Anyone over the age of 50 knows first hand what a jukebox was. But ask a youngster today if he or she wants a nickel for the jukebox and you’ll get a blank stare. Yes, fellow Boomers, we are that old.
Boomers and jukeboxes grew up together and some of us are here because of jukeboxes, which brought our moms and dads together.
In restaurants, at dance halls, swimming pools, soda shops and fountains, there were jukeboxes. Some were subcompact and were positioned at individual booths in a restaurant. Others were as large as a refrigerator and occupied lots of floor space. Jukeboxes, or nickelodeons as they were also called, were loaded with popular songs of the day, and for a nickel you could listen – or dance – to your favorite.
Jukeboxes were popular before World War II, but after the war, when GIs returned home and the serious wooing that begat many in the Baby Boomer generation began, young people met and danced to music played on jukeboxes. There were no I-Pods or DJ’s, in those days, just nickels for the jukebox that brought the young crowd together.
Jukeboxes began as simple, wooden boxes and progressed to ornate designs. When the war machine was fully underway, jukeboxes were deemed non-essential and production ceased. By war’s end, and beginning around 1946, production of the nickelodeons hit high gear with many manufacturers entering the fray – including Wurlitzer, Crosby, AMI, Rock Ola and Seeburg. Many jukeboxes were works of art and are highly collectible today.
Jukeboxes were simple and easy to operate. Simply drop a nickel or other coin in the slot, make your selection from a menu-like card and hit “play.” In 1957, B-3 might have dropped “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis under the phonograph needle while in 1961, a D-4 selection might have played “Stand By Me” from Ben E. King.
Jukeboxes hit their peak in the 1950’s. Remember any of these on the old jukebox? Bill Haley with Rock Around the Clock, The Platters with Only You. Or how about Long Tall Sally or Hound Dog in 1956.
Remember Maybelline, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, In the Still of the Night, Blue Suede Shoes? The list is a long. Great songs and great music continued to be played on American jukeboxes through the mid-1960’s.
One appeal of jukeboxes was that they were color-blind. Whereas some parents may have disapproved of their kids dancing to the music of many black stars of that era, there were no color barriers when a nickel dropped in the slot and made the selection. Whether it was Pat Boone or Little Richard, young Boomers cared not. All they wanted was to “Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon. All I want is loving you and music, music, music.”