"Jailhouse Rock" is a song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller that first became a hit for Elvis Presley. Presley performed it in the film of the same name and RCA Victor issued the song on a 45 rpm single on September 24, 1957, which reached the top of the charts in the U.S. and the Top 10 in several other countries. The song has been recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame, the American Film Institute, and others.
Characters and themes
Some of the characters named in the song are real people. Shifty Henry was a well-known LA musician, not a criminal. The Purple Gang was a real mob. "Sad Sack" was a U.S. Army nickname in World War II for a loser, which was also the name of a popular comic strip and comic book character.
According to Rolling Stone, Leiber and Stoller's "theme song for Presley's third movie was decidedly silly, the kind of tongue-in-cheek goof they had come up with for The Coasters. The King, however, sang it as straight rock & roll, overlooking the jokes in the lyrics (like the suggestion of gay romance when inmate Number 47 tells Number 3, 'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see') and then introducing Scotty Moore's guitar solo with a cry so intense that the take almost collapses." Gender studies scholars cite the song for "its famous reference to homoerotics behind bars," while music critic Garry Mulholland writes, "'Jailhouse Rock' was always a queer lyric, in both senses." Douglas Brode writes of the filmed production number that it's "amazing that the sequence passed by the censors".
Releases and chart performance
The single, with its B-side "Treat Me Nice" (another song from the film's soundtrack) was a US number one hit for seven weeks in the fall of 1957, and a UK number one hit for three weeks early in 1958. It was the first record to enter the UK charts at number one, excluding the first UK Number One by Al Martino. . In addition, "Jailhouse Rock" spent one week at the top of the US country charts, and reached the number one position on the R&B chart.
Also in 1957, "Jailhouse Rock" was the lead song in an EP (extended play single), together with other songs from the film, namely "Young and Beautiful," "I Want to be Free," "Don't Leave Me Now," and "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" (but with "Treat Me Nice" omitted). It topped the Billboard EP charts, eventually selling two million copies and earning a double-platinum RIAA certification.
Rolling Stone magazine included "Jailhouse Rock" at number 67 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it was named one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2004, it finished at number 21 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema. On November 27, 2016, the Grammy Hall of Fame announced its induction, along with that of another 24 songs. In 2019, it ranked number 31 on the list of Spain's most heard radio station, Rock FM 500's five hundred rockers of all time, ahead of any other song of the 1950s.