The jukebox prank. It’s a classic. The fine art of picking a song to play in a public place, solely for the intention of upsetting as many people as possible. You probably did this at some point in time, because we did — and here are our picks for the most diabolical songs you can put on.
Cat’s in the Cradle — Ugly Kid Joe by James Dator
In college my roomate and I belonged to a membership-only pool club. I’m pretty sure they called it a “pool club” only so they could have a loophole to sell discount liquor. In any event, my go-to song was the 1992 seminal classic Cat’s in the Cradle by Ugly Kid Joe. The thing that’s wonderful about this song is that it’s familiar, but not good, and extremely annoying if you play it 30 times back-to-back like I did one night.
During play one there were some weird looks. By play two there were boos. Midway through play three there were complaints to the bartender, but he really liked us because we tipped him super well — so he said there was nothing he could do. By play five people were leaving the bar and calling the owner, who came in FURIOUS during play seven. He said we were “disrespecting the club,” and evoked some bylaw in our membership. He tore up our cards and we got banned. I don’t regret the decision. I do regret losing out on that membership, because we got $4 patron shots I still think about to this day.
We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You — Queen, by Grant Brisbee
When I used to get really drunk at a local bar, I would put in a dollar and play “We Are the Champions,” then follow it with “We Will Rock You.”
That’s not the order they’re supposed to be played in, see. And if you don’t think it will ruin your night, try it. Take the Out of Sequence Queen challenge. It screws you up. You go from exulting about a victory, to making this bold proclamation about a destined victory, and then what? You die. Eventually, sure, but that’s always the end. Every time.
Anyway, I would get drunk and talk about the meaning of playing those two songs out of order.
People didn’t like it.
I stopped getting invited to go out.
Everybody says they want to learn about the world, but I think they’re all too scared.
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts — Bob Dylan, by Whitney McIntosh
There used to be a time as a kid when I would listen to this song nonstop. It was this, “One Week”, and the back half of the Jimmy Buffett album Fruitcakes. All on repeat until the CD’s broke. (Yes, I had the music preferences of a 45-year-old man as a kid. I’ve only steered into the skid since then.)
“Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” is a good Dylan song for a kid because it tells a story so instead of being confused about what the weird man in the hat and glasses is scratchily singing there’s actually a narrative to follow and enjoy. But it’s not a great Dylan song otherwise, and it also happens to be nearly nine minutes long. Which makes it a perfect Dylan song with which to troll the heck out of people at bars.
There are levels to this jukebox troll too. The lyrics clock in at about 900 words, many people have never heard the song before, and the story is fine but nothing more. Which means people will be annoyed at a nine minute-long Dylan song but also confused as to which song it is and why this is happening to them. But also stopping their conversations to try and listen to the words before getting annoyed again. Plus, you have to work for this one because not every bar has this random Dylan deep cut in their catalogue. So if you see it, it’s a gift from the Juxebox Troll Gods and you should jump at the opportunity.
Marquee Moon - Television, by Ricky O’Donnell
In addition to simply being an all-time great song on an all-time great album, queueing up “Marquee Moon” on a jukebox comes with added benefits. For one: absolute power for 11 minutes. No one knows when this song ever really starts or ends; it’s just an endless guitar loop that washes over the entire bar to the delight of anyone familiar with it.
That’s the other advantage: playing “Marquee Moon” is a great way to make new friends. The type of person who digs “Marquee Moon” is most likely to be cool and friend-worthy. Anyone who doesn’t will probably be annoyed by its sheer length, which is fine because they are likely to be a lame by virtue of not being familiar with “Marquee Moon”.
The math checks out here, trust me.
The Waffle House Song, by Jason Kirk
There are songs about Waffle House. Here are some. They exist only on Waffle House jukeboxes, as far as I know. Once, one teen in our group of teens was playing the same Waffle House song over and over, until a cook yelled, “IF YOU PLAY THAT SHIT AGAIN, I’M UNPLUGGING THE JUKEBOX.” Promise kept, and the jukebox sat like three feet away from the wall for at least a few hours.
1985 — Bowling for Soup, by Alex Kirshner
Were you in middle school at some point in the mid- or late-2000s?
Good. You get it. Nobody else does, but that’s a personal problem.
Be-Bop-A-Lula — performed by Elvis, by Ryan Van Bibber
My high school PE class got to go to the bowling alley for a month-long stretch my senior year. (Which is even more awesome in hindsight, but probably not great for promoting much-needed physical activity among America’s youth. Meh).
The teacher who was kind enough to let us go bowling for a month also happened to like Elvis, and would occasionally play some songs on the jukebox there. But did he like it enough to listen to The King’s version of Be-Bop-A-Lula 35 times in a row? Probably not. He shouted “goddamit, Van Bibber” (PE coaches only call you by your last name) and we didn’t get to listen to the jukebox at all the last week of our bowling unit. Sorry, not sorry.
All Night Long — Lionel Richie, by Nate Scott
The summer of 2006 I lived with a couple friends in a shithole basement apartment in Brighton, Massachusetts. My room was a windowless hovel by the back door — it was actually at one point a mud room that we had converted into a “bedroom.” I slept on an air mattress that had a small hole in it, so I would wake up every night around 3 a.m. on the ground and have to inflate the thing up again. I was 20 years old.
That summer I got a job working at a place called Union Street Restaurant Patio & Grill, which was noted at the time as being the favorite bar of then Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan. It was basically a classier Applebee’s, the sort of place you could get a half decent burger or an overpriced steak sandwich and the game was on and bros would come there after work and cheers to the fucking weekend.
I hated it. I hated every single customer, in the special way only a 20-year-old creative writing major can hate people who are moderately bougie and just want a Long Island Iced Tea after a long day at a moderately stressful office job. So one day, toward the end of the summer and my time there, I put like $40 in the TouchTunes machine and put on Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” Priority Play, 10 times in a row in the middle of a Friday night. I don’t remember why I chose that song, but choose it I did.
The first play, people were having fun. The second, the good times were still rolling. By the third time, people realized something had gone awry. A bartender, who had seen me at the jukebox, asked what I’d done. I smiled. By the fifth play, there was general concern among the patrons. By the eighth, a small crowd had gathered around the jukebox. At one point someone yelled out “WHOEVER DID IT DID THE PRIORITY PLAY. WE CAN’T MAKE IT STOP.” It finally ended when the head bartender unplugged the jukebox.
My boss threatened to fire me that night. I quit a couple weeks later. If you asked me what the lesson here was, I have no idea. I don’t think there is a lesson. That song still goes, though. That’s for sure.