Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 8: A Long Story About Regulars, Vultures, and Compilations

The term “album” originally applied to a compilation of documents, manuscripts, or other items assembled and preserved in a “book” format, i.e. photo album.[1]

juke8-photoalbumSiam-Joe_1571549cBeginning in the 19th century, the word was related to anthologies of printed sheet music and poetry.

The invention of the gramophone gave rise to what we now call records or simply, vinyl. In the early 20th century, collections of related 78rpm records were packaged in book-like portfolios or albums.

When long-playing records (LPs) were developed, a collection of tracks on a single disc was logically called an “album.” The popular music compilation album can be traced to the mid-20th century, when music publishers began distributing “samplers” of artists on their roster.[2]

juke8-Rock_with_Bill_Haley_and_the_Comets_coverThe earliest known LP release of the rock n’ roll genre, Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets (1954), also happens to be the first rock compilation album, featuring singles released by the titular group in 1952-53, including the hits, “Rock the Joint” and “Crazy Man Crazy”.[3]

Most jukeboxes are heavy on compilations, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Give the people what they want. The jukebox is a sort of electronic compilation “album” in its own right, if you think about it in a certain way.

The items (records) have been compiled (placed in the jukebox) and presented in a book format (carousel of CD title pages).

Besides, I like compilation albums. I’m generally pleased when a box has David Bowie, Changesone (1976); it contains one of my favorite Bowie songs of all-time, “John, I’m Only Dancing”; and it precludes Let’s Dance by seven long-ass years of pastel suits, shoulder pads and saxophone solos.

So Changesone is a positive sum record. I lose out on “Heroes”, but don’t have to sit through “Modern Love” or “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, the latter of which was co-written by Giorgio Moroder, the Godfather of Disco.

But of course, some kid is probably going to play “Space Oddity” and that’s a risk I’m willing to accept.

Tell you what, “Space Oddity”? I’m gonna be looking forward to the interlude that follows the crescendo of the bridge:

Planet Earth is blue / And there’s nothing I can do

That’s a hot little riff, man, the way he creates the illusion of a new time signature (6/8) by strumming three beats against the four. Kudos. P.S. The above video was home-edited to capture just that riff for context, and the clip is only 22 seconds long.

juke8-ChangesonebowieFrankly, I’m always grateful when the next song isn’t by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ll take five hours of “Space Oddity” on a recursive loop before a single spin of “Give it Away”.

Over the years I’ve developed an acute emotional sensitivity to music and in the same way my liver has developed an aversion to alcohol, the problem is the result of abuse, and neither my temper nor my liver has much control over the situation.

One of main reasons I prefer to drink in dive bars like Baltimore’s Inn: there is absolutely zero chance of hearing Limp Bizkit or Beyonce – music which would upset my equilibrium.

You think I’m joking but the other night I heard some new music by a group of terrorists named Maroon 5, and I’m telling you straight-up, no hyperbole, no bullshit, I couldn’t see straight.

juke8-Rod-Stewart-The-Mercury-Antho-8753So down at the Balt, are we gonna hear Dire Straits and Motley Crue? Probably. Hopefully. It’s much easier to tune out something I’m familiar with.

Bear in mind, despite a deep level of involvement and commitment to the lifestyle, my life didn’t exactly revolve around the jukebox, or the pinball machine. Lots of nights I came in to drink my beer and shut the fuck up for a few hours so I could think.

Anyway, a guy like me has all-time favorites for just about everything, including compilation albums, with several sub-categories, i.e. All-time Favorite Compilation Album for Long Distance Driving.

Rod Stewart, The Mercury Anthology

Without question, my All-time Favorite Compilation Found in a Jukebox:

Squeeze, Singles – 45’s and Under (1986)

juke8-squeeze_-_singles_45s_and_underEven if you’re merely a casual fan of rock music, you must get to know this album. You don’t have to like it. And to repeat myself from Episode 7, while it’s impossible to say exactly what records should be in every jukebox everywhere, when I roll up on an unfamiliar dive bar and plug a few bucks into the box, this is the record that makes me say, “All right! This joint has things dialed in. These people understand Jukebox.”

Yeah, the Ray Price compilation is a nice touch, I agree. But it’s not enough to seal the deal.

Although I’ve owned several other Squeeze albums (Argybargy, Cool for Cats), it was instinctive and invariable to reach for Singles whenever I needed to refresh my memory on how to write and record a decent song.

The compilation contains 12 tracks, and every one of them is a keeper. Somehow, this record sheds a bit of light on how mainstream rock music could go from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols and back to the Beatles in little more than a decade.

juke8-squeezecreem3As a band, they were flawless. Glen Tilbrook (lead vocals and guitar), Chris Difford (guitar and vocals), Jools Holland (keyboards), John Bentley (bass) and Gilson Lavis (drums) constitute the “classic line-up”, although they continued to make great music with Paul Carrack (vocals and keyboards) in place of Holland.

John Bentley and Gilson Lavis. These are two names that don’t get mentioned nearly enough.

Also, Difford is a brilliant lyricist while Glen Tilbrook is one of the most under-rated guitarists in the business. Seriously, man, I forget about that dude.

Check out this live take of “Another Nail for My Heart”, and be sure to stick around for the guitar solo.

Squeeze – Another Nail for My Heart

***

Due to its location at the edge of Fantasyland proper, as well as its seedy reputation, there was hardly ever anybody in Baltimore’s Inn that you could call “normal.” Yours truly included, obviously.

At the same time, Baltimore’s was a good place to breeze in for a quick drink, score some dope, and catch the seventh inning of a baseball game on TV before rolling off to the next destination. The regulars and vultures hardly bothered with unfamiliar faces until they became familiar faces, which could take anywhere from a week to never.

The regulars were people from all walks of society who had jobs and generally something on the ball. Thus, the joint was a place to come and relax, a clubhouse. As a matter of fact, it was regulars who kept the bar in business, not the tourists or the vultures.

juke8-coke-Ryan-preparing-Regulars showed up anywhere from 5:30 p.m. until 1:45 a.m. at last call. They played pool, bought shots for their friends, tipped a buck on every drink served, and did lines of cocaine in the bathroom. They brought co-workers and family to visit. They loved the joint as much as anybody could. The bar was a substantial part of their identity.

There were certain “sets” of neighborhood regulars who partied after-hours at each other’s homes. Some regulars were more popular than others. There were special regulars who provided a product or service.

However, a regular never ignored another regular; it was based on a bizarre form of common courtesy. There were a bunch of regulars who I wouldn’t have missed if they stopped showing up, and one or two that I hoped all the bad things in the world would happen to them and them alone.

For instance, many nights I’d walk in and see this one dude named Swede sitting in roughly the same spot at the bar. He was an ugly, craven and narcissistic fellow; a true sloth in his habitat; a would-be vulture except that he owned a dry cleaning operation and didn’t drink during the day; and even though I despised him for a multitude of reasons, I greeted him, or acknowledged his presence without fail.

juke8-vulturesOn a random Tuesday night, I rolled in right at 11:00 p.m., which was early for me. I breezed past him and said, “S’up, Sweets?”

“It’s Swede,” he replied, dramatically perplexed and instantly exasperated. “How many…?” Gasping at Fred the bartender, “Fred, this guy is on my nerves every single fucking night.”

“Swede is a stupid nickname,” Fred asserted. “You’ve got about as much French in you as a Thai hooker.”

“That makes no sense, Fred,” I countered. “You need to seriously look at a map of the world.”

Swede was simply thrilled that someone was paying him any mind.

“It’s been my nickname since I was in grade school, elementary school! Did I tell you the story? What do you want me to do, change it? Now? After all this time? Look, it’s on my goddamn driver’s license,” reaching for his wallet, “see here, in the state of California…”

Fred handed me a beer, took the fiver from the bartop, and waved me down to the back end of the bar. “Dickhead. Why do you always have to get that guy yammering?”

juke 3 - pit magic 2“I’ll be over at [Theater of] Magic if anybody calls,” cheerfully.

“I hope you tilt. On every ball.”

“Hey! No Blue Oyster Cult, Fred,” at first laughing and then turning deadpan. “For real, Freddie. ‘Member, last night?”

The previous evening I had proposed a bet over pinball, despite Earl’s dead-serious, paranoid ban on gambling of any kind in the bar. One ball each, highest score takes the prize. I win, Fred doesn’t get to play B.O.C. for one night. Fred wins, I don’t get to use the jukebox for one night. In a remarkable stroke of good luck and serious table mojo, I crushed him by double-digit millions; an impressive blow-out considering Freddie’s pinball wizard status. It was the ball of a lifetime, and I don’t ever remember beating him again.

The point is, Swede was a regular and as much as I wanted to pay him no mind, I didn’t. Courtesy can be found almost anywhere you’re willing to look for it, even in a desperate, dead-end shithole like Baltimore’s Inn.

juke8-fatsally-south-parkThe vultures were a transient group of a dozen regulars who did nothing but show up anywhere from 8:00 a.m. up until noon, sit at the bar, hunched over their rotgut vodka and sodas, broadcasting thick waves of bad vibration. They even had a woman in the crew, Fat Sally, easily the most vile and detestable creature within a 50-mile radius. Somebody would mention her name and I would stop the speaker in mid-sentence, “Not another word. I don’t want to know.”

At 30-minute intervals the vultures staggered out and decamped to the sidewalk for a smoke. Though harmless to the general public, vultures were known for vicious infighting, and occasionally an argument would erupt during the smoke break, prompting the intervention of local law enforcement. I’m told that before my time, there was an inter-vulture stabbing which took place right there in front of the bar. The dispute was over five dollars, which the stabbing vulture accused the stabbee of swiping from the bartop.

juke8-vodkaAll vultures were extremely under-employed, or unemployed and living on some sort of social welfare, be it food stamps or a monthly compensation check for a phantom disability. At least one of them was drinking an inheritance. Besides, being an ill-tempered, full-blown, vodka-for-breakfast alcoholic was like a job – a fucking career – for a vulture.

At some point in the afternoon, the group would splinter, with some buzzards going home to eat something, while the others either ordered a pizza for delivery or took the bus up to 6th Street and Wallace for Chinese food and a couple of drinks at the Golden Girl on 21st Avenue. [Nobody had a car or a driver’s license anymore; all of them had at least a couple of DUIs on their records. At least. This one vulture named Gary had done time for vehicular manslaughter, so you know the type of dirtbag we’re dealing with here.]

They’d all reconvene at the Balt before sundown, throw back a few more drinks, and the early birds would fly home for the evening.

By 8:30 p.m., there would be one or two vultures left at the bar, topping off the tank, so to speak.

You might be wondering, “How does this guy know the intimate details of the so-called vultures’ habits and routines, unless he spent time hanging out with them?” And that’s a fair point to ponder.

First and foremost, I lived around the corner from the bar. One hundred and sixty seven steps. Second, I worked nights, so I was home during the day. My usual coffee shop was another 220 steps west of Baltimore’s, so I would pass by the joint at least twice; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This apparently concurred with their smoking schedule on countless occasions.[4]

On quiet mornings I couldn’t help myself from poking my head in the door to see what was cooking. Plus, there was at least a dozen times I went down there during the day to argue with Earl. This doesn’t even account for all the times I simply left my fucking house and couldn’t help but see these vultures.

juke8-vulture2Finally, whoever relieved Big Ted from the day shift usually had to clean up after the vultures, because I’m told Big Ted was not a big “cleaning” type of guy. As a result, whether it was Al, Stacy or Freddie, there would always be grousing about that day’s events. So whatever gaps in my knowledge of the vultures was filled in by the bartenders, and by mingling with the few stragglers who miraculously made it past midnight. That Gary son-of-a-bitch had extraordinary endurance.

Because vultures were technically regulars, the regular-regulars were uniformly polite and courteous, no matter how surly or out of line they got. And getting out of line seemed to be their entertainment. There were countless incidents where someone would say to a vulture, “Listen, Eddie, I’m not going to fucking hit you, OK? Just chill out. Damn.”

Most of all, the vultures leered. They would just sit and stare at you like they had x-ray vision. You’d be talking to somebody and all of a sudden, catch Eddie staring at you from across the bar. You’d think, “Really, Eddie? Come on, man.” God only knows what kind of horrific illusions were spinning through his mind.

As far as bartenders were concerned, the award for Closest to a Normal Human Being would be a toss-up between Stacy and Al.

Big Ted was the one bartender I couldn’t deal with. He just creeped me out – and he was king of the vultures. They flocked to him like disciples to Christ.

juke8-carharttHe was in his late 50s, a legitimate Vietnam Vet who definitely saw combat; a big old dude – as the name suggests – with long gray hair and beard, and two motionless marbles in the sockets where his eyeballs should have been. Always wearing the same pair of vomit-olive Carhartt overalls, hands all mangled from masonry work. Big Ted was there, but he was really never there.

I’m 1,000% sure Big Ted was a real nice cat before all the terrible shit that happened in Vietnam, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near him if I didn’t have to.

Conversely! Stacy had a gregarious personality and a pair of sparkling Irish green eyes. Actually, she reminded me a lot of my sister. She was also easily distracted and absent-minded; it was exceedingly common for her to get sucked into a 15-minute conversation with one of the vultures while ignoring the rest of the bar.

Some nights I wouldn’t be in the mood for pinball, so I would sit and jawbone with one of the fixtures of the joint, a quasi-vulture named Grabby – the one with the inheritance, who was highly educated and hence, one of the only vultures capable of intelligent conversation.

Grabby and I could talk about absolutely anything from astronomy to zoology, but we were consistently marveled by Stacy’s lack of awareness and overall bartending competence. At least once a week, one of us would mutter in disgust, “She has got to be the worst bartender in the history of alcohol,” staring bitterly at the empty bottles in front of us.

Every so often, Grabby would get up, walk to the other end of the bar, pretend to put money in the jukebox, only to turn around and interrupt loudly, “Hey Stace! Remember us? We’re a coupla thirsty dudes down there, babe.

That was my cue: “It’s like we’re ghosts!”

Of course, Stacy would come scooting over and she was so nice that you couldn’t hold it against her. Grabby said, “She’s a lovely person inside and out…unfortunately.”

And in her defense, if it was busy, Stacy did her best to stay on the ball.

If Freddie or Al were on the job, the next drink appeared almost instantaneously. Snap your fingers – it appeared. Wait. Back it up. Never snap your fingers in a joint like the Balt.

juke8-raypriceAnyway, Al was telepathic. He knew the level on your beverage at all times, sometimes without even looking. Al knew when you needed a beer before you did. He was the embodiment of old school Fantasyland bartending. He was the Ray Price of bartenders.

A native Fantasylander – or as they called themselves, Fantasian – Al was a former city beat detective and college football star; short but stocky – est. 5’6”, approx. 200 lbs. with Popeye forearms, bushy moustache. He had deep booming voice and big old bear paws for hands, his pinky as thick as my thumb. He had a death grip for a handshake, and you shook his hand twice – on arrival and departure, every single night – it was mandatory.

Now in his mellow early 50s, it was still pretty clear that you didn’t mess with Al. The Jimmy Buffett shirt and nerdy eyeglasses were a ruse. From day one, I made a conscious decision to never discuss music with Al.

There was one time early in my tenure when a fight broke out among some cats playing pool, Al came out from behind the bar to break it up and he was tossing kids around like cardboard cut-outs. It was also the first time I had seen someone literally thrown out of a bar, courtesy of Al.

He would always warn guys if they were getting out of line; we saw that a lot. If everybody is a bomb, Al had a fairly long fuse, and he’d let you know if you were getting close to detonation. That was the cop in him. Just the way he would talk to a guy usually diffused the situation. He would say, “WE don’t have a problem right NOW, pal, but YOU are about to have a REAL big problem. So, cool your fucking jets.”

And one of the vultures named Wayne slurs, “Dude, trust me… You don’t…want to mess…with Al.”

Jets were invariably cooled.

juke8-talking-gi-joeOne Friday night this military hothead G.I. Joe had been holding court at the bar since 9:00 p.m. when I arrived on the scene a little after midnight.

G.I. Joe had been in the bar at least a couple of times in the past month. He boasted of being a former Marine, serving “Special Ops” in Iraq, and now working for Blackwater. Whether or not that was bullshit didn’t matter. He wasn’t overly scary or threatening; he was just a loud mouth. He talked shit so people would respect him. I wouldn’t even make eye contact with the cat.

Stacy was behind the bar, but Al and his lady Marianne were down at the nook end – the small elbow of the bar furthest from the entrance – having just arrived from a wedding at the Masonic Temple down on Mercer Avenue, all decked out in their finest duds. Marianne, one of the coolest women I’ve ever met, also happened to be a cop in a neighboring county.

It seemed like everybody was in good spirits. G.I. Joe had a circle of people that took up the back half of the bar and spilled out over to the pinball machine. Thwarted – albeit temporarily – from playing my beloved Theater of Magic, I made my way toward Al and Marianne, avoiding G.I. Joe like a gaping sinkhole in the middle of Midland Boulevard.

Before my butt even hit the stool, Al nudged me and said, “I don’t like this guy” referring to G.I. Joe, who was extraordinarily loud and increasingly obnoxious. I’d only been in the bar for maybe 30 seconds, so I was somewhat indifferent.

“Yeah, whatever.”

juke8-hookersIMG_4610There were a couple of chicks in the G.I. Joe posse that may not have been “sluts” or “prostitutes”, but to quote Dave Chappelle, they were wearing the uniform. My eyes glazed over.

G.I. Joe snapped at Stacy a couple of times, “Hey! Bartender! Where are those shots I ordered?” which caused Al to bristle and grimace. He was agitated. His fuse had been lit and it was burning fast.

But Stacy was cool. She gave G.I. Joe the stink-eye. He winked at her and Stacy said later that he was a very generous tipper, and she didn’t mind his gruff demeanor, which she described as a “primal form of flirting common with military goons.”

Maybe 10 minutes passed, and G.I. Joe was now clearly talking shit. I heard – we all heard him say, “The bitch didn’t say that when my dick was in her mouth.”

Cringing in embarrassment, I said, “Marianne, cover your ears!”

Marianne’s ears were pitched forward. She either saw or smelled something wrong.

All of a sudden, a super loud “Whoa-ohhhh!” came from the G.I. Joe crew followed by a hush. One of the chicks had just tossed a drink in G.I. Joe’s face. It was probably a drink he had paid for, too.

The chick was saying, “You fucking asshole…” Etc. There was a mixture of laughter, disdain, and “Hey, hey – relax!

From my angle, I couldn’t see exactly what G.I. Joe did next, but somehow he made contact with the woman and she would up on the ground, screaming bloody murder. Everybody was screaming at this point, actually.

A canon chorus of disapproving “Hey!!!!” erupted from around the bar.

Al was up and on G.I. Joe so fast that I didn’t even notice he’d left his seat. Pow, Bam, Scrunch. Al got the dude in a Full-Nelson and dragged him out on the sidewalk within a matter of seconds. Marianne got some handcuffs out of the trunk of her car, and the local cops were there like Shazam!

Despite his alpha male status, Al had a couple of curious, not-so-normal features, the most notable being his love of Tom Jones. Al revered Tom Jones like I worshipped Eddie Van Halen – for the first 30 years of my life. Then I gave it up as a bad job.

juke8-cd-tmjonesgreatestAt any rate, of course we had Tom Jones, Greatest Hits – The Platinum Edition in the box, and if Al was behind the bar, you were guaranteed to hear “Sex Bomb” every hour, on the hour. At some point, I just got in the habit of using one of my selections on “She’s a Lady” to save him the trouble – a move that invariably scored me one on the house.

***

In the broadest of terms, I have to admit that owner Earl had more on the ball than I give him credit. He was in fact responsible for Singles – 45s and Under being in the jukebox. He also bought an updated wireless remote for the jukebox that he kept in the right pocket of his football-style jacket. The original remote only featured a VOLUME knob and CANCEL button. The new version had more buttons than the TV remote. You could do all sorts of crazy things with it.

juke8- remote-oldOf course, everybody (who cared about the jukebox) was anxious to get their paws on that remote, but Earl kept a tight watch on the device. And I completely understood his rationale, which was that it should only be used in extreme emergencies. He believed, as I do, that if somebody puts their hard-earned cash in a jukebox, they deserve to hear what they selected, in the order it was selected. End of story. In other words, no bumping.

“Bumping” was the term used to describe the jukebox version of cutting in line. There was another dive bar on the other side of town that I frequented where bumping was extremely common. They did it to me, once. According to Earl, with this new remote, you didn’t have to completely delete (or bump) a selection; you could, but there was another method via remote using FUTURE MODE, which allowed you move a jam or a set of jams to the back of the cue. I never did bother to find out of if he was bullshitting us. FUTURE MODE seemed like an awful lot to ask of a seven-year-old jukebox in 2003. You know? I smelled fish.

Regardless, as a bar owner, Earl was as absent as he could get away with and not have the joint get burned to the ground. He opened the doors at 8:00 a.m., stuck around until Big Ted showed up, then cut out to bet on the ponies at the track or lose his shirt at the Indian casino, and head back down to the Balt around 6:00 p.m.

Whenever he and I were at odds, I would say, “But Earl, I don’t get it. You love Squeeze just as much as I do; yet you also love Power Station. How is that possible?”

juke8-roweavi-100The Rowe AMI Compact Disc Jukebox contained up to 100 discs, which is a lot of ground to cover. Earl kept a keen eye on what was being played, and most definitely didn’t always concede to Freddie.

The box contained an equal number of standard albums and compilations, but it was always the best-of selection that surprised me. For instance, we had (at some point) best-of collections from The Cure, R.E.M., David Bowie, Radiohead, Talking Heads and the Clash. On the flipside, we also had Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam.

In a joint like the Balt, which had all the aesthetic appeal of a biker bar in rural Oregon, you might be thinking more along the lines of George Thorogood and the Doobie Brothers. Oh, we had those, too.

juke8-Endless-SummerOne Sunday afternoon, I rolled down to Baltimore’s with the express intention of arguing with Earl about his apparently arbitrary decision to replace The Beach Boys, Endless Summer with Foreigner, Complete Greatest Hits.

Earl was a fairly mild-mannered cat, and he always weathered my interrogations with healthy doses of humor and patience. If he saw me come through the door before sundown, he knew I wasn’t there to watch the Raiders’ game.

“But we haven’t had any Foreigner [in the jukebox] for at least a year,” Earl responded.

“We don’t need any Foreigner.”

Earl shrugged and said, “It’s one of those records we really should have.”

“No. Their first record is arguably a must-have, but their greatest hits? You know how many times I heard ‘I Want to Know What Love Is?’ last night?

“More than once.”

“Correct.”

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Earl backed off from the bar and resumed polishing beer glasses. “Seems like you’re the only one who cares about the Beach Boys. I never liked them in the first place.”

“Oh…my…God!

“No, I’m serious. Never liked ‘em. They didn’t even know how to surf. How fucked up is that?”

juke8-Foreigner-Greatest-Hits-531074“That’s not true, Earl. Dennis Wilson was a fairly accomplished surfer.”

“Do you think,” his voice rising, “that Brian Wilson ever paddled out past a break?”

“Fair enough, Earl,” I backed off. “Obviously – your bar, your rules. But I can’t see Foreigner being the appropriate replacement in any situation. I mean, we only have one Sabbath record [Paranoid].”

And then Earl said something that forever destroyed any credibility he might have had with me, Squeeze notwithstanding, “Yeah, but the problem with Black Sabbath is that if I put [the albums] in the box, people are going to play ‘em. It’s going to be Black Sabbath all night, every night.”

From that point forward, whenever the subject of music came up with Earl, I proposed that he simply buy a second-hand iPod from a panhandler at Fisherman’s Wharf, and get rid of the jukebox altogether.

***

A lot of compilations contain enough filler that maybe half of the songs are justifiable “hits.” Take for instance a band like Boston, who didn’t drop a best-of collection until 1997 – 25 years after the band was formed; an eternity in the music industry.

Ijuke8-bostongreatest’ve got a lot of respect for that kind of commercial restraint, especially in an era where bands (labels) put out a best-of collection after the third album barely dented the charts. Ahem.

However, Boston’s Greatest Hits contains 16 tracks, maybe four of which are standard classics:

  • “Foreplay/Long Time”
  • “More than a Feeling”
  • “Peace of Mind”
  • “Don’t Look Back”

Throw in “Rock n’ Roll Band” and “Smokin’” and make it a grand total of six palatable jams, five of which are on their eponymous debut album (1976).

Go back and revisit those numbers. Sixteen and six. Seriously, I kind of have a sweet spot for “Hitch a Ride” – also on the first album – but don’t tell anybody. Sixteen and seven. Still, not a good ratio for a compilation album.

Right, so… “Don’t Look Back” is the only hot track from the second album of the same name (1979), and everything they’ve done since then doesn’t rate. In fact, a lot of it does nothing but offend. The extra nine or so tracks on the best-of disc are just asking for trouble.

In the case of an artist like Boston with a handful of hits, but those jams are super-massive hits, it makes much more sense to skip the compilation and go with the debut album which contains the bulk of what people want to hear, while at the same time, denying them the opportunity to jam us with extraneous bullshit.

You only have to sacrifice “Don’t Look Back” in order to keep people from playing “Amanda”. This is heretofore known as the Boston Dilemma.

juke8-bostonfirstBoston was one of the cases in which I was able to prevail over Earl and get him to swap out Boston’s Greatest Hits for the 1976 debut album. Nobody noticed. We still heard “More than a Feeling” on a nightly basis. And nobody threw a fit because they couldn’t play “Amanda”. Even Freddie hated that song.

Furthermore, a lot of bands have downright dangerous compilations. Take for example, Heart, a band with eight different best-of collections. At least one of those compilations, Greatest Hits/Live (1980), features only their hard rock stuff, and honestly if the band had stopped there, I probably wouldn’t be throwing so much shade at them. But they didn’t.

Tragically, down at Batlimore’s Inn, we wound up with Heart, These Dreams: Greatest Hits (1995) and no amount of bellyaching to Earl was going to change that. Like I said, after Earl’s Black Sabbath comment, my attitude about the jukebox made that gesture of dismissal and disgust which equates to the opposite of bowing down.

Heart is a band with maybe three or four good rock songs. One could argue for a few sleeper tracks (“Heartless” is a gritty little number) but generally speaking, the rest of their catalog, though apparently popular with soccer moms and karaoke singers, is terrible. I don’t like it. And please be reminded I’m speaking purely from a Rock with a capital R – music perspective.

The problem with Heart’s These Dreams: Greatest Hits goes beyond that fact that it contains “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You”; the disc’s sequencing is purposefully insidious. You might wonder what sequencing has to do with content.

The way in which Heart’s Greatest Hits is laid out, the record opens with “Crazy on You”, which is a solid jam. No qualm or beef with that one. Disc 78 – Track 01.

In my mind, there are only two songs that could possibly follow: “Magic Man” or “Barracuda”; one or the other should be Tracks 02 and 03.

juke8-Heart_Greatest_HitsUnfortunately, on These Dreams those songs have been sequenced to appear as Tracks 08 and 17, respectively.

What’s in between? Gut-wrenching, over-wrought power ballads like “Alone”, “Never”, “Who Will You Run To?” and “These Dreams” – among other non-desirable tracks.

We’re in an establishment where alcohol is over-served, and I saw this scenario unfold time and time again. We as a species under the influence are borderline incompetent when faced with simple yet electronic tasks, such as programming a song on a jukebox, which requires at least the fundamental ability to read, count, and press a series of buttons.

Dude is on his sixth beer and rumbles over to the jukebox. He sees Heart’s Greatest Hits and thinks, “Hell, yeah! Let’s play some jams! Barra-cuda!!

And that’s how you wind up getting pounded with (A) shit nobody wants to hear and (B) a track that wasn’t what the dude intended to play; which is usually followed by more money being fed into the box – an attempt to program the right track.

Bear. A. Coo. Dah.

The really nasty bit comes derives from the Rowe AMI Compact Disc Jukebox itself. When programming a song, it requires the two sets of two-digit numbers as described above; four numbers in total and in sequence. Disc number, followed by track number. So if a patron wanted to hear “Crazy on You”, they would enter the following four numbers in sequence: 7801. That’s it.

Ajuke8-keypad2_indexs soon as that fourth digit – in this case, the “1” was tapped on the keypad, the jukebox automatically assumed that’s the jam you wanted to hear, and in fact, it was officially programmed. There’s no ENTER button on the keypad, or anywhere on the machine for that matter.

OK, but isn’t there a RESET button? Yes, but it’s only effective up through three digits. So if you got antsy and pressed 781 – thinking, “Hey, it’s Track 1” and not realizing it’s actually Track 01 because you’re silly drunk – you still had a chance to make things right.

The correct response is to catch the mistake and immediately hit RESET and start over. Instead, most people either press 0, thinking it will adjust the second set of digits, or 1, because they’re fucking stupid.

Thanks to Dude and his failure to discern between Disc 78 – Track 01 (“Crazy on You”) and Disc 78 – Track 11 (“Dreamboat Annie”), we’re going to hear half of Heart’s Greatest Hits – the shit half. So order another beer and settle in.

Meanwhile, the dude was also trying to program “Magic Man” – Track 08 – a digit off from Track 09: “What About Love”. How he confused Track 07 (“Straight On”) for Track 17 (“Barracuda”) is frankly beyond comprehension, but stranger things have happened.

And it’s not only blurred vision that complicates the mix. Sometimes it’s simple math. The number 08 looks a lot like 09. The vicious circle continues. More dollars, more tapping at buttons, more mistakes. And we still haven’t heard “Barracuda”.

juke8-Little_Richard's_Greatest_Hits_1965On rare occasion, a disc might be mislabeled and the running order would be wrong. For instance, Little Richard’s Greatest Hits (1965) was completely wrong from Track 03 on down, thanks to a secretarial omission of “Tutti Frutti” from the running order listed on the CD tray card.

Fortunately, I was the only one at the Balt who ever played Little Richard and I didn’t care which of his jams came next. In fact, that’s how I really got acquainted with some of his lesser hits like “Oh! My Soul” and “Send Me Some Lovin’” – by punching wrong numbers on the keypad. And for that, I’m eternally grateful, because I wasn’t exactly sitting around at home listening to Little Richard for snicks.

However, it’s my understanding that the majority of untended selections were the result of human error. If you played “Stairway to Heaven” when you meant to play “When the Levee Breaks”, you had no business messing with the jukebox and it was probably time to call it a night.

On the other hand, many bands have multiple compilations, and in a few instances, you can pretty much program any song on the disc and it will be OK. Queen’s first Greatest Hits (1980) is one such record. Any one of the Beatles’ Anthology series is a full-time winner. You could throw at dart at the Stones’ Hot Rocks and probably hit a solid cut. However and unfortunately, compilation albums cannot be created equally.

juke8-who-meatyThe Who have dumped a total of 26 different compilation albums into the market, many of which are chock full of tasty cuts. This is because starting from 1983’s Who’s Greatest Hits, these records are virtually identical. They haven’t had a hit since 1983, so nobody is lacking. The only Who record you’ll find in my jukebox is Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy (1970).

juke8-goldnplatskynyrdOver the last 20 years, the first three Lynyrd Skynyrd albums have grown on me unlike any other band or artist. When I think of how far I’ve come in my appreciation for Skynyrd’s music, from “Yeah, they’re cool” to “Oh my God!” there is no other artist that even comes close.

Guided by Voices has really grown on me, but I’d survive on a deserted isle without Alien Lanes (1994). I wouldn’t make it a month without at least one Skynyrd record.

Anyway, aside from the first three albums, the rest of Skynyrd’s catalog – from 1975’s Gimme Back My Bullets forward – has some hits and some misses. However, Skynyrd was and is special; they’re like the Beatles, Stones and Hendrix; it would be an insult to their music and their legacy to simply put a compilation album in the jukebox, for instance, Gold & Platinum (1979) and call it day, which is exactly what happened at the Balt.

Here we face a variation of the Boston Dilemma. The problem isn’t that people play the same jams, night after night; it’s that you’re only allowed to play the hits. Most of my favorite Skynyrd jams are the deep cuts found on those first three records.

juke8-Jimi_Hendrix_-The_Cry_Of_LoveLikewise, The Essential Jimi Hendrix compilation is a fine record, but you also must have a regular album in there as well – to allow for deep cuts. The Cry of Love (1971) would be an excellent choice, by the way. Moreover, you can have the Beatles 1967-70, but you also have to include Revolver.

Pause for a moment. Sigh.

The debut, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd (1973) is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. The only problem is “Freebird”. If it’s my joint, we can’t have that song on the box. Period. Down at the Balt, it’s bad enough the jam is already on Gold & Platinum.

The aptly-titled Second Helping (1974) is almost as good, but it contains “Sweet Home Alabama”, which is such a tasty cut that it too deserves to be retired forever. Likewise, you’re not going to hear it in my joint.

juke8-Lynyrd-Skynyrd-Nuthin-Fancy-137866Changing the angle for a moment, we could consider a live album, One More From the Road (1976), but again, it’s mostly big hits and… “Freebird”. Furthermore, it doesn’t have anything from Street Survivors (1977), particularly one of their best-ever cuts, “That Smell.” So, no and no.

The third album, Nuthin’ Fancy (1975), is probably my favorite of the trio, and another record that can define a jukebox. Its big hit was “Saturday Night Special” which is certainly my favorite of their charting singles, and you’d hear “Made in the Shade” on late night album-rock radio stations. The genius of Nuthin’ Fancy is found in deep cuts like “On the Hunt” and “Am I Losin’?”

In the end, sometimes a compilation album is simply not enough. It doesn’t say anything about an artist except that they had a few hits. In the case of a band like Squeeze, whose best jams all happened to be hits, the mediocre stuff is for aficionados and doesn’t belong on a dive bar jukebox. Squeeze was awesome, but they were nobody’s Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Footnotes

[1] If You Care #1:The word album originates in the early 17th century: from Latin, neuter of albus ‘white’ used as a noun meaning ‘a blank tablet’. Taken into English from the German use of the Latin phrase album amicorum ‘album of friends’ (a blank book in which autographs, drawings, poems, etc. were collected), it was originally used consciously as a Latin word – whatever ‘consciously’ is supposed to mean in the context. I dunno.

[2] If You Care #2: It could probably be traced back even further than that to Universal Pictures, etc.

[3] If You Care #3: BH&tC’s first three albums were compilations; they didn’t begin making “themed” albums until 1956, beginning with Rock n’ Roll Stage Show.

[4] I know I’ve told this story before somewhere, but it’s a perfect example of my relationship with the vultures. I’d been living out there for two years when one morning around 9:00, I set off for the coffee shop and came upon a group loitering in front of the bar. Most prominent was this Irish guy named John, an itinerant house painter, who I didn’t know very well.

juke8-irishmanNormally, I would nod at the group in general and keep walking. No real reason for pleasantries, unless someone engaged me. None of the vultures noticed me coming up the sidewalk except for John; we made eye contact at 20 yards. As I approached, without warning or provocation, John snarled, “The fuck you lookin’ at, lad?”

Dumbstruck, I said, “I’m not lookin’ at anything” and kept walking by.

“Fuckin’ shandybagger.”

I turned around, “What?”

“Fuckin’ pillowbiter, that’s what you are.” At this point, the other vultures had taken notice.

“Whatever, John. Isn’t there a house somewhere that needs to be painted the wrong color?” Wayne and Larry cackled. But it was true. John once worked on a crew that painted a house green when it was supposed to be painted blue. It was not a fact that John willingly shared. The boss of the crew used to be a vulture as well.

John was steaming, “Watch your tongue, lad. Someone might have an idea to cut it out for ya.”

“Goodbye,” I said, spinning back around, “have a nice day.”

“Little fuckin’ cunt,” John rasped.

Two nights later, I got cut early at work and posted up at the Balt around 10:00 p.m. The place was jumping, as I had forgotten it was the birthday of a well-regarded regular, this dude named Thomas. Everybody was in attendance. Earl, Al, Stacy, Big Ted were there. Freddie was behind the bar, which was lined with vultures.

So I joined the festivities and bought a round of shots for Thomas, a certified nurse working toward his EMT, and one of those rare, genuinely nice guys that didn’t have a bad bone in his body. Not a pushover by any means, Thomas just seemed to always find a compassionate response to any situation. So we jawboned for a while. Then Thomas’s lady, Gwen came over, and in turn introduced me to her friend, a young woman named Colette.

An hour later, Colette and I had hit it off and were chatting while leaning against the rail that separated the bar area from the pool tables. All of a sudden, I felt an arm across my shoulder and the hot breath of an extremely inebriated Irishman on my neck. It was John.

“I fuckin’ love this wee lad,” he gushed in Colette’s direction, and tried to kiss me on the cheek as I struggled.

“Dude, get off of me,” I squirmed.

“No, I’m serious,” he wouldn’t let go of my shoulder, “I absolutely love this guy. He’s a prince.”

“That’s nice,” Colette smiled awkwardly.

“John, go away.”

“If I were a faggot, and I’m not, I swear, I’d want to fuck this guy,” John continued to slobber, pointing at Colette. “You could do a lot worse than bag this wee lad, sister. He’s a keeper.”

“Earl!” I shouted. “EARL! Get this fucking vulture off of me!”

Thomas was nearby and stepped in, separating John from the scene without further incident.

“What was up with that guy?” Colette was puzzled.

“I dunno,” I mused, “must be the spirit of the occasion. Just the other day he was threatening to cut my tongue out.”

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2 thoughts on “Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 8: A Long Story About Regulars, Vultures, and Compilations

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