Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley

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"Jailhouse Rock" - Elvis Presley (1957)

Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Jailhouse Rock” was released in 1957 to coincide with Elvis Presley’s first movie, Jailhouse Rock. The elaborate dance number to the film’s title song is often cited as Presley’s greatest moment on screen.

Mike Stoller played piano on the track. The first song to enter the US charts at number one, it remained there for seven weeks.

Many of the characters named in the composition are real people. “Shifty Henry“ was a well-known L.A. musician, not a criminal. “The Purple Gang“ was a real crime mob. “Sad Sack“ was a U.S. Army nickname in World War II for a loser, which also became the name of a popular comic strip and comic book character.

The lyric “You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see” is a sly reference to prison sex but was not offensive enough to create a controversy. The track also included a few outrageous lines such as the opening “The warden threw a party in the county jail.” What warden is going to throw a party at the county jail? Or, when the warden advises an inmate not to “be square and if you can’t find a partner use a wooden chair.”

In 2009 Stoller recalled how they came to compose the song. Living in a hotel in New York City, they were told by Elvis’s manager Colonel Parker that he needed a song for the movie. He and Leiber didn’t bother writing it, and instead, enjoyed the nightlife of the Big Apple. About a week later Jean Aberbach who owned Hill and Range songs who were going to publish the song, and told them in his very thick Viennese accent: “Vell boys, you vill haf my songs for the movie.”

Stoller told him not to worry that he’ll have them. Averbach then pushed a big chair in front of the door and sat down and said: “I’m going to take a nap and I’m not leaving until you have my songs.”

Stoller remembers:

“So we wrote four songs (including this one) in about five hours and then were free to go out.”

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