Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Jukebox culture

I did this little history of the jukebox for the FT:

There were jukeboxes in Britain before the mid-1950s, but they weren’t up to much. There was a small, indigenous jukebox industry that developed out of Blackpool’s amusement arcade market, and which produced small, unassuming models resembling domestic fridges. But in 1955, with the period of postwar austerity finally at an end, the government relaxed import restrictions on luxury goods and American jukeboxes arrived in the UK.

These machines, made by famous companies such as Wurlitzer and Rock-Ola, derived their styling from the Detroit car industry. With their tail fins, chrome grilles and windscreens, they were exciting, colourful objects. They could also hold up to 100 records. The British popular music market was already dominated by teenagers but, with only offshore stations such as Radio Luxembourg taking any real interest in rock’n’roll, the jukebox was one of the main ways that young people could listen to new records. By the end of 1957, the UK had imported 8,000 jukeboxes from America.

The jukebox became a powerful symbol of juvenile delinquency, mainly because it encouraged teenagers to hang around, apparently doing nothing. (A “juke” was an American brothel or roadhouse offering cheap food, drinks and music, which derived its name from a west African word for disorderly or rowdy.) In 1958, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham attacked the “aimless juvenile café society”, which he blamed for leading young people into crime. “I do not think it a proper thing,” he said, “for groups of young people to go into coffee bars and spend hour after hour listening to records, buying cups of tea and coffee and bottles of pop.” He argued that these youngsters needed to be trained to spend their money wisely, instead of “feeding pennies into jukeboxes and fruit machines because they had nothing better to do with their spare time”. In Gillingham, Kent, in 1959, hundreds of young people performed a “processional jive”, marching to the municipal offices to protest against the banning of jukeboxes in coffee bars by the town’s magistrates.

Many established musicians were hostile to jukeboxes because they offered a cheap, synthetic alternative to live dance bands. They were right to be worried: the American jukebox helped to transform British popular music, paving the way for a new, youth-oriented market based around teen idols and hit singles.

On Roads appeared in a couple of those annual newspaper book roundups:

Mundane quote for the day: ‘I think Radio 4 is worth the entire licence fee … When I come back from holiday, and I put it on when I’m driving from the airport, and I hear Peter Donaldson saying, “And now part four of the history of the duffel coat,” I think oh yes, I’m home now, everything’s all right.’ – Sandi Toksvig