2010 Best Bars

Rules of the Juke

Guidelines for putting together your playlist, from a jukebox junkie

By Zach Dundas November 17, 2010 Published in the December 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Photosteve101

Jukebox Rule no. 1: A jukebox is not about you. A jukebox implies a social contract that’s unfashionable in today’s earbud era, but still very real: you should not impose yourself. That vexing day you had at the office does not give you license to assault the pleasantly groggy happy-hour mood at, say, the Red Fox with the Sonics’ raging early-’60s classic “The Witch.”

Jukebox Rule no. 2: Life is short. Edit well. Here again, the juke rebels against the age of iTunes and Pandora. A good juke is defined by limits—it’s someone else’s library—and the average machine doles out just four songs for a dollar. So no “shuffle” randomness allowed—i.e., do not attempt a transition from the Sonics’ squally Northwest proto-punk to the slow-burning Curtis Mayfield. This move desperately screams: Look at me! I have eclectic tastes!

Jukebox Rule no. 3: You may choose one—and only one—long, wanky jazz track. Also applies to opera, classical, and anything you might describe as “experimental.”

Jukebox Rule no. 4: If you go with a theme, have the courage of your convictions. Nothing’s worse than, say, three songs from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath followed by Joni Mitchell. Repetition isn’t good; coherence is.

Jukebox Rule no. 5: Jukes are demanding, but also forgiving. If you screw up your first four songs, the next four songs could save your reputation. Where else can you buy redemption for a dollar?

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