A Barrom Brawl: Digital Jukeboxes vs. CD Jukeboxes

Touch Tunes Digital JukeboxGone are the days where you can say, “I love that bar. It’s got a great jukebox.” Now, most bars have the same freaking jukebox.

There’s an award or two hanging above the “jukebox” of my favorite bar. That’s right. Hops & Barleys won Best Jukebox in NEPA in the Weekender’s Readers Choice Awards a time or two. Or more. But, I originally put jukebox in quotes here because the jukebox that won those awards is no longer there. I miss the old, REAL, jukebox. It’s replacement is not very cool At all. Here are reasons why I don’t like digital jukeboxes as much as the old ones that played CDs. Hops joined the digital jukebox bandwagon and I still love the place, but I long for old one.

Ah, nostalgia.

I remember going to Hops for the first time, and loving the jukebox. In fact, when I turned 21 and started going out to bars, I almost enjoyed seeing the selection of songs as much as the beers on tap. A bar’s jukebox in a way defined the bar, created its typical atmosphere, drew a certain crowd. The jukebox at Hops had the token Bon Jovi. It even had a standards variety CD that had Happy Birthday and the Star Spangled Banner. I knew my jukebox picks by heart:

  • Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” (from Greatest Hits) was 2006.

  • CCR’s “Down on the Corner” (from Chronicle) was 2808.

For those reasons and more, I wish bars still kept their own jukeboxes where they selected the songs/albums from the vending company from which they rented the machine. Sure, digital jukeboxes save a little room and cost less to make/ship/store/maintain, but I think there are more negative aspects of digital jukeboxes.

cd jukebox

I miss these. Dearly.

Reasons why I don’t care too much for digital jukeboxes:

1. No full albums

You may at first say, “Wow! Digital jukeboxes are great. You can search for ANYTHING!” Yes, you can. Mostly. However, even on an album full of hits, like the White album, two or three songs will show up. If you want a deep cut, you pay more. No. This doesn’t work for me. First of all, album cuts never really got airplay. So, being able to experience them opens you up to new songs. If you don’t even KNOW what other songs are there other than the hits, you would NEVER know to search for them. So, in a real jukebox, you may flip to a CD and see the whole list. Maybe one time, you’ll stray from the norm and play something from the album you didn’t know, or forgot about. With the digital jukeboxes, you get to choose from a few songs when you touch CD cover on the screen. Not cool.

2. Play next? No. Wait your turn, jerk!

The reason I am writing this post today is because I almost cried last night. I felt like I was on a Fox News TV debate (only I was the only head talking) as I proclaimed my distaste for the Touch Tunes digital jukebox at Hops. It was my graduation and I was celebrating. I arrived at 8:00 p.m. and the bar was not packed at all. I put $5 in. I think that got me 18-20 songs. I started with Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” and ended with Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” In the middle, Joe and I picked songs from Violent Femmes, Bon Jovi, O.A.R, Gin Blossoms, John Mellencamp and others. But, the starting and ending with a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers song was my little trick so I knew when my songs began and ended. I’ve been doing that 10 years, no matter where I go. (Because coincidentally, nearly every single jukebox I have encountered always had Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits.)

And that leads me to the worst button known to mankind (next to that big, red detonation button on a nuclear bomb) – PLAY NEXT. In the four hours we were at Hops, we heard two of my songs. TWO.

People continually hit PLAY NEXT. I spent $5. I should be able to hear my songs. Why should someone else’s song get played before mine? I think that money-making tactic is a little unfair. If the beer line is long at a concert, I never shout, “Hey! I’ll pay you $1 extra – $11 total – for this Miller Lite if you serve me NEXT!”

We are taught since nursery school to wait in line for our turn. Old jukeboxes played songs in a row. None of this PLAY NEXT option nonsense. I left at midnight, still wanting to stay to hear my songs. It was not to get my $5 worth. It was because it was a special night and I wanted to create my own little soundtrack. All the impatient play nexters won.

3. No spontaneity & a need for ginko biloba. No more randomness.

Everyone has their few favorite songs and artists. But, when faced with making jukebox decisions with digital jukeboxes, you must know exactly what you are looking for. Sure, if I want to hear Tom Petty, I can hit the “P” button and scroll through the albums and songs. However, what if I am not sure what I want to hear? I have to make mental notes of all the people I like and search for them. It is very hard to just FIND something at random because to look through the entire jukebox would mean scrolling through an entire freaking alphabet. How time consuming!

In the old days, like me, I had my fave songs memorized, but I enjoyed flipping through the pages and seeing what the jukebox had to offer. So often, I would accidentally stumble upon an artist I liked but always forgot about. Case in point, I love “Fat Bottom Girls” from Queen, but I always forget about Queen, so I never hit “Q” on the digital jukebox. However, if I am casually flipping through a real jukebox, I may see it and say, “Oh wow! Queen! I forgot.”

There is no element of surprise. No hidden nuggets. No spontaneity. Digital jukeboxes have nothing on the oldies. People always say “browse” the web. It’s a term, yeah, but it’s not true. People really “search” the web. Unless you know exactly where you want to go and directly type in the address or use a bookmark, you search the web. This is the same thing for digital jukeboxes. You can’t just randomly run into a cool sale item on a clearance rack… nope. You need to look for something specifically. Ugh.

4. Super Search does not mean you can hear ANYTHING you want

I won’t name names, but there are a few NEPA bars that program their Touch Tunes digital jukeboxes to exclude certain genres. For example, one bar in a “bad” neighborhood blocked rap. Another classier bar blocked hair metal. So, even though at its heart it seems as if the Super Search function opens bar patrons to a world of music, it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, this does in a way make it similar to the real jukeboxes where the albums are what is there, and that’s that – the owner can control what CDs are in a real jukebox, just as a bar owner can choose to exclude a song or an entire genre in his own playlist on his digital jukebox. I do happen to like this feature, however I list this here as a negative because people have the misconception that you can find anything. Seriously. Do a search at some bars and you will find a very popular band may not show up at all. That could crush or frustrate users who are under the illusion they can choose any song.

These are four reasons I don’t like digital jukeboxes. I could seriously go on, but I think I’ve said enough. I get that they make more money for the bar because they are based on some great sales techniques. But, let’s not forget that places that have bars probably make most of their money from food and beverages — however, it’s the great atmosphere that keeps people also coming back. It truly makes me sad that four hours can go by and I don’t hear more than two of my songs. I don’t find the same joy in picking my songs because I have to search for songs and then always end up playing the same ones because under the pressure I can’t always remember all the bands that I have ever liked. I much prefer to scroll through and pick the best songs from a set selection in a real jukebox.

You know what NEPA bar still has a good jukebox? Dugan’s in Luzerne. I know a few wonderful people go there specifically for the jukebox. It is a reflection on the owner and on the crowd. It’s great little place with good food, good beer selection, and even though I said it, I’ll say it again – a good jukebox.

Other Hops and Barley jukebox memories to show you how much that old machine meant to me:

1999- I met a past long-term boyfriend at the jukebox. I mean, it ended up not working, but there were years of memories and that’s where we met.

2001- An old review I wrote of Jessica Andrews, Who I Am CD, where I worked in hanging out at Hops and the jukebox.

2003 – I reviewed Hops on a then-new local review site, Barmesier. My review mentioned the killer jukebox.

2007 – An interview with Doug Cosmo Clifford, CCR drummer, where I pay tribute to the old Hops jukebox.

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About Donna Talarico

Higher ed web marketing. Creative writer. Love word games. View all posts by Donna Talarico

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