The Day Elvis Made Music History With His Jailhouse Rock

01/24/2011
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(Gibson) On this day in 1958, Elvis Presley was at #1 on the U.K. singles chart with "Jailhouse Rock." It became the first ever single to enter the chart at #1 and was Presley's second U.K. #1. It went on to sell over 4 million copies in the U.S. Gibson takes a look back: Written by the hall of fame songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" was released in the U.S. on September 24, 1957 to coincide with The King's third film (and first with MGM), Jailhouse Rock. Elvis actually contributed a bit to the song, including phrasing the term "crack, boom, bang" drummer, which referred to William Thomas Fairbanks, who played drums with Elvis. Some of the other characters in the song are actually real people, too. "Shifty Henry," who is portrayed in the song as a criminal, was actually a renowned Los Angeles-based musician, while the "Purple Gang" was a real mob of n'er-do-wells.

It's hard to pinpoint the actual inspiration for the song "Jailhouse Rock" (and the movie), though it's not a stretch to look at a movie that came out the previous year, The Girl Can't Help It, which also featured a similarly themed and performed song called "Rock Around the Rockpile." In that performance, the actor Edmond O'Brien plays a villain who alludes an attempt on his life by jumping onstage and launching into song (doesn't everyone do that?), while backed musically by prison-stripe-clad The Ray Anthony Band. O'Brien's performance of "Rock Around the Rockpile" even included similar Elvis-esque lower-body gyrations and hip-swiveling.

The producers for the movie The Girl Can't Help It reportedly wanted Elvis for the role, but Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, wanted way more money than they were willing to pay, so O'Brien landed the gig. Two of that film's uncredited musical composers, Hugo Friedhofer and Lionel Newman, also composed music for Elvis' 1956 film Love Me Tender. more on this story

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