Monday, June 3, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Jukebox Situation

I am a big fan of jukeboxes.  Now, when I say “jukebox”, I want to be clear.  I mean a large machine with 45 rpm records in it which have been gathered thoughtfully to provide a clear-cut personality to a bar.  A good jukebox immediately raises my estimation of a place, even begrudgingly if it is a CD jukebox, which is a bit of a cop out.  If you look at a CD jukebox and see “Hank Williams Jr. Greatest Hits”, “The Eagles Greatest Hits” and Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”, it is a good time to slug down your beer and get the hell out of there.  You are seconds away from being bludgeoned with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” or “Witchy Woman”.  That’s no way to live.

The CD jukebox is a hedge.  On the one hand, it is a good way to provide the same basic idea of the “true” 45 rpm jukebox with a curated selection of releases.  However, to just collect a bunch of popular classic rock band’s Greatest Hits records is not adding to the ambiance.  If Jimi Hendrix’s Greatest Hits is on the jukebox, you might as well have placed “Purple Haze” and “Wind Cries Mary” 45s on there.  If the disc of “Electric Ladyland” is on the jukebox, well then, you have my attention.  However, that is a small eyebrow raise compared to the absolute joy of finding a jukebox with Ralph Nielson and the Chancellors “Scream” nestled in next to the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl”. 

The absolute lowest is the wall mounted digital jukebox.  This represents true laziness on the part of the tavern keeper.  They are shouting to the customer base “We don’t know what’s good.  We have no taste in music.  Play whatever YOU like.”.  Now this might seem like a democratic solution where each day a myriad of songs ushers forth, but in my experience, it means Contemporary Country and Nickleback sound alike bands with the very real possibility of a terrible rap song by Someone I’ve Never Heard Of Featuring Someone Else I’ve Never Heard Of.  This is inviting the lowest common denominator to control the basic human sense of hearing.  Would you ever allow the customers to control any of the other human senses?  It is akin to allowing a customer to walk in with a flame thrower of cologne or allowing them to install strobe lights.  I think it is reckless on the part of the saloon owner.

This was my mind set when I noticed in the suburban brew pub Saturday night three girls activate the wall mounted jukebox and play three near toxic country songs in a row.  The bar was busy.  It was 930pm, their peak time.  It was then my friend George and I challenged each other to try and clear the room by doing nothing but selecting songs from the near limitless options of the digital jukebox.  George walked over with a few dollars.  He clearly had a plan as he was not gone long.  By the time he sat back down on his stool, the sounds of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” blasted across the room’s sound system.  “Ja-ja-ja-jitterbug!”  He followed with an absolutely brutal selection of “Ghostbusters Theme” that almost brought me to tears.  I walked over to put in my three songs when Starship’s “We Built This City” came on.  My fear was the patrons would think I was the one that had made the choice, but I put my heard down and got to work.

There are a few ways to go about clearing a room.  This was a somewhat varied crowd, but decidedly suburban.  Someone without nuance might decide to bludgeon them with Slayer or the Butthole Surfers, or at least make a cursory check to see if the digital system had any of the Norwegian death metal band Enslaved.  I think that’s a cheap way out.  The key is to be subtle, selecting songs that, in theory, someone in the room could have been excited about sharing.  Something that is annoying but not shocking, like someone humming nearby.  I went for a couple of my go-to songs, Herb Alpert’s “Spanish Flea” followed by “Monster Mash”.  By the time “Miami Vice Theme” was playing, the room was down to one third of the crowd that had been there only 20 minutes before.  George countered with “It’s Raining Men”.  When I hit “The Eye Of The Tiger”, the room had eight people left.  As we walked out, my final selection of The Chipmunks “Jingle Bells” left no doubt as to our intention.  Mission accomplished.  The bar was like a ghost town at 10:10 pm.

Many would suggest that we were selfish to destroy one of the four most profitable days of the month for this small brewpub.  I would say that nothing could be further from the truth.  They needed this lesson.  I feel like we would have been doing them a disservice by not taking over in this manner, like if we had not pointed out a fire hazard or ignored an overflowing toilet.  It’s like they put a gas can on the wall with a mounted box of matches and assumed a fire would not break out.  I feel as if we owed it to them.

My hope is that the next time I walk in there I will see a giant jukebox filled with carefully selected records.  I am not optimistic though.  I will walk in with a wallet filled with singles.  In my mind I will be thinking “Don’t make me walk over there and play Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, Phil Collins “Sussudio” and the Beach Boys “Kokomo”, because I will.  I will clear this room dammit, and I will do it again and again and again.  Take down the wall mounted jukebox!         


At June 4, 2019 at 6:47:00 AM EDT , Blogger Ken in sunny Florida said...

The best is using the TouchTunes phone app and anonymously ruining someone's night

At June 6, 2019 at 12:12:00 AM EDT , Blogger AZ said...

The Comet had a solid Jukebox and I am surprised that all of your selections had succeeded as some of that junk has appeal. My favorite was when I was at the Moose in Norwood with a buddy and a biker guy went to the jukebox to play clearly what we knew he wood. The good thing about these is my buddy took out his phone and entered Tom Jones "She's A Lady" a dozen times. Pretty sure that dude never returned to the Moose.


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