I’ve been a fan of a radio show on KFAI in Minneapolis called Crap From The Past, hosted by the great Ron “Boogiemonster” Gerber, for about five years or so. It was recommended to me on the Steve Hoffman boards when the description of it made me think “whoa, this sounds like the kind of show I would love”. Crap From The Past calls itself “a graduate-leve course in pop music” and as someone who was raised with radio in the mid to late 70′s and early 80′s, I fondly remember when AM radio stations were a door towards so much more. It was very much about listening to Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 every Sunday, but it was also about hearing the hits, the non-hits, and the surprises of the day.
In the last few years, Gerber has done a segment on his show called Ron’s Dream Jukebox, where he selects 100 different records he would put into his jukebox if he was able to obtain one. I am someone who was also raised within the era of the jukebox, or at least one of the last eras when the jukebox was considered the king of music listening, and it reminded me of how jukeboxes also played a row in some of my music listening habits. In fact, I looked forward to a restaurant which had them so while the food was being cooked, I could look over at the selections. In Honolulu, it was a mixture of the hit songs of the day and yesterday, plus a wide assortment of Japanese standards and a small handful of Hawaiian gems. I liked it because it meant with my 50 cents or dollar, I could not only play the A-sides, but the prized B-sides as well, in front of an audience. My childhood dream was to be a radio DJ, so playing the jukebox was my way of being a makeshift DJ.
Even my childhood dentist had a jukebox, but it was one of those closed models where you had a lot of lights and buttons, but couldn’t see the mechanics. However, there was one jukebox that completely rocked my world, and it was in a burget joint in the Kaimuki section of Honolulu that I believe was my mom’s hangout as a teen, for I remember the place looking and feeling old. My mom did her share of shopping in Kaimuki, so it could’ve been anything from Woolworth’s to the Kress store that she visited. For the first and only time, we decided to have lunch at this restaurant and while I was hungry, nothing could have prepared me for the jukebox I saw. Knowing the exact make and model wasn’t important as an 8 year old, but the word “Seeburg” stuck out to me. All I remember was the blue machine that held the records inside like an arm, and it could select and/or put away each record in a specific order. I had never seen a jukebox move like this, it reminded me a bit of the dream record machine that was on Ramsey Lewis’ Golden Hits album, and I wanted to be caught up in it. It was great to see each record selected, placed on the turntable, the needle hitting the record, and me watching the grooves move either forward or backward, depending on what side was being played. I was mesmerized and from that point on, that became my jukebox of choice. I always said if I ever had a nice home or enough money to buy one, I’d get a Seeburg. No Seeburg in my life, but “just in case” one makes it my way, I want to be prepared. Thus this new column on my website.
Book’s Jook can be pronounced as “Book’s Juke”, as it is a look into the records I would want to put into rotation in my jukebox. Or the “Jook” can be pronounced Chinese-style like the food, a congee, or porridge soup. I would consider the jukebox my musical “jook” of sorts, and since the Chinese dish roughly rhymes with my last name, I call it Book’s Jook. Either way, when you see it, you know what I’m referring to, regardless of how you prefer to pronounce it.
I remember this as if it was yesterday. One of my favorite record stores as a kid was Music Box Records in downtown Honolulu, owned and operated by a Japanese lady. I became aware of this store through shopping with my mom, as it would be the store to pass to and from the bus stop. They would play records from inside, usually the hits of the day, but the window display always had an arrangement that showed that week’s Top 10 singles, which to me was cool to look at. In time, this would be a place for me to buy records, but there was something quite different about Music Box. I was told by my mom that if I wanted a certain record, or a specific pressing, I could ask for it and the lady would go into the back room and find it. This was different from going into a department store and seeing a row of 45′s or the Oldies But Goodies section. On two different instances, there were records I had to have: Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” and Chicago’s ‘Feeling Stronger Every Day”. When I discovered the songs, they were no longer hits, which meant that perhaps the lady had a copy in the back room. In truth, it wasn’t a deep back room, but literally a closet, but what lurked behind the door was the hidden records that were no longer popular anymore. Anyway, when I asked for “Love Rollercoaster”, she not only had the record, but it was the blue label Mercury. I already knew that the label at the time was the skyline, but a blue label? Why does *she* have this blue label, why have I never seen it? A year or two later, as I was discovering the music of Chicago, I found out about “Feeling Stronger Every Day”. At department stores, an older record released by Columbia would be released on their Columbia Hall Of Fame label, as both songs on the 45 were the hits. I expected to see that copy but she goes into the back room, the generic sleeve is brown and the label is the standard red/orange. I knew it was an original because the font style was different from the other Columbia 45′s I had in my small collection, and Columbia was a label that was a major part of my listening. Again, why does this lady have an original copy that I can’t find at a regular store?
Sometime in late 1978/early 1979, I started to explore more of the store. I looked in the 12″ singles, the Hawaiian section, the Beatles section, along with records in the back. Close to the wall on the left was what I would call the budget section of 45′s, the cheaper records, stuff that may have seemed like records no one wanted or “let’s see if we can sell these for a bargain price”. Most of them were white label promotional records, and as someone who wanted to be a radio DJ, it was cool to look over and think that some disc jockey may have had a chance to look through these records and possibly give them a chance. I didn’t know then that that task had more to do with the music director than the DJ, although back then, DJ’s also had a hand in what was played, offering a chance to share his interests and “flavor” along with the popular hits. In the bargain bin was a little sign that said “3 for $1″, which meant any three records that were in that section, I could buy them for a dollar. To me, this was great: I could have more records for a buck than I could if I bought just one 45, which at the time was anywhere from 99 cents to $1.39. I loved Epic Records as well and what I noticed was a wealth of records on the label, by artists I had never heard of. I picked and those three random records and decided to take it home. Time has made me forget the other two records I bought, but one of them has remained in my mind since I placed the needle on my Emerson phonograph.
I had no idea who The Real Thing were, but what I loved about the song was its driving disco rhythm, very much the sound of the time. The infectious chorus was simple: “oooh, oooh, oooh… can you feel the force?” and the vocal harmonies were quite nice, dare I say unique? I was eight years old so I wasn’t thinking like a journalist and making bold statements like “that’s a unique vocal passage” but it sounded good to me and I played it all the time. What I loved the most was the breakdown in the song about two-thirds of the way through, where all you heard was percussion, hand claps and a chant that went “feel the force, feel the force, feel the force, can you feel the force?” When this played, I got down and I couldn’t get enough of it. It was the era of Star Wars so I was very aware that “the force” could be found in this song, but it didn’t sound like the kind of force one could find on Tatooine, but one that was preferable on Earth. For years, all I had was the 45 and I had no idea who The Real Thing were or what they looked like.
The next time I became aware of The Real Thing was through a book by one Muck Raker called Rock Bottom, sub-titled The Book Of Pop Atrocities. As a kid who started to explore more than what was on the radio and what my parents bought from me, this book was a day to find out about the odd and weird side of music, hearing out by bands and artists I would have never heard about. Who knew there were songs like “Sit On My Face, Stevie Nicks”? A big lure in wanting this book was the flexi-disc record that was inside, which was fairly horrible but the information found in the book was something I absorbed for years and made me want to find these eclectic and unknown sounds. One of the records inside was described as sexy yet creepy, not those exact words but perhaps it was meant to say it lacked taste. It happened to be the full album by The Real Thing, Can You Feel The Force, and it showed a man and woman embracing in the nude. Or was there a third person? There were layers of two or three people on the cover, but it seemed hot and steamy, or at least what was considered hot and steamy for an eleven year old. It still didn’t tell me who The Real Thing were, but at least I knew if I saw this album pop up in my finds, I would know who it was.
It wouldn’t be until the internet that I learned that The Real Thing were a British vocal group from London that was fronted by two brothers, Chris and Eddy Amoo, and that Eddy had been a part of the group The Chants since the early 1960′s. The Real Thing started as a group in the early 1970′s and despite a lack of success compared to their contemporaries, they continued forward and released single after singer, letting people know they weren’t going to give up. “Can You Feel The Force” ended up being The Real Thing’s second biggest hit, getting high as #5 on the British singles chart. In the U.S., they were not a force. Oddly enough, the song did go as high as #24 in New Zealand, so at least someone in the Pacific Rim other than me knew this song and who they were.
The internet has also allowed me to finally see The Real Thing through photographs and lip-synched TV performances, and it’s a shame most people outside of England didn’t get a chance to make them a personal favorite. In my new Book’s Jook column, while there were many records and artists that came to my head immediately, this one was first and foremost, and thus will be positioned first in my own custom jukebox.