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Put Another Nickel In: How The Jukebox Kick-Started The Beginning Of Rock and Roll
For some of those who were there, Buddy Holly and Bill Haley will never sound better then when they were first blasting from a jukebox after inserting a nickel in a Wurlitzer...
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While these young people would have frequented their local jukebox back home, those machines would have had only a couple of types of music in the 24 available selections, and would have been chosen to suit the area and the jukebox’s clientele.

But the military jukeboxes were unique in that they were stocked with a range of music to satisfy the varied tastes of those who had come from every part of the country and ethnic background.

American blues, gospel, country and pop records were all thrown together on military jukes that introduced GIs to all sorts of music that came from outside of their home community and culture.

Almost overnight, American regional music, never really played on radio before, was heard by those from every region of the country. Many of these young people were also musicians that would now explore, absorb, learn, appropriate, and embrace pop music styles they had never heard before.

After the war this would have a significant impact on the coalescing of those musical roots that would form rock and roll.

On the home front during W.W. II, there was a growing juvenile delinquency problem with so many parents unable to pay attention to their teenagers. Dad was away at war, and Mom was working in a defense plant.

The Wurlitzer Model 1015. (click to enlarge)

During the early 1940s, throughout America, youth centers were opened for after-school and weekend activities. To bring in the teens, free jukeboxes were brought in, turned up, and rarely turned off. The program was successful.

But, by the late 40s, the jukebox had fallen out of favor with the conservative establishment and was increasingly considered a corrupting influence. One prominent critic wrote in 1948 that the jukebox was responsible for ‘the musical tastes of America’s youth starting on a steady decline.”

That year Frank Sinatra was the most popular artist in the country. For such critics, things would get far worse.

For many Americans in the early 1950s, rock and roll was the devil’s tool, and existed for no other purpose than to morally corrupt the youth. For the first time teenagers had their own beat, and it could be found blasting out of the malt shop jukebox.

By 1956 there were somewhere around 750,000 jukeboxes swallowing dimes in America. Since most radio stations were only playing the most sanitized rock and roll selections, the jukebox was the source for the majority of rock music, particularly those machines in racially mixed neighborhoods. These machines had records of black artists who were singing rhythm and blues and early rock.


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