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Fifty years in the jailhouse.
May 2, 2007 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Fifty years ago today Elvis Presley recorded what would prove to be one of the iconic standards of the rock'n'roll canon, Leiber and Stoller's Jailhouse Rock. The song's sly allusions ("number 47 said to number three, you're the cutest jailbird I ever did see") to same-sex prison liaisons went unnoticed (or at least uncommented on) at the time, and it stayed a US #1 radio hit for 7 weeks straight. The unisex production number [youtube] from the movie of the same name has come to be recognized as one of the grandfathers of the pop/rock video. A black-leather-clad, still-svelte Presley performed the song on his 1968 [youtube] "comeback" TV special, and was singing it (slurred delivery, sequins and all) right up into 1977 [youtube], the year of his death. In 1980 John Belushi and company turned in a fine version [youtube] as the closer to the Blues Brothers movie, and the song was a regular feature of their live [youtube] shows as well. Happy 50th birthday, Jailhouse Rock!
posted by flapjax at midnite (52 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, two sources indicate that today, May 2, is THE recording date. But another source maintains the recording date was April 30. Hmmm... If anyone has the iron-clad last word on this, please chime in.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:48 AM on May 2, 2007


Thank you for this post flapjax, thank you very much.
posted by Shfishp at 6:50 AM on May 2, 2007


John Waters' tribute from Crybaby, "Please Mr. Jailer"
posted by squalor at 6:54 AM on May 2, 2007


Yeah, I always thought this song was a little gay.

(not gay as in lame, but gay as in actually... gay.)
posted by Afroblanco at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2007


Yeah, I always thought this song was a little gay.

(not gay as in lame, but gay as in actually... gay.)


"Elvis had animal magnetism. He was even sexy to guys. I can't imagine what the chicks used to think." - Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople
posted by jonmc at 7:00 AM on May 2, 2007


(also, nice post, flapjax, seriously)
posted by jonmc at 7:02 AM on May 2, 2007


I don't think prison rape is exactly the same thing as gay relationships.
posted by DU at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2007


Thank you, Captain Obvious.
posted by jonmc at 7:05 AM on May 2, 2007


I don't think Elvis was singing about prison rape.
posted by psmealey at 7:07 AM on May 2, 2007


According to Peter Gurlanick's book and one of the two songwriters, Elvis got the joke. He knew they were crazy.
posted by raysmj at 7:10 AM on May 2, 2007


I don't think Elvis was singing about prison rape.

You can't rape the willing.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:11 AM on May 2, 2007


"Elvis looked good. I'm no fag, but Elvis was good-lookin'. I always said if I ever had to fuck a guy... I mean had too 'cause my life depended on it... I'd fuck Elvis." - Clarence Whorley, True Romance
posted by jonmc at 7:12 AM on May 2, 2007


Ahh, the fifties were so gay. . .

[nice post!!]
posted by pwedza at 7:14 AM on May 2, 2007


Must we sexualize everything?
Next you'll tell me "Baby Hit me One More Time" isn't about blackjack.
posted by Dizzy at 7:23 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Hit Me Baby One More Time," Dizzy.
The song you're referring to is about infants abusing their parents.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:32 AM on May 2, 2007


Well, I take that back. It's implied in Guralnick's book that Elvis knew the score ("He thought Jerry was completely crazy." but was caught up with his ideas.) It is said, however, that he got so caught up in singing the song on the film set that he ended up getting a temporary crown stuck in a lung, after swallowing it while sliding down a pole. A doc later had to go through Elvis' vocal cords to take the crown out.

It was divine intervention.
posted by raysmj at 7:34 AM on May 2, 2007


I was just reading Elvis IMDB bio page. Apparently he was offered a chance to co-star with Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road, but the Colonel nixed it. The Colonel was an idiot.
posted by jonmc at 7:41 AM on May 2, 2007


Lauderdale Courts (where the Presley's lived during the pre-fame Memphis years) has the dubious distinction of being the only housing project ever converted into a luxury hotel.
posted by jonmc at 7:45 AM on May 2, 2007


As was mentioned yesterday... drugs shore make ya ugly.

Some of my fave Elvis links:
Jesus is Alive, Elvis is Alive -- What's the difference?
Looking for Elvis
The Day I Met Elvis
Americans for Cloning Elvis
Nude Elvis
Ask Elvis
Elvis churches
posted by miss lynnster at 7:49 AM on May 2, 2007


No matter what you think of Elvis (and I go back and forth on this all the time), that '68 performance is fire. '77? Not so much.
posted by kosem at 7:51 AM on May 2, 2007


Speaking of the Blues Brothers (anybody check that live Jailhouse Rock yet? It's quite good) I came across this little gem. Rubber Biscuit! Brilliant!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:52 AM on May 2, 2007


"Elvis looked good. I'm no fag, but Elvis was good-lookin'. I always said if I ever had to fuck a guy... I mean had too 'cause my life depended on it... I'd fuck Elvis." - Clarence Whorley, True Romance

The Colonel beat all of you to it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:54 AM on May 2, 2007


Oddly, our jails have another use and explanation for the term jailhouse rock, having nothing to do with gayness or music
posted by Postroad at 7:54 AM on May 2, 2007


I think this says it all, miss lynnster...

(forgive me, but The King is very close to my heart)
posted by jonmc at 7:55 AM on May 2, 2007


I also thought it was odd they let someone bring in a "slide trombone" to prison.
posted by thekilgore at 7:55 AM on May 2, 2007


Yeah kosem, I was just about to say that the '68 comeback special really shows why Elvis was special. I also waver on how great Elvis really was, but that show was amazing.
posted by ob at 7:56 AM on May 2, 2007


Ditto on '68. Overall, I'm not the biggest Elvis fan, but the '68 comeback special was fucking fantastic, a show for the ages.
posted by psmealey at 8:05 AM on May 2, 2007


Roger that. For that night, he was rock and roll personified.
posted by jonmc at 8:06 AM on May 2, 2007


I miss Belushi a lot more than I miss Elvis. (I had forgotten that jailhouse rock scene in the Blues Brothers. Genius.)
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:11 AM on May 2, 2007


The video of Sha Na Na's cover shows that skintight gold lame pants don't work for everyone. Queen's improvised encore is pretty rockin'. ZZ Top's, not so much. This five year old's version rules.

The Piano Guy: How to Play "Jailhouse Rock."
posted by kirkaracha at 8:46 AM on May 2, 2007


Oh Lordy, jonmc. I grew up with Mojo in SD. He's one funky guy.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2007


Motley Crue often closed their shows with this song.
posted by goatdog at 9:15 AM on May 2, 2007


I've always felt that I had a weird relationship with Elvis' music. Like the Beatles and Dylan, I've never really found myself a fan of their performances, and yet, I truly enjoy their music when performed by other artists; The Blues Brothers cover, Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower, etc.

I've never understood this.
posted by quin at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2007


I've never understood this

Allow me to explain: They are great fucking songs.

Possibly it's the old production values, instrumentation, guitar or drum tones that leaves you cold, but underneath, they are still incredible songs.

This is actually an age old phenomenon. I mean, how many (more :-) times did Led Zeppelin re-write Howlin Wolf songs and their audience thought they were hearing the tunes for the first time?
posted by psmealey at 9:48 AM on May 2, 2007


Incidentally, quin, I personally have the same experience with Bowie. Almost without exception, I love the covers of his tunes but the originals leave me a bit cold. I think it might have something to do with the cold 70s production or the timbre of his voice putting me slightly on edge. Sacrilege, I know, but I'll take the Wallflowers' version of "Heroes" and the Bauhaus's cover of "Ziggy Stardust" over the originals every time.
posted by psmealey at 9:54 AM on May 2, 2007


Thanks for this post. Not my favorite Elvis song, but any Elvis post gets a shoutout from me.
posted by blucevalo at 10:05 AM on May 2, 2007


Great post!... John Goodman (in character as "Dan" on television's "Roseanne") did a great version of "Jailhouse Rock." It used to be on YouTube, but I can't find it now.
posted by amyms at 10:07 AM on May 2, 2007


Bonus points for being the first to use Leiber Stoller tags!
posted by kimota at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2007


Oh my, oh my, oh MY - that 1968 clip!!!!!

Thanx so much, flapjax!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2007


"Elvis had animal magnetism. He was even sexy to guys. I can't imagine what the chicks used to think." - Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople

I think Lester Bangs called it "an erection of the heart".
posted by psmealey at 10:20 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


But what did he mean when he sang "If you can't find a partner use a wooden chair"?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2007


I always assumed "wooden chair" was Cockney rhyming slang for something, as the song is so obviously a fourteenth-century madrigal.
posted by Dizzy at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2007


But what did he mean when he sang "If you can't find a partner use a wooden chair"?

That line referred to a dancing partner.
posted by amyms at 11:08 AM on May 2, 2007


The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:19 AM on May 2, 2007


Great post!

(I still am fond of Mojo Nixon's Elvis is Everywhere though it has nothing to do with the post, really...but heck, we're talking about Elvis.)
posted by maxwelton at 12:15 PM on May 2, 2007


The song's sly allusions ("number 47 said to number three, you're the cutest jailbird I ever did see") to same-sex prison liaisons went unnoticed (or at least uncommented on) at the time

At the time, it was common for men in confined situations (jail, POW camp, Navy) to have dancing parties where some of them dressed up as women. All in good fun, you know. See Stalag 17 for an example.

Homosexuality was kept so far under the radar that this had no negative connotations.

So, I really don't think those were "sly allusions" in the nudge-nudge wink-wink sense. I can't say that nobody in the audience would ever think otherwise, but I don't think the majority had it cross their mind.

There are other related aspects of this. I was surprised to see Tony Curtis practically holding Roger Moore's hand as they walked down a street in The Persuaders! (1969), as if it were the most natural thing in the world for two ladies' men (in real life, and in character) to do.

There are theories that homophobia in Western society leads to male alienation because of what you "can't do", thus straight men may grow up resenting gay men for being able to obtain the male affection they can't. Etc.
posted by dhartung at 12:19 PM on May 2, 2007


Oops- I meant Waters' "Doing Time for Being Young"...
posted by squalor at 12:58 PM on May 2, 2007


I’d be very suspicious of a warden throwing a party in jail wherein the inmates are given instruments and prisoners openly weeping are mocked.
I’d also watch out for an inmate who refuses to escape given the chance. Bugsy may be an informer.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:57 PM on May 2, 2007


prisoners openly weeping are mocked.

He wasn't mocked, he was invited to join the festivities with a fine piece of handcrafted furniture.
posted by jonmc at 3:01 PM on May 2, 2007


Ok, jonmc you have a fine handcrafted point.
Still, I think Bugsy’s a rat, see? Yeaaaah.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:00 PM on May 2, 2007


This is a great post and a wonderful thread, a fine example of when MeFi works.
posted by nola at 6:52 PM on May 2, 2007


I didn't plan it this way, but there's an alignment of the 50's here: The song is 50, I turn 50 this month, and this was my 50th MeFi post. Crazy...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:24 PM on May 2, 2007


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