Before Hollywood rubber-stamped a parade of thin, formulaic cash-ins and ruined Elvis as a legitimate box-office draw, there was one iconic film: "Jailhouse Rock" from 1957.
Elvis plays an ex-con who discovers his latent musical talent in the pokey. How convenient, what with all that time to practice. When he gets his freedom, he sets out to make music and break hearts. "Jailhouse" was early enough in Elvis’s career that director Richard Thorpe was allowed to make Elvis look, talk, and feel edgy. Even dangerous. This wouldn’t happen again.
It’s a real shame, because, after all, rebellion was the original draw of Rock n’ Roll. After "Jailhouse," producers and handlers were keen to scrub any hard edges off Elvis’s gleaming pop facade. It’s yet another case of greedy Hollywood dealmakers mucking up a really good thing.
The "Jailhouse" soundtrack originated from songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The team had written a number of hits, including “Hound Dog,” the song Elvis would make famous on the “Milton Berle Show.” Elvis’s performance caused millions of parents to simultaneously catapult out of their loveseats to turn off their TV sets and prevent their goggle-eyed, pubescent daughters from seeing Elvis’s lewd hip shimmying.
Weeks after the two had been hired for the film, the studio still hadn’t seen or heard any new music. Legend has it that the producer, Jean Aberbach, summoned the songsters to New York City. When it was discovered that they hadn’t finished a single song, Aberback literally locked them into a hotel room until they finished, blocking the only door with a sofa.
If necessity is the mother of invention, a locked hotel room must be the mother of great rock and roll. In our (song) book, "Jailhouse Rock" is definitely Elvis's best movie, and the score helps make it so.
In fact, it damn near makes you want to go to jail.