On the jukebox at Millie & Al's, there's a cut of the Rascals singing Good Lovin'. "It's a sentimental favorite," says restaurateur John Shapiro.
In 1966, the year that tune came out, Shapiro was fighting in Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. Once, after a battle for a hill called "The Rockpile" -- with his unit exhausted, hurt and dazed from heavy mortar -- one of his buddies flipped a radio on.
"It was a cheap, little two-transister job that he bought off some little kid," Shapiro says. "You could hardly get anything but static when you turned the dial. But the Armed Forces Network must have doubled the juice that day, because this song came blaring out loud and clear. All of a sudden, 80 Marines got up and started dancing and singing together on top of this mountain, where they had just had the crap mortared out of them. It was the Rascals' Good Lovin'. Sure brings back memories."
The Rowe-AMI jukebox at MILLIE & AL'S, 2440 18th Street NW, is a quirky reflection of Shapiro's passions and tastes: the Angels' My Boyfriend's Back, the Pipes & Drums Dragoons with Amazing Grace, Fats Domino doing Blueberry Hill, Mason Williams' Classical Gas and, because he's a Spike Jones fan, the maestro's version of Rudolph, The Rednosed Reindeer.
Like any jukebox worth the price of a play, it suggests the proprietor's life and times. The tunes on most jukeboxes these days, alas, suggest some record wholesaler's demographic sense.
Washington, however, has a wealth of bistros, bars, clubs, even dives, sporting jukeoxes with distinctive personalities. Their eclectic offerings range from Lucia Albanese singing "Batti, Batti" from Mozart's Don Giovanni on the Rowe-AMI at Machiavelli's to Kraftwerk's tuneless chanting of Pocket Calculator on the Rock-Ola 448 at Food for Thought.
What they all have in common is this: The folks who put the records in them care.
At STETSON'S, a Tex-Mex spot at 1610 U Street NW, the Rock-Ola Quadphonic is something of a battleground for three clashing sensibilities: those of two proud Texans and a chap from England. At two plays a quarter, it offers, as Liverpool's Peter Shillinglaw says, "a selection of everything from Billie Holiday to country & western to Elvis Costello" -- with such selections as Joe Piscopo's I Love Rock 'n' Roll also spinning into the breach.
Shillinglaw's musical taste runs to the '60s and before -- his fellow Liverpudlians, the Beatles, are a particular delight. One of his Texan co-owners, Tommy Fitts, prefers fellow Austinite Willie Nelson. The other, Ralph Le Blanc of Bidor, has a soft spot for the Boogie Kings and Cookie & The Cupcakes, whom he describes as "two old bands from southeast Texas."
Every so often, he says, one partner will remove the 45 of another, replacing it on the sly with his own.
"I remember once somebody took off Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills and Nash," says Shillinglaw. "Well, I just went crazy and put it back on quick. That song is an absolute landmark of American rock'n'roll."
"It's jukebox guerilla warfare," says Le Blanc, a Washington cop. "Personally, I like oneupmanship. Tommy has been trying to find a Bob Seger cut for months: Still the Same. I'd like to find it first so I can one-up old Tom. Peter is an American buff; he used to hang out with the Diamonds in the early '50s. They'd go around the streets of Toronto late at night, singing doo-da-be-doo-da-be-boppa- boppa. Well, I got their old hit Little Darlin' and stuck it the jukebox without telling him. One day, Pete was sitting at the bar when somebody punched it up. He came up out of his seat like a shot, he was so surprised. I think the score stands at Ralph: 2, Pete and Tommy: 0."
At CARLOS GARDEL, an "Argentinian family restaurant" at 1759 Columbia Road NW, the Seeburg is all-Latin, featuring the music, naturally enough, of one Carlos Gardel. Before he died in a plane crash some 50 years ago, Gardel was Argentina's answer to Valentino: quite handsome (judging by the photo behind the bar) and a tango king to boot.
"He died the same year I was born, but I was very addicted to his music," says Eloy Carrera, a native Ecuadorean who owns the restaurant with his Argentine wife Adela. "He was very famous -- legendary is the word -- for the tango music, and sang it all the way to Europe. He was what they called sorsal criolla, because of the expressive way he sang. He even took it to France: Did you ever see 'Last Tango in Paris'? He's still big with a lot of Argentinians, who get very emotional and sentimental when they listen to him. In Argentina, there are still many, many Gardelinos."
The selections, gathered by dint of Carrera's hard work, include such Gardel hits as Mi Buenos Aires Querida, Por Una Cabeza, Jira, Jira, Cuesta Abajo -- plus music from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean and Spain.
"I got quite a collection," Carrera allows.
Another single-minded jukebox, and perhaps this town's most famous, is Joe Cohen's Rowe-AMI at ONE STEP DOWN, 2517 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The jukebox, which comes on between live sets, is renowned for its through-and- through jazz: Stan Getz's Desperado, Dizzy Gillespie's Talk of the Town, Charlie Parker's Temptation -- for a pricey quarter a play.
"We have the records that the older folks, 35 and over, like to play, as a way of educating the younger ones," says Cohen. "Before we had live jazz, we had this jukebox. I've got enough 45s to stock six of them."
As for monomania, THE TUNE INN, at 3311/2 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, boasts an all-country jukebox, but it's largely Top 40 -- less natural selection than mass consumption.
Then there's HERB'S, a comfily wood-paneled bar in the Georgetown Hotel at 2121 P Street NW, where philanthropy's the order of the play. When you pay the Rowe-AMI -- with a quarter for three tunes the bargain price -- you're also supporting the arts: This year, the owner says, the money goes to the Washington Project for the Arts, the Trinity Players and the International Sculpture Center among other groups.
The jukebox is equally diverse, from Chubby Checker doing The Twist and Bobby Darin going Splish Splash, to Roberta Flack Killing Me Softly and Marlene Dietrich Falling in Love Again. Besides old Beatles, Blondie, Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, there are tunes by Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel and Connie Francis. Connie Francis?
"Well, we have various nostalgic periods," says Herb White, a former world-traveler who settled here in the '60s. "Take Nat King Cole, singing Mona Lisa. I remember that from the '50s, when I was a kid growing up in Florida. There are memories that go along with that record that I don't know if you could put in a newspaper.
"Or The Twist. I first heard that in Turkey, when I was a freelance writer. In Istanbul, everybody wanted me to teach them 'the tweest.' I didn't even know what they were talking about. I like nostalgia. You know, you can hear a record and have a whole fantasy to go along with it. I want to put on the theme from 'Leave It to Beaver.' I'd love to get some Piaf on there. It's a living jukebox."
Herb's jukebox is also inviting, while some others aren't. At Garrett's, a bar in Georgetown, it helps to be a big-game hunter; would-be button-pushers must face the huge horned head of a stuffed rhinoceros.
At the BRICKSKELLER, around the corner from Herb's at 1523 22nd Street NW, there's a jukebox for playing and one just for show. There's lots of swing on the one that works; the other is a '40s-vintage Wurlitzer Bubbler. An example of the last jukebox Wurlitzer produced -- the nostalgic -- looking, 1974-vintage Model 1050 -- can be found at JOHN'S PLACE, a dart bar in Glen Echo.
Dupont Circle is a neighborhood for worthwhile jukes. From north to south, there's one at FOOD FOR THOUGHT, 1738 Connecticut Avenue NW, where The Thrill is gone for B.B. King; Sarah Vayhan's a little Misty; Luciano Pavarotti does O Sole Mio; and Tommy Dorsey presents his Boogie Woogie. The Rowe-AMI at PAST TIME PUB, 1707 Connecticut Avenue NW, has Liza Minnelli singing Cabaret, Simon & Garfunkel's Cecelia, the Byrds doing Turn, Turn, Turn, Duke Ellington's Satin Doll and Jose Iglesias' his Boogie Woogie. The Rowe-AMI at PAST TIMES PUB, 1707 Connecticut Avenue NW, has Liza Minnelli singing Cabaret, Simon & Garfunkel's Cecelia, the Byrds doing Turn, Turn, Turn, Duke Ellington's Satin Doll and Jose Iglesias' Volver a Empezar. And the jukebox at THE CHILDE HAROLD, 1610 20th Street NW, sports Buddy Holly's Someone to Love, the Stones' Satisfaction and Frank Sinatra's That's Life.
In the meantime, you're not likely to find the Dave Clark Five on many jukeboxes outside of the Rowe-AMI at ARMAND'S CHICAGO PIZZERIA, 4231 Wisconsin Avenue NW, where the group sings Catch Us if You Can, and their erstwhile rivals, the Beatles, have a Ticket to Ride.
"I remember my brother got tickets to the first Beatles concert in Washington and asked if I wanted to come," says owner Steve Neumyer, 32. "I told him, 'No way, forget it.' I was a loyal fan of the Dave Clark Five."
On the same jukebox, Dooley Wilson sings As Time Goes By, and Sinatra, appropriately enough, croons My Kind of Town instead of the usual jukebox number, New York, New York.
On Capitol Hill, there are some meaty jukeboxes at the HAWK AND DOVE, 329 Pennsylvania Avenue SE; MR. HENRY'S, 601 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, where the Roberta Flack selections take on added poignance (she got her start there, live); and, of course, at MACHIAVELLI'S, 613 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
This last is famous for its classical and operatic selections. But besides such offerings as Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake on a four-record set, it has Louis Prima singing That Old Black Magic, the Andrew Sisters with Rum and Coca- Cola and even the Theme From Hill Street Blues.
"People sometimes come to a place just for its jukebox," says John Shapiro of Millie & Al's. "Part of the whole fun is just being able to take a break from drinking beer -- getting up, walking over and deciding what should be played.""