“Jailhouse Rock” Was The “Relax” Of The Fifties

Ringo + Elvis

In 1957, Elvis Presley took “Jailhouse Rock” to #1. Not only was it one of the best hits of the year, it was the gayest. Even gayer than “The Banana Boat Song.” Even gayer than “Short Fat Fannie.” Even gayer than “Bi Bi Love.”

You may be saying “What can be gay about this song? It takes place in a prison, for crying out loud.”

The song tells of a special party the warden threw in the all-male penitentiary, an affair that had most of the men feeling, shall we say, amorous. Prisoner #47 was particularly sweet on prisoner #3, telling him ““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.”

Number 47 wasn’t the only one feeling frisky. Everybody in the whole cell block was (excuse my vulgarity) dancing to the jailhouse rock. Everybody. Everybody.

Well, not everybody. A poor sad sack felt left out. He was in the corner crying because nobody would rock him. The warden told him to stop being a square. “If you can’t find a partner, use a wooden chair.” Why a wooden chair? Because it rhymes with square. Leiber and Stoller, the song’s writers, admittedly did not spend a long time on this one.

A prisoner named Shifty realized that then was a good time to escape. The warden was preoccupied watching the prisoners rocking each other. Shifty told his idea to Bugsy, but Bugsy didn’t want to leave, telling Shifty he’d prefer to “stick around awhile and get my kicks.” Maybe Bugsy had nobody waiting for him on the outside. Maybe he wasn’t ready to cope with the real world. Maybe the warden knows how to throw a party.

Then there’s Little Joe, who was blowin’ on the slide trombone. Is that what they called it in 1957?

Happy Elvis’ birthday! Here are some of the king’s best.

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