In our era, the Walkman has made music a private affair. But when recorded sound was young, the jukebox made one person’s taste a group experience. Anybody with a warm coin and a yen for a particular tune could set the tone for a night on the town.
Seeing a business opportunity in the new technology, Louis Glass modified an early Edison recording machine by adding a coin slot. On Nov. 23, 1889, he installed his money-munching music box in the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco, and soon people were lining up to pay a penny to listen to John Philip Sousa’s Marine Band or the ”artistic whistling” of John Y. AtLee.
The first jukebox as we know it-a visible record-changing mechanism with a selection of 10-inch discs instead of wax-and-cardboard cylinders-was the Gabel Automatic Entertainer of 1906. During the Prohibition era (1919-33), jukeboxes proliferated as a source of cheap speakeasy entertainment. In the 1940s, the jukebox entered its golden age, with Wurlitzer, Seeburg, and Rock- ola (named for company founder David Rockola, not rock & roll) competing furiously to build the best and flashiest nickel-catching song machines. For many, the classic jukebox will always be the curvaceous Wurlitzer 1015, which made its debut in 1946.
By 1951, Seeburg had made the 24-song 1015 obsolete with its advanced Model A, which, because it was stocked with the smaller 45s rather than 78 rpm records, could offer 100 selections to crazy cats itching to hop and bop. Today’s jukeboxes play CDs and offer as many as 1,000 titles, usually for 25 cents each. But the all-time top-five jukebox singles recall the heyday of pay and play:
1. ”Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel” Elvis Presley, 1956.
2. ”Crazy,” Patsy Cline, 1961.
3. ”Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley & the Comets, 1955.
4. ”(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding, 1968.
5. ”I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968.