Thursday, February 23, 2006

My jukebox adventure

It took a herculean effort by family and friends. Getting the old machine up the wide back steps to the kitchen was relatively easy. Then it was up four more steps, make a 90 degree turn and up the rest of the way to the second floor. Considering the tight quarters and the weight of the mechanical contrivance, the last part was supremely difficult.

When it was over, however, there was a shiny Seeburg jukebox in my postage stamp sized bedroom. In the meantime, we had given a new definition to the term "heavy music."

The 45rpm record playing machine had a distinctive domed top so you could watch your platters spin. The title strips, listing the songs, were located at an angle on the front and the columned bottom concealed the giant bass speaker responsible for the Seeburg's large sound.

As I recall, the machine cost $60, quite a magnificent sum for the time. Jukeboxes were never cheap and were usually installed in bars or restaurants and not meant for home use. The machines weren't usually sold unless the owner was replacing it with a newer model and often businesses were only leasing the machines, anyway.

On my machine, the coin mechanism was rigged so you didn't even need money to play it. What could be more perfect? Certainly, the Seeburg was more impressive than the cookie-cutter plastic portable"stereos" of the time.

With the machine safely in my bedroom, the next step was loading it with the best singles to create the perfect jukebox. Double sided hits were ideal so you didn't waste any space on obscure flip sides which would rarely get played.

Current hits received almost unanimous consideration because there was no concept such as "oldies" at the time. To this end, several hits by Creedence Clearwater Revival fit the bill. "Proud Mary" was paired with "Born on the Bayou," "Bad Moon Rising" was backed by "Lodi" and "Green River" was opposite "Commotion."

Beatles tunes were easy to add, as well. At 7:11, "Hey, Jude" was the longest rock single to that point and besides it was backed by "Revolution," featuring Paul McCartney's throat-shredding scream. Certainly, "Come Together"/"Something" and "Get Back"/ "Don't Let Me Down" were obvious adds too.

Any self-respecting jukebox needed hits by the Rolling Stones, Who, Doors and Rascals. So, your selections included "Honky Tonk Women," "The Seeker," "Hello, I Love You" and "People Got to Be Free." Don't be surprised to find Simon and Garfunkel, Tommy James, Zombies, Bob Seger, Three Dog Night, Grassroots, Hollies, Badfinger and some Motown hits, as well.

Unlike the radio or LPs, the jukebox could deliver hit after hit. You didn't have to worry about the mood being interrupted by the news or some throw-away track on a record album.

Besides, jukeboxes were not constructed for subtlety. They pounded out the bass so you could feel it, just like the monster car stereos of today: boom, Boom, BOOM. When the jukebox was playing you could tap your foot, or dance, but you couldn't sit still.

My Seeburg was made by one of four jukebox manufacturers. The others were Rockola, AMI-Rowe and Wurlitzer. The Wurlitzer family, which also sold the large organs in silent movie theaters, perfected an elaborately colored jukebox, known as the "bubbler." By 1937, Wurlitzer had sold more than 100,000 of the machines which held two-dozen 78 rpm records, playable on one side only.

Ten years later, the Seeburg Co. brought to market aluminum-edged jukeboxes which could accommodate 50 of the then newly introduced 45 rpm records.

After a few years of heavy use, (and probably to my parents' relief) the old Seeburg finally gave out. My mute friend had to be taken from the bedroom, lowered back down the steps and out of the house.

An era had passed. I miss both that time and my Seeburg.

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