January 24, 2024

When was the Last Time you Dropped a Coin into the Slot? Featured

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No, this isn’t a story about gambling. This is about a very important part of music history.

You might have to be of a certain age to even know what a Jukebox is. They are hard to find in public places these days, but once they were vital to popular music.

There are numerous songs about Jukeboxes. Some in the title like “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner, “Hey Mister, that’s Me on the Jukebox” by James Taylor, “Jukebox Music” by The Kinks, and even more recent ones like “Devils in the Jukebox” by Ray Lamontagne. There are many others like “School Days” by Chuck Berry where he sings about kids going to the Juke joint after school or The B-52’s “Love Shack” which was also a Juke joint.

What is a Jukebox? It is a machine that plays music. To hear the music, you had to drop a coin into a slot that would activate the machine.

These machines were invented and used way back over 100 years ago, but they were not called Jukeboxes until 1937. The name is thought to have evolved from the word “Jook” which was slang for wild dancing.

They became popular in places like clubs and bars where people danced. The owners of these clubs loved Jukeboxes because it saved them from having to hire a live band and they got additional revenue from the money spent by patrons on the machines.

While they were popular, it wasn’t until the big depression hit in the 1930’s that their popularity grew in leaps and bounds. During this economic disaster money was tight and the sales of records drastically went down. Many record companies went out of business. Inexpensive places where you could hear music of your own choosing or that couldn’t be heard anywhere else changed the music industry.

No longer did you have to hear whatever was played on the radio or go to a concert to hear music. This led to an explosion of Jukebox sales. They were soon everywhere.

This, in turn, led to a rebound in the sales of records. Owners of Jukeboxes had to buy them to stock their machines. Record companies also benefited from people hearing a record in a Jukebox that they wanted to own.

Then World War II hit. The production of Jukeboxes was halted so all resources could be directed to the war effort. In the long term, this led to Jukeboxes becoming more popular than ever. Especially after the war, people who just wanted to forget about the war, were flocking to the Juke joints.

Soon, Billboard Magazine started using sales and plays on the Jukebox as a major ingredient for measuring popularity on their music charts. The biggest benefactors were the record companies who were releasing and promoting their new music that became known as Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Teen clubs were catering to the teens who now had a little money to spend sprung up everywhere. The teens were playing and buying this new genre of music in large numbers. It began to influence radio stations that were looking for something to replace the dramas, variety and comedy shows that used to be broadcast on radio but now have moved on to television. Thus began the golden age of Jukeboxes.

Soon the Jukeboxes were made in a more inviting way. They were bigger with chrome, brightly colored grills and even with tubes with bubbles in them. More records could be played when the 45 RPM records replaced the larger, bulky 78 RPM records.

A company called Wurlitzer became the most popular at first. The history of the company can be traced back to the 17th century for making instruments and other music items. They dominated the industry until Seeburg, another music company who had been around since 1907, started making Jukeboxes. Their Jukeboxes could play more records and were even flashier.

These companies were able to make a go of it for a few decades, but eventually it came to an end. These days you are hard pressed to find one in any bar or diner. Now many of these machines are just expensive collectors’ items.
The Jukebox remains a very important part of the history of music-especially Rock music. So, when was the time you dropped a coin into the slot?

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