Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock

I’ve been reading a biography of Elvis and I recently have been watching a documentary about him. My son told me Saturday he was operating the lights for a play in his High School and wanted me to go. Saturday night I go and the play is a musical called…All Shook Up…set in the fifties using Elvis songs. Everywhere I turn there is Elvis.

No telling how many times I’ve heard this song but I really paid attention to it for the first time. Yes, Elvis had a great voice we know that but this voice is untamed and wild. It has a scratchy, driving, and go for your throat voice that he seemed to lose as he got older (well he did find it on the 68 comeback special) and tried to please too many people. This is rock and roll at it’s purest form…

The song peaked at #1 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957 at the time but now it’s not counted as a number 1. I could not understand why it was listed as a #1 record and on the Billboard site, it does not list it as such.

I found this about the change

Billboards latest ruling is based on the fact that the Billboard Hot 100 Chart was first launched on August 4th 1958 and so number one hits counted by other means on differently named charts prior to this date [But still ‘the Billboard chart of the day’] should not be counted.

From Songfacts

This was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who also wrote “Hound Dog,” which became a huge hit when Elvis recorded it. Leiber and Stoller excelled at writing catchy pop songs with elements of blues music. Their songs could be very funny and clever, and often take place in unusual situations. Some of their other hits include “Love Potion #9” and “On Broadway.” Mike Stoller played piano on this track.

This was featured in the Elvis movie of the same name, where Elvis plays a wrongly accused convict who becomes a star when he gets out. The film, which is considered one of the best of his 31 movies, is famous for the scene where Elvis performs this song in an elaborate dance number taking place in prison.

The movie score was the first one that Leiber and Stoller wrote. Stoller recalled to Mojo magazine April 2009: “We flew in to New York from LA, where were living at that time, and we had a hotel suite. We had a piano put in, in case the muse struck us, and Jean Aberbach – he and his brother (Julian) owned Hill & Range Songs and they had to deal with Colonel Parker but created Gladys Music and Elvis Presley Music-handed us a script for a movie. We threw it in the corner with the tourist magazines that you get in hotels. We were having a ball in New York, going to the theatre, going to jazz clubs to hear Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, doing a lot of drinking. On a Saturday morning- we’d been there about a week – Jean knocked on the door and said, in a very Viennese accent, ‘Vell boys, you vill haf my songs for the movie.’ Jerry said, ‘Don’t worry Jean, you’ll have them’ Jean said, ‘I know.’ And he 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.’ So we wrote four songs in about five hours and then were free to go out.”

The four songs the duo composed were “Jailhouse Rock,” “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care,” “Treat Me Nice” and “I Want to Be Free.”

The movie got its name from this song. When Leiber and Stoller wrote it, the film was titled Ghost of a Chance. The duo had the script and wrote the song for the scene where inmates put on a show in the prison.

After the song was recorded, it was clear that it was going to be a hit, so the movie was renamed Jailhouse Rock. The single was released in September 1957 and reached #1 on October 21. The film was released on November 8.

The line, “Number 47 said to number 3, You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see,” is a sly reference to prison sex but was not offensive enough to create any controversy over the song.

This was a massive hit. It was #1 on the US pop charts for seven weeks, and also reached #1 on the country and R&B charts. In the UK, it entered the charts at #1, becoming the first song to do so.

“Jailhouse Rock” has one of the most memorable intros in rock history: two guitar chords with snare drum hits. The intro last just six seconds, but the pattern repeats throughout the verses, establishing a firm musical hook that remains the envy of songwriters.

ABC television ran a series of educational cartoons called “Schoolhouse Rock” in the ’70s. Millions of kids learned about grammar, history, and astronomy from them. The title was a play on this song.

Ozzy Osbourne played a heavy metal version in 1987 when he did a tour of prisons.

Sha-Na-Na played this at Woodstock in 1969. Very few of the attendees saw their performance, as they didn’t go on until Monday morning (the event was scheduled to end at midnight on Sunday, but ran long). Jimi Hendrix followed Sha-Na-Na to close out the festival.

January 2005 marked what would have been Elvis Presley’s 70th birthday. In commemoration, Elvis’ record label re-released this in the UK where it went straight to #1, making it the oldest recording ever to top the UK charts. It also became the third single to hit #1 twice in the UK, following “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “My Sweet Lord,” both of which were also posthumous re-releases.

In 2007, Chris Rock performed this on the Movies Rock TV special, where modern pop artists performed classic movie songs. Brown re-created Elvis’ scene from the movie.

The Cramps recorded a version of this on the CD The Last Temptation of Elvis. All profits went to a music therapy charity. >>

On November 4, 1957, this topped both the pop and R&B charts. In an odd twist, the next five positions on both charts were also the same songs: “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers, “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke, “Silhouettes” by the Rays, “Be-Bop Baby” by Ricky Nelson, and “Honeycomb” by Jimmie Rodgers.

This song was covered by the Blues Brothers, and featured at the end of the movie of the same name. The brothers and the band are seen playing this song to their fellow inmates.

Mötley Crüe included a live version recorded at a show in Long Beach, California on their 1987 album Girls, Girls, Girls.

Elvis’ real-life band members DJ Fontana, Scotty Moore and Bill Black played his character’s band in the movie, along with Mike Stoller on piano. 

In the Leiber and Stoller autobiography Hound Dog, written with David Ritz, Leiber explained he was originally supposed to play the role in the movie because the casting director thought he looked more like a piano player than Stoller. When Leiber and Elvis both protested, the man insisted, “All he has to do is run his fingers over the keys. Any fool can do that.” But when the first day of filming started, Leiber came down with a toothache and had to visit the dentist, so Stoller stepped in. Because he wasn’t a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he wasn’t allowed any dialogue throughout the movie. He also had to shave his goatee because it was “a scene stealer.”

Ever wonder how this jail party ends? Possibly with the inmates peacefully returning to their cells, but it could also have a more violent conclusion. In the 10cc song “Rubber Bullets,” a #1 UK hit in 1973, they sing about a similar jailhouse party, but theirs ends with riot police taking action.

Jailhouse Rock

The warden threw a party in the county jail
The prison band was there and they began to wail
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing
You should’ve heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone
Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone
The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang
The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Number forty-seven said to number three
“You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see
I sure would be delighted with your company
Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me”

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block 
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Sad sack was sittin’ on a block of stone
Way over in the corner weepin’ all alone
The warden said, “hey, buddy, don’t you be no square
If you can’t find a partner, use a wooden chair”

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Shifty Henry said to Bugs, “For Heaven’s sake
No one’s lookin’ now’s our chance to make a break”
Bugsy turned to Shifty and he said, “Nix, Nix
I want to stick around a while and get my kicks”

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock
Dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock
Dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock
Dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock
Dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

21 thoughts on “Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock”

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t post the actual video from the movie. You can’t help but move to this song in some way.

    His voice was awesome back then. As he aged, it dropped lower but, that happens to many singers.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. He had it back on the 68 special…It’s just those terrible movie songs that he had to sing…he couldn’t use that voice… I’m not saying Love Me Tender etc… you know the ones I mean…


      1. Lol…except the end part!
        Like the movie Pulp Fiction…in an outtake Uma Thurman said either you are an Elvis kind of person or a Beatles kind of person…I would fit the later.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: