Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Warden threw a party in the county jail ...

Happy 72nd Birthday, Elvis!

In looking up a version of Jailhouse Rock to post here, I ran across some background on the two authors of Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" classic, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, that I didn't know, from a recent column in the UK Guardian (Dec. 28):

Jailhouse Rock was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a preposterously successful songwriting team. With tunes such as Kansas City, On Broadway, Love Potion No. 9, Stand By Me, Spanish Harlem, I Who Have Nothing and Hound Dog to their credit, the pair wrote many hits for many different kinds of artist, ranging from forgettable novelty acts to the blues icon Big Mama Thornton to the sultry torch singer Peggy Lee. They also helped launch the career of producer Phil Spector, who helped launch the career of Sonny Bono, who actually did launch the career of Cher. Spector, whose trial on murder charges recently ended in a mistrial in Los Angeles, ruined the soundtrack for Let It Be and produced the Ramones worst LP End of the Century.

Since revulsion at what they had wrought with Let It Be contributed to the Beatles decision to disband, and since End of the Century was viewed as a sellout from which the Ramones never recovered, it can be argued that Leiber and Stoller, by giving Spector work at this pivotal stage in his career, may have planted the seeds for two of the greatest tragedies in the history of popular music. But as neither man could have foreseen or foreheard any of this, they are no more responsible for the strings on "The Long and Winding Road" and "Baby, I Love You" than Richard Wagner is for the rise of the Third Reich.

Thirty-nine songs by Leiber and Stoller were used in the Broadway revue Smoky Joe's Café, the most successful show of its kind ever. Unlike similar revues based on songs by Billy Joel or the Four Seasons, Smoky Joe's Café does not have the fingerprints of Moloch all over it. Jailhouse Rock is one of the last numbers in the show. One verse contains the lyrics:

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.

It has elsewhere been suggested that, even though songwriters didn't generally dwell on such subjects back in 1957, these lyrics may refer to homosexual acts practiced within the walls of American penitentiaries.

Gosh. Do you think?


Anonymous said...

Sorry Scott, I cant resist this opportunity to plug a book that a friend of my husband is trying to get published. It is about his involvement in the distribution of the very first recording Elvis made (which has been disputed by many, but hubby's friend has evidence) Tell Me Pretty Baby, and how he claims he was set up by his business partners and RCA records in an attempt to stop the recording being made public. If anyone knows of a sympathetic publisher we can try, please drop me a line!

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