The Juke Box

Juke Box Favourites #2: Embassy EP

Most juke boxes didn’t look like the one in the picture, at least not until they became a retro item in the eighties. People leaning against the juke box, let alone fondling each other against a jukebox caused records to jump. Look at the guy in the brown jacket and the sly expression on his face. His right arm is sliding over the girl’s shoulder, edging towards the first swelling of breast. His left hand is moving in towards her waistline. In a minute she’ll shriek, and the record will jump and sixpence will have been wasted. DO NOT LEAN ON THE JUKE BOX.

Seeburg Wall-O-Matic. I suspect this is an American coin model

By the sixties Juke boxes in coffee bars usually had a small control panel for each table or booth connected to a remote juke box. That’s what it was like in the Wimpy Bar just along the road from my youth club with red formica tables and a rather plainer control box than the one above. In these there were several panels (six records listed on each) which you flicked over with a lever on top to find your selections.

In areas such as university or college common rooms, a control panel often gave access to the juke box behind the scenes. Control panels took away one of the joys … watching the carousel spin before the mechanical arm selected the record, lifted it out jerkily and placed it on the turntable.

The rate was unchanged throughout the 1960s. It cost 6d (2.5p) per play, but every juke box I ever saw allowed three plays for 1/- (5p). At 6/8d for a single, it meant about 13 plays to pay for the record. Because the mechanisms and coin slots were fixed, juke box operators couldn’t compensate for the 20% to 25% price hike for singles in 1967/68, which contributed to the decline in popularity of the juke box.

The three plays for a shilling needed handling with care. If you wanted to play a record, then its B-side, you couldn’t hear them in direct sequence. If (say) Ticket to Ride was A7, and the (better) B-side Rain was A8, pressing A7 then A8 would screw up the mechanism. So you’d have to play another record in between, perhaps B5, Here Comes the Night by Them. Several pictures online show 6 PLAYS but I believe those are American models. Mostly in the UK, anyone who put on six selections would be thought to be hogging the listening experience.

It was mildly nerve wracking putting in your shilling and making your choice, because you had no idea how long the queue of pre-selected titles was. If it was too long, you might have finished your drink before your selection appeared or you had to dash off to catch a bus. 

Juke Boxes manifested a public choice of music that everyone else in the coffee bar, pub or other space would be forced to listen to. This in turn led to problematic situations where a group of other patrons might take serious and vocal issue with your choice. Playing San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) in an Irish pub in Kilburn where the juke box was dominated by Jim Reeves would be an error of this nature. An attempt to chat up a girl could be wrecked by choosing to put Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy) or (later) Remember You’re A Womble on the juke box. Unless you were Gary Glitter, perhaps.

So the juke box could cause trouble. The worst example I saw was in the Hayloft coffee bar in Bournemouth. Keith Moon, then only mildly famous, was there with his future wife and his minder. A youth put a Who record on the juke box. I Can’t Explain or Substitute. It was that era. Mr Moon objected vociferously and warned him not to repeat the offence. A few minutes later the same youth put the other Who single on the juke box, and then had his arms held behind his back by the minder while Keith Moon slapped him around viciously. Diamond Geezer? Moon the Loon? Yeah, right.

It worked the other way too. Sometime late in 1970, I was at the M1 services. Watford Gap sounds good, but it was just as likely to have been Leicester Forest East. Three a.m. Ten dusty dark blue Ford Transits in the car park. I put The Weight on the juke box as was my habit. Kenny Lynch was queueing for his coffee with his driver, and yelled ‘Who put that on?’ I sheepishly raised my hand, and he joined in the chorus, then came and joined us, chatting knowledgeably about The Band. Reputed to be a Diamond Geezer too. Accurate in his case.