Sunday, October 21, 2007

50 years ago: Elvis Presley hit #1 with “Jailhouse Rock”

Jailhouse Rock

Elvis Presley

Writer(s): Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller (see lyrics here)

Released: September 24, 1957

First Charted: September 30, 1957

Peak: 17 US, 3 HP, 13 CB, 2 HR, 11 CW, 15 RB, 14 UK, 11 CN, 3 AU, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, 0.79 UK, 9.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 237.8 video, 238.74 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was intent on getting his star into the movies. He was frustrated that people could see “the King” for free on television, but movies were different. People had to pay. AH The first film was a western originally called The Reno Brothers which was reworked into Love Me Tender, a vehicle for four new Elvis songs. Next up was Loving You, “a more straight ahead rock and roll film…[that] was basically a fictionalized version of Elvis’ own life to that point.” AH It included a title song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, “the first important non-performing songwriters of the rock era.” TB They were known for their R&B hits, one of which was the jail-themed “Riot in Cell Block #9” by the Coasters. TC They’d also written one of Elvis’ biggest hits – “Hound Dog – first recorded by Big Mama Thornton. RS500

Even so, the team weren’t sold on Elvis – until they met him. Then they were impressed with his work ethic and knowledge of R&B and agreed to write the prison songs for the King’s third movie, Jailhouse Rock. It was their first movie score. SF As bad as Elvis movies could be, the songs that soundtracked them were often worse. Still, Elvis had “his celluloid moments” and perhaps never better than in Jailhouse Rock, HL which is generally considered Elvis’ best film. AH

Leiber and Stoller’s score “was perfect” but nothing could match the energetic title song. HL Inspired by “Comeback” by Memphis Slim, KL “Jailhouse Rock” sported a tongue-in-cheek nature on par with the Coasters’ material. However, Elvis ignored the lyrical jokes, such as the gay-prisoner-themed line about one inmate telling another “You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see” and “sang it as straight rock & roll.” RS500

As for the dance routine involving dancing convicts in their cells, it was choreographed by Elvis himself, FB making it his only full-fledged example of such work in one of his movies. HL The dance sequence accompanying “Jailhouse Rock” featured dozens of men dressed as convicts. Alex Romero was tasked to choreograph the scene, but because Elvis was “a natural mover,” AH he wasn’t used to how trained dancers moved. Romero’s solution was to have Elvis move as he normally would on stage and then Romero worked those moves into the larger routine. AH It is often cited as an early influence on the development of music video. DJ

Music historian Steve Sullivan called the song “an all-out rocker with Elvis in peak, full-throated vocal form.” SS Music critic Dave Marsh said it was “an enduring smash” DM because of “the great walking bass, Scotty Moore’s invention of power chording, and D.J. Fontanta’s drumming, which is halfway between strip joint rhumba and the perfect New Orleans shuffle.” DM

The “hot rocking theme” DT was a huge hit, topping the U.S. pop, R&B, and country charts. It was the first #1 debut on the UK charts. While common today, it was considered impossible at the time. HL It returned to the peak in January 2005 when released to commemorate Presley’s 70th birthday, making it the oldest single top ever top that chart and one of three to top that chart twice. The other two were Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” SF both of which regained attention because of the deaths of their songwriters.


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Last updated 4/5/2023.

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