Kanye West on Brad Paisley at the Country Music Association awards a couple years ago:

And here’s a clip of Little Jimmy Dickens on the Opry a few years ago. The song is called, “(You’ve Been Quite a Doll) Raggedy Ann.” It peaked at No. 75 on Billboard’s country chart in 1970. They don’t make country records like “Raggedy Ann” anymore. These days, country songs are about partying in the woods. This one is about grieving. These days, country songs are ironic. In this one, Little Jimmy Dickens means every word.