The Jukebox

The term jukebox came into use in the United States beginning in 1940, apparently derived from the word “juke joint”, meaning disorderly, rowdy, or wicked.

A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that plays your selection of a song. The classic jukebox has buttons with letters and numbers. When entered in combination, these buttons trigger a mechanism to fetch, lift and play a specific song. The technology of coin driven song selection is sophisticated. Leading makers of Jukeboxes were Wurlitzer, AMI, Rockola and Seeburg. Amongst these the famous organ maker Wurlitzer was the leader and model 1015 was by far the most popularly used Jukebox.

Initially, the 78 rpm records dominated the jukeboxes. The Seeburg Corporation introduced an all 45-rpm vinyl record jukebox in 1950. The 33⅓ rpms then took over. In the last decade CDs and videos on DVDs stormed in with MP3/MP4 downloads and Internet-connected media players.

Today digital versions are spinning around and have made the old Jukebox obsolete. iTunes software from Apple provided a personalized digital Jukebox that was revolutionary. You could build a playlist of your favorite songs on iTunes and shuffle the songs if you like to be in surprise. The iTunes store became a global jukebox holding a stock of 40 million songs! You could connect iTunes based device to an amp with speakers and entertain the audience.

Several digital jukeboxes are now available in the market. One of them is BCJukebox in Mumbai that was introduced by four IIT Bombay alumni. BCJukebox is a digital jukebox that plays music by your choice and the mood eliminating the need for a Disk Jockey (DJ). BCJukebox has more than 1000 installations in India. But the charm of playing a classical Jukebox with a coin and vinyl disks is different and this experience just cannot be compared.  I love the old Jukebox.

Many jukebox restaurants have now withered away in Mumbai. I still remember playing songs at the Swimming Pool Café at the Dadar Chowpatty, at Hotel Sanman on the Cadel Road and at the Pomposh restaurant in front of the National College in Bandra. We used to sit there after attending the college to relish an oily hamburger (laced with onions) and a chilled glass of London Pilsner.

You can still find old Jukeboxes in Mumbai restaurants and pubs. The Kit Kat Restaurant, Dhobi Talao that was revamped recently has a bar with jukebox that plays both English and Hindi music. Diners usually like to play Classic Rock, but you’ll also hear classic 90s Bollywood songs. The other café to visit is the Café Mondegar in Colaba. Although all genres are available, you’ll hear classics like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Hotel California by the Eagles, Knock Knock Heavens Door by Bob Dylan and Riders On The Storm by The Doors more frequently. On these Jukeboxes, you pay 10 Rs for one song and play 3 songs for 50 Rs.

Jukeboxes essentially gave opportunities for “participatory listening”. When a great song will be played, you would wonder and look around to see who would have probably selected it.

Later, an era came up of “participatory singing and listening” as Karaoke. Karaoke (meaning “empty listening”) is a form of interactive entertainment or video game that was developed in Japan in which an amateur singer sings along with recorded music (a music video) using a microphone. The music is typically an instrumental version of a well-known popular song. Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing color, or music video images, to guide the singer.

A karaoke box is the most popular type of karaoke venue. It is a small or medium-sized room containing karaoke equipment rented by the hour or half-hour, providing a more intimate atmosphere. Karaoke venues of this type are often dedicated businesses, some with multiple floors and a variety of amenities including food service. Unfortunately, Karaoke box got tarnished because of the girly business ending many times with prostitution. But if you are lucky, you could land up with someone with a great voice to sing along with you and has a sense of humor!


A Japanese Karaoke Box

The era of Disk Jockeys (DJs) followed along with the Jukebox.  DJ-ing was all about the concept of mixing music. Modern technology made the job of a DJ more technical. A DJ did not restrict to playing or mixing music but got into cutting his own records or take up training. Today, there are more than 300,000 DJs in India, and the demand will continue to grow for the next 20 years unless robots take over! It will then truly become a “machine music”.

In Mumbai, DJing was introduced at the members-only nightclub, Studio 29. Studio 54 in London was the inspiration. The Sound systems, turntables, lighting equipment and a big disco ball had all been imported from England. The brain behind Studio 29 was Sabira Merchant, who later became a renowned grooming and etiquette expert. At its peak, Studio 29 had 700 paid-up members till Merchant, for want of space, put a stop to new entrants.

Dancing at Studio 29 

Jo Azaredo was Studio 29’s original resident DJ and the man behind the musical success of Studio 29. Jo was trained under Alan Jackson, one of UK’s Best Remixers’. Today Jo runs a training school for DJs.

DJs have now graduated to the EDM or the Electronic Music Dance. The EDM industry is relatively new in India but it has widely spread and has taken over a large percentage of people from the age group (14 – 40). The EDM events are increasing and harmoniously blending to the traditional festivals that the people celebrate. Sunburn festival, EDC India, Vh1 Supersonic are few well reputed EDM festivals that are happening in India. Sunburn is Asia’s largest music festival that is an amalgamation of Music, Entertainment, Food, and Shopping. It was ranked by CNN in 2009 as one of the Top 10 Festivals in the world. So, from that cute and soulful machine called Jukebox, the world of music has transformed and stormed with the advent of digital innovation, technology and a mass appeal for entertainment.

Now let me tell you about Tina and Albert.

I was sitting at the Café New York in Girgaon in Mumbai with Tina. It was nearly 7 pm and we were expecting Tina’s boyfriend Albert to join. Café New York is a very cozy, cheap and cheerful place considering its Chowpatty location. Tina and I went to the first floor where the bar is located and asked for some chilli mushrooms and two glasses of Kingfisher beer.

The ground floor of the Café has the Jukebox that has all the retro music that you would want.

Cafe New York 

I was looking into my wrist watch waiting impatiently for Albert. Tina was sitting cool.

People on the ground floor were playing Bob Marley. And suddenly someone put Elvis Priestley’s Jailhouse Rock. And the mood changed.

Tina smiled. She got up from the chair and started walking downstairs – Dr Modak, Albert has arrived. Let me fetch him up”

How do you know that he has arrived? I asked (later realizing that it was a dumb question)

“Oh, Dr Modak, this is his Signature song – Albert plays this song on the Jukebox to announce his arrival”

She blushed. She looked so pretty.

I then realized the real power of the Jukebox. It was far more than the digitals like the iTunes, Karaoke Boxes and the DJs with machines and what have you.

“Make it to three glasses of Kingfisher, Boss” I yelled at the bartender.

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  1. You have captured the history of music very well. I may add about Rhythm House, where there were cabins to play LP’s before buying. I have very fond childhood memories of going to RH once a month to buy one LP. Those memories are priceless !!!

  2. I never knew that jukeboxes existed way back in 1940 US. That makes me want to own one even more as it will go great with my collection of items that have a long history. Hopefully, I could still get the old Jukeboxes though the new ones could potentially work too. Thanks for the detailed history of the jukebox!

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