In 1989, Alan Jackson was the first new artist signed to the Nashville division of Arista Records, which issued his debut LP Here in the Real World early in 1990. By the January 1991 release of his fourth single from the critically acclaimed album, he had snagged his first Number One hit with “I’d Love You All Over Again.”
Hot on the heels of that romantic ballad, the lanky Georgian would release the first track — and title cut — from his second album in April of ’91. Penned with Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” was a meaty slice of pure honky-tonk, the lyrics inspired by the true story of Roger Wills, the longtime bass player in Jackson’s Strayhorns band, who uttered the title phrase to warn the singer about a broken leg on the jukebox in Geraldine’s, a truck-stop lounge they were playing in Doswell, Virginia. Instead of a jukebox with a bum leg, however, the song played up the increasingly popular (and still raging) country versus rock debate but was really more about finding the right music to fit Jackson’s tear-in-his-beer mood.
A four-time CMA nominee in 1990, for the Horizon (Best New Artist) Award, Album, Single and Song of the Year, Jackson earned a second Album of the Year nod for Don’t Rock the Jukebox in 1991, and also notched his first nomination for Male Vocalist. Four of the singles from the LP, the title cut and “Dallas,” “Someday” and “Love’s Got a Hold on You,” topped the chart, with “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” the biggest country hit of the year. His CMA Awards show performance near the end of ’91 was one of the show’s highlights, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the lack of over-the-top production values that often accompanied the show’s live performances throughout the Nineties. Jackson, his guitar, and six Strayhorns were the only special effects on display, but the song would also help inspire and cement what would be a longtime friendship between Jackson and George Jones, who’s name-checked (along with the Rolling Stones) repeatedly in the song. Two years later, Jackson would be among the many country acts on Jones’ award-winning “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” and in 1994, Jackson and a Rolling Stone — guitarist Keith Richards — would guest on Jones’ Bradley Barn Sessions LP.
The official music video accompanying “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” was directed by music-video and film director Julien Temple, who had helmed clips for the Sex Pistols, David Bowie and Janet Jackson, among others. In it, Alan recounts the song’s origin story as an intro before playing along with the tune as actor Hal Smith, better known as lovable drunk Otis Campbell from the Andy Griffith Show, staggers in and out of the scene along with other actors, dancers, Strayhorns band members, and, of course, George Jones himself. Although he has no lines and doesn’t sing on the tune, Jones is featured on the Don’t Rock the Jukebox track, “Just Playin’ Possum,” a play on his famous nickname.
On June 7, 1991, less than a month after the May 14th release of Don’t Rock the Jukebox, Alan Jackson was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry, with the legendary Roy Acuff, and Jackson’s friend and sometime co-writer Randy Travis doing the honors.