Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Now they've ruined jukeboxes

I feel sheepish criticizing something I loved longer and spent more quality time with than even my family, but neighborhood bars are starting to suck.

I know. That’s like worms criticizing dirt.

I’ve loved my family for the nearly 11 years I’ve had them, but I’ve loved being in bars for about as long as I was biologically capable of conceiving a family, or at least since I was able to obtain a convincing fake ID.

What’s wrong with neighborhood bars?


They are one of the man’s few inventions that as they’ve gotten better and better have gotten worse and worse.

Guaranteed, any jukebox from any local tavern or pizza joint even from the 1970s is far superior to any dazzling new internet Tunetown.

An old jukebox would have maybe 100 songs -- 50 two-sided 45s -- from an eclectic mix of top popular artists of the day. Guaranteed, they’d all have something by the Rolling Stones, The Who, Linda Ronstadt, Elvis, The Eagles, Boz Scaggs, Elton John and some of the still-memorable one-hit wonders of the day.

The owner decided what deserved jukebox inclusion. And by doing so he or she was setting an artistic boundary as imposing as any bouncer.

The fortunes of a bar’s reputation rested on the quality of its jukebox every bit as much as the charm or shapeliness of the person pouring the drinks.

Today’s jukeboxes have maybe one million songs on them.

There’s something for everyone.

Please all and you please none.

A jukebox with one million songs puts tasteful people like me at the mercy of morons.

Understand, I love all my fellow man. My fellow babes, too. And I go out of my way to make them all feel welcome when they stranger on into a bar where my frequent over-consumption makes me feel like I have a proprietary stake.

Blacks, gays, Hispanics, Muslims, Orientals, liberals and even sadly misguided conservatives -- at one time or another I’ll bet I’ve bought them all at least a drink or two and sought common philosophical ground.

I welcome the whole rainbow of humanity to sit down and share a drink with me.

Just leave your crappy music in your car.

That’s why the new mega-song internet jukeboxes are such disasters.

Now someone who doesn’t know any better can come in and instantly demolish the atmosphere of a really rockin’ bar.

That’s what would happen if, say, my daughter, 10, came into the bar with her allowance and what would have to be an incredibly realistic fake ID. She wouldn’t play Hayes Carll, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, or any of the Texas troubadours whose music enlivens any really cool tavern.

No, she’d play Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and other saccharine pap from groups like the cast of Glee.

It would be so embarrassing I’d almost be hesitant to bum $5 off her before ratting her out for being underage.

Now, I love that little girl, more than Tom Petty even -- and Petty’s always been there for me. Sure, Petty’s never called me stupid, told his friends I smell bad and screamed he’ll die if I make him listen to one more Bob Dylan song, but the daughter wins my affection because in between bouts of tweener hostility she’ll still crawl up on my lap for sweet cuddling.

I reserve the right to change my evaluation of the two if Petty ever calls and says he’d like to come over and cuddle.

My point is the tavern owner should never abdicate his or her social obligations to pander to musical misfits who think Van Morrison’s best song is “Brown Eyed Girl,” think Mark Knopfler retired after he folded up Dire Straits, and love Lady Gaga but have never heard of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

Because I love rock ‘n’ roll. So put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

Here are 10 songs guaranteed to set a great vibe in your local tavern:

• “Piano Man,” Billy Joel -- Look around as everyone starts to sing along and you’ll see each of the characters depicted in the 1973 song in every bar you’ve ever been in.

• “The Road Goes on Forever,” Joe Ely -- This is Ely’s 1992 superior version of the Robert Earl Keen original. It kicks more ass than an impatient mule farmer, as does much of everything both Keen and Ely have ever composed.

• “Highlands,” Bob Dylan -- at 16 minutes, 32 seconds, this is the only song likely to get you your money’s worth in a day when a single juke box song costs as much as a draft beer. It’s so slow and swampy people hate for the first five mintues, become curious during the second five and finally start to dig it during the homestretch. I always play it at least twice in a row.

• “Sultans of Swing,” Dire Straits -- Maybe the greatest guitar song ever written with sneering Knoplfer lyrics about the boys in the corner who “don’t give a damn ‘bout any trumpet-playing band” because “it ain’t what they call rock ‘n’ roll.” This sure is.

• “Change The Locks,” Tom Petty -- From “She’s The One,” the ’96 Petty album known only to the most devout, this was an outstanding rock soundtrack to the forgotten indy movie. Petty’s only twice recorded another’s songs for his studio albums, I think. It’s a pickiness that works well here with this outstanding Lucinda Williams rocker.

• “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” David Allan Coe -- This list is light on country, which I revere, but I never skip this on the jukebox. It’s classic country and goes out of its way to ensure listeners realize it with its uproarious last verse.

• “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin,’” Rolling Stones -- The Stones have so many indelible hits this great jazzy number often gets overlooked. This opens the ears of innocents who think they know all about the Stones from “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Satisfaction.”

• “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who -- From the opening chord to Daltry’s final euphoric shriek, this mesmerizes throughout.

• “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” Elton John -- The first song on the first album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” I ever bought. At 11 minutes, 11 seconds, it’s one of music’s most epic and eloquent rockers. The virtuosity dazzles still and the song is a surprise reminder that in 1973 when rock ‘n’ roll was at its best, Elton John was among the very best.

• “American Pie,”Don McLean -- This is it, the greatest jukebox song ever recorded. It’s tuneful, mournful, exuberant and tells the story of rock in such allegoric detail that it’ll ignite conversations clear through last call.

Rock on, my friends, rock on.

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