Twenty-four years ago today — July 6th, 1991 — Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” hit Number One on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, earning the budding star his second chart-topper and cementing his traditionalist status just as country was moving to incorporate more mainstream pop sounds. The song would stay in the top spot for three weeks.
With its hardcore honky-tonk feel and double-meaning lyrics, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” was catchy and fun — and had the added benefit of serving as a rallying cry for fans who felt country had gotten too far from its roots. At the time, the genre had just overcome its Urban Cowboy phase, the “Great Credibility Scare” of ’86 had come and gone (a term coined by Steve Earle to describe left-of-center artists like himself, Lyle Lovett and Foster & Lloyd) and a new breed of stars like Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn were on the verge of exploding.
The first single off Jackson’s second album of the same name, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” was co-written by the artist with producer Keith Stegall and Roger Murrah and told the story of a “heartbroke hillbilly” who needed to hear some sad country songs — like those sung by George Jones — and not the upbeat rock music of, say, the Rolling Stones. According to Jackson, his bass player uttered the famous hook while perusing a wobbly jukebox between sets in a Virginia dancehall.
The song’s video became almost as legendary as the tune itself, featuring Jackson singing while a mysterious figure sits in the shadows behind him. A grunge rocker, a guy who resembles the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and various other characters all appear, trying to change the music or catch Jackson’s attention, but to no avail. Near the end of the clip, the shadowy figure is revealed to be Jones himself, further aligning Jackson with country’s golden era.
The song was named Single of the Year at the 1991 ACM Awards and Jackson has gone on to place 35 songs at Number One overall. He’s currently on his 2015 Keepin’ It Country Tour and preparing for the release of a new album, Angels and Alcohol. The album’s first single, “Jim and Jack and Hank,” was revealed in June.