I was browsing the November 24, 1973, edition of Billboard the other day, as one does. A section called “What’s Playing?” listed “a weekly survey of recent purchases and current and oldie selections getting top pay.” It’s a listing of what amusement companies were buying to stock their jukeboxes—in other words, what they were betting on to capture the most nickels, dimes, and quarters in their customers’ establishments.
Modern Specialty Company of Madison, Wisconsin—which is still in the amusement business today, although out on the east side of town instead of their downtown location of 1973—bought the following from the Hot 100: “Mind Games” by John Lennon, “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder, “Me and Baby Brother” by War, “Painted Ladies” by Ian Thomas, “Leave Me Alone” by Helen Reddy, and “Let Me Try Again” by Frank Sinatra. In Appleton, Wisconsin, Alice Maas of Cigarette Service bought “Mind Games” and “Leave Me Alone,” but also Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er,” “Oh No Not My Baby” by Rod Stewart, “Mammy Blue” by Stories, and “Let Me Serenade You” by Three Dog Night. In Green Bay, distributor Roger Broockmeyer bought “The Joker” by Steve Miller, along with the DeFranco Family’s “Heartbeat It’s a Lovebeat” and Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses,” plus something by the Spinners for which a title isn’t listed. Broockmeyer’s report also includes, under the heading “oldie,” the title “Scotch and Soda,” which is most likely the 1962 hit by the Kingston Trio. I like to imagine he bought it for some rural tavern owner with a persistent customer (or a wife) who really wanted it on their jukebox.
Kiddietime, an amusement company in Natick, Massachusetts, reported that it bought “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan and “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, along with Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep on Truckin'” and “Angie” by the Stones. Peach State Music Company in Macon, Georgia, joined those buying “Paper Roses” and “Keep on Truckin’,” but also reported “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band with the note, “a local act here.” Amusement Services of Lincoln, Nebraska, bought “D’yer Mak’er” and “Loves Me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon, along with “Country Sunshine” by Dottie West. Dottie’s big country hit was on the list of Mohawk Music in Greenfield, Massachusetts, along with several other hits that were getting both pop and country airplay: “Paper Roses,” “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” and Conway Twitty’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before.” Also big in Greenfield: Nashville session man Charlie McCoy’s country-blues performance of “Release Me” and “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” by Hank Wilson, better known to history as Leon Russell.
The listing that most interests me, however, is the one from Brodhead, Wisconsin. Brodhead is not far from my hometown, and it’s where my mother graduated from high school (although she grew up on a farm closer to Orfordville, if you want to be precise about it). The report is from Marie Pierce of C. S. Pierce Music—somebody my Brodhead/Orfordville relatives probably knew personally. Her report includes “Mind Games,” “Living for the City,” and “The Joker,” along with “Rockin’ Roll Baby” by the Stylistics, “Rock On” by David Essex, “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch With Sally” by Dawn, and “Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life” by Kevin Johnson, which is the original recording of a song that would become a hit for Mac Davis. (Johnson’s version is much, much better.)
I probably find this feature, which looks to have run regularly in Billboard during the first half of the 1970s, more interesting than you do. I like that it shows the human element in record marketing, before analytics were designed to take the human element out. I like that it puts small businesses in small towns—like C. S. Pierce Music of Brodhead, Wisconsin—into the national spotlight.
Most of all, I like to imagine some young guy walking up to a jukebox in Natick or Macon or Orfordville, change jingling in his pocket, seeing “Mind Games” or “D’yer Maker” there on the box, and deciding he has to hear it right now.