“Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
As pointed out in the trivia section, “Jailhouse Rock” was written for a specific movie starring Elvis Presley. In said film, Elvis plays a “jailbird”, i.e. someone who is incarcerated, who later (spoiler alert) ends up rockin’ the jail. That is to say that he performs “Jailhouse Rock” within the prison itself. And the lyrics serve as an illustration of that entire setting. For instance, we see that he is doing so as part of a party which is thrown by the prison’s warden. He also gives a shoutout to a couple of real-life life people, musicians actually, who he reports as being present.
One is “Shifty Henry”, and the other two, “Spider Murphy” and “Little Joey”, were actual members of the King’s band. Additionally just for authenticity’s sake he also gives a shoutout to a couple of real-life criminals from that day, i.e. “Bugs” Siegel and “the Purple Gang”. And basically, the whole scenario points back to the singer’s desire to get the jailhouse party jumping. And based on his own account of what’s going down, he has succeeded in achieving that goal.
Did Elvis Presley write “Jailhouse Rock”?
No. This song was composed by the classic mid-20th century songwriting duo of Jerry Leiber (1933-2011) and Mike Stoller. And it was also Mike Stoller who produced the track, in addition to playing piano on it.
As the story goes, according to Stoller, when he and Leiber were given the assignment to write songs for the movie Jailhouse Rock (1957), from which this track is derived, instead they procrastinated and kinda goofed off, chillin’ in New York City instead. Then when they faced pressure to actually present tracks to their employer, they “wrote four songs in about five hours”. And one of those tunes was “Jailhouse Rock”. In fact it was actually the movie that was named after the song, not vice versa. For originally, upon writing the aforementioned tunes, the film was actually entitled Ghost of a Chance.
When did “Jailhouse Rock” come out?
RCA Victor released this track on 24 September 1957. RCA released it as the lead single from Elvis’s EP which itself is entitled Jailhouse Rock, which served as the soundtrack to the aforementioned film.
Those familiar with this track know that it was an early hit in the modern era American music history. For instance, it actually topped 7 different Billboard charts, including the Hot 100 itself, furthermore being certified double-platinum in the US. It also topped the UK Singles Chart, in fact being the first song in that listing’s history to debut at number one. And throughout the years it has had a tendency to reappear on music charts from time-to-time.
But more importantly beyond its chart success is the legacy of the tune. For instance, it has been named one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone, placing as high as number 67 on the list in 2007. Additionally it made its way into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017, in addition to earlier being named one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.