The Ultimate Jukebox?

Originally posted November 5, 2009

When I wrote about the autumn of 1975 ten days ago, I posted six songs I recalled from that autumn. I said two of them – Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” and Orleans’ “Dance With Me” – might end up in my ultimate jukebox, a project that was then only the seed of an idea.

Well, the seed has sprouted. I exchanged a couple of emails about the idea with reader Yah Shure, and he told me his Seeburg jukebox holds eighty 45s or EPs, giving it one hundred and sixty selections. That seemed like a good number to use: One hundred and sixty. He further advised me that yes, all 7:11 of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was on one side of a 45, giving me a ballpark for a time limit for the tunes I’ll put into my hypothetical jukebox. And so I began thinking of records.

I opened a Word file and began listing songs. I realized after about twenty songs that the work would be more usable if it were in an Excel database. So I transferred the first listed songs into a database and began again. This time, I decided to do things somewhat systematically. Starting with the 1990s – as with most music I post here, my end point for this project is 1999 – I began to go through the years, counting backwards. (Note to self: Add Prince’s “1999” to jukebox database.)

I spent a few hours on the database last evening while the Texas Gal had dinner with a girlfriend, and I’ve gotten back as far as the middle of 1972. I know I’ve missed some, and I further know that I will face a difficult task of trimming down my first list to one hundred and sixty selections. I still need to go through the first years of the 1970s and all of the 1960s and 1950s, and I already have one hundred and forty-four songs listed. I’ve decided as I write this to expand my jukebox to two hundred songs, but even then, I think I will agonize over a quite a few choices.

I haven’t yet decided how I am going to present the results of this work here. If I rank them, I could do a count-down from two hundred to one, but that would be boring and – despite the likely idiosyncracy of some of the selections – somewhat predictable. The thought occurred to me to present ten records at a time in what would be mixed batches. The first batch would be Nos. 200, 190, 180, 170, 160, 150, 140, 130, 120 and 110, and the second batch would include Nos. 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10. That way the twentieth and final segment would include Nos. 91, 81, 71, 61, 51, 41, 31, 21, 11 and 1.

That would be, I think, interesting, if I rank them. If I don’t rank them at all, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

Nor do I have any idea when these posts will actually start. I hope to be done with the gathering and weeding out by the end of next week. Then will come the process of making sure I have good quality mp3s of the records involved. (I have noticed that I gathered mp3s of some of these songs in the days before I paid any attention to bitrate; I have many mp3s with bitrates of 128 kbps and some with bitrates of 96 kbps or lower. Those will be replaced.)

A few previews are in order: These are my eleven selections from my first look – there will be at least one more – at the 1990s:

“Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd & The Monsters [1993]
“Woke Up This Morning” by A3 [1997]
“A Long December” by Counting Crows [1996]
“Dreams” by the Cranberries [1993]
“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen [1992]
“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn [1991]
“Things Have Changed” by Bob Dylan [1999]
“Kiss This Thing Goodbye” by Del Amitri [1990]
“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge [1993]
“In A Daydream” by the Freddy Jones Band [1993]
“Southside” by Moby with Gwen Stefani [1999]

I should note that the lists of songs that results from this will not be a “best” list of any sort. These will be the two hundred songs I’d want in a jukebox if I ran a bar or coffeehouse or something like that, the music I love.

Casting about for a song to illustrate this post, I settled on one of the first songs I thought of when I conceived the project. It’s the first record I ripped to mp3 when I got my turntable in December of 2006 and one of the first I posted online after beginning my blog in early 2007.

So here’s one of my favorites from the late summer of 1969, a record by a Twin Cities group that sat at No. 116 on the Billboard chart for two weeks that August and was the No. 1 single for the week of August 15, 1969, on Twin Cities station WDGY. After school started – I was a junior – the band played for one of our Friday night dances, and I hung around on the edge of the gym long enough to hear the Mystics play their hit live.

“Pain” by the Mystics, Metromedia 130 [1969]

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