Flashback Friday: The Jukebox Network

Sometimes, I look at the artists on my iPod and I realize…I have some truly questionable taste in music. It’s eclectic, to be sure, ranging from classical to country, from rap to death metal (though not a lot of the latter and not enough of the “old school” former).

Why the strange mix of musical tastes? I suppose I could blame part of it on the years that I spent absorbing every music video played by MTV and VH1 (remember the moment you realized you were getting old was when you realized you were watching way more VH1 than MTV?).

However, I can also blame the Jukebox Network(later re-christened “The Box”) for my crazy-mad love affair with a lot of 80s-era rap (as well as my introduction to a pop princess-cum-reality diva and a thorny love affair with a blossoming new metal group).

First, though, what exactly was Jukebox? Well, denizens, there was a time when you couldn’t just go online, look up a particular artist, and spend hours watching every music video, concert performance, and interview they ever made. Used to was, you had to wait patiently for them to become popular enough that one of their videos would make it into heavy rotation on one of the aforementioned music channels. Either that or plunk out money for a VHS of their latest concert or music video collection.

Jukebox, however, was just that: It was the music video equivalent of a jukebox. You waited for the video menu, wrote down the corresponding number to the video you wanted to watch, and then called the Jukebox hotline and paid for your selection. If memory serves correctly, each video cost $2.99. Pretty pricey for the late 80s/early 90s, but worth it if you liked an artist that wasn’t played frequently on MTV.

The great thing about Jukebox was that it played nothing but music videos. No commercials, no special programming, no talking heads. Just videos. It was a national channel, but it played videos popular in your particular location. I happened to live in an area where rap was far more popular than any other genre, which would explain why I grew to love artists like MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Kool Moe Dee, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Heavy D and the Boyz, EU, Kid ‘N Play, Whodini, Big Daddy Kane…you’ve heard me mention them all many times here. Jukebox was how I got my fix of them all. See, MTV didn’t really play a lot of rap videos in regular rotation. True, they had Yo! MTV Raps, but how does a half hour show compete with 24/7 music video access?

Strangely enough, I can remember the very first video I ever saw on Jukebox. It was one of the stupidest videos by one of the cheesiest groups I’d ever heard:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/BaeNelsAOGo

That’s right. They’re Tigra and Bunny and they like the boom. It kind of makes sense that this would be the first video I saw on this channel and that it was always in heavy rotation. If I remember correctly, Jukebox was a Miami-based channel, and so were the girls of L’Trimm.

It wasn’t all about the rap though. Every now and then, a totally unexpected video would jump into the rotation, like the DNA remix of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/jWMToInrke0

I can remember when it was the most important thing in our universe to be able to sing all the lyrics to this song, whispered to each other during random study hall moments. So weird.

Then there was this video that wouldn’t stop popping into the rotation, irritating me with its poppy perkiness until I finally just surrendered to the infectious beats:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/0pyxKqdtrH8

Ah, Paula. Who knew the boatload of crazy she would bring to our world many years later? For a time, though, she truly was forever our girl. Her videos were like kudzu on Jukebox…once one took root, others quickly followed. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have been half as enamored of her as I was had it not been for Jukebox.

For the record, yes, that is Elijah Wood in this video, which was directed by David Fincher. Fincher directed several of Abdul’s videos, including “Cold Hearted,” which was like Flashdance meets Fosse:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/o7aShcmEksw

I can remember when this was considered too sexeh for MTV and they would restrict its play until the evening. Sometimes I miss that demure quaintness.

Ironically, Jukebox brought me into the rap scene, and Jukebox carried me right back out with another unexpected music video that kept interrupting the regular rotation:

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/o1tj2zJ2Wvg

Oh, Axl. You so cray.

I swear, denizens, I’m going to stop that.

The introduction of “Welcome to the Jungle” into Jukebox’s regular rotation was what reminded me that I loved awesome guitarists and androgynously misogynistic lead singers in leather pants and makeup. It wasn’t long before I reverted back to metal and hard rock before the grungy likes of Nirvana and Co. brought that genre to its sha-na-na-na-na-knees-knees. It also wasn’t long after this that someone finally pulled the plug on the Jukebox Network. I read somewhere that MTV bought it and converted it to MTV2. Not sure if that’s true, but sure, let’s go with that.

And there you have it, denizens, a brief history on a dying art form–the music video channel. Now known as YouTube.