(You might also like to read Part 1 of a 3-part piece loosely about the 1000th No.1. I should probably say that piece contains SPOILERS as to the identity of the 1000th No.1, my apologies if that had been a source of pleasurable suspense for you.)

I fell for “Jailhouse Rock” thanks to writing Popular, ironically since I gave it a desultory 7 and one tossed-off paragraph first time around. But when we started doing club nights playing only No.1s, I learned something important. “Jailhouse Rock” goes off. It might not be the best No.1 of the 1950s – though, honestly, it might be – but it’s supremely danceable. It’s paced as a series of freezes and relaxes, those strike-a-pose guitar chords puncuating the song juxtaposed with Bill Black’s jovially frugworthy double bass.

This is party music in more than one way – it’s the basic structure of a musical statues or pass-the-parcel game played by children, which reinforces a sense that “Jailhouse Rock” is a fundamentally silly record, in the most positive possible fashion. In a way the pause/resume structure also mirrors the song’s setting – one of the most reliable jokes in comedies about institutions like schools or prisons or workplaces is the one where the “inmates” are up to something and assume a tableau of contrived innocence when the boss, teacher or warden takes a look.

Elvis liked to make funny records. His “Hound Dog” keeps some of the raunch and anger in Big Mama Thornton’s version but switches her harsh comedy for something more playful – his “dog” might bring to mind some faithless two-timer but it might as easily bring to mind Goofy or Spike. He’s performing Black music and selling it to white audiences but he’s also performing a version that teaches those audiences how to listen to it without him entirely sanitising it, and comedy is a big part of how he does that. (This is part of the deeper way in which Elvis and Eminem mirror one another – Elvis is a guy, but he’s also a character, instantly understandable by kids at the level of look and gesture)

As even the song’s Wikipedia page admits, “Jailhouse Rock” works because Elvis takes Lieber and Stoller’s comedy song and snarls, yelps and sings it entirely seriously. But that’s not because Elvis is a serious artist ennobling silly material – it’s because selling a joke by not breaking character is what good comedians do. The title of “Jailhouse Rock” gives away that this is a sketch – what if rock and roll, but in jail. Elvis, the consummate entertainer, understands that for the sketch to work the rock and roll needs to actually rock and actually roll, not be a winked version of itself.

In doing so, he’s introducing something to rock, a kind of kayfabe which outlasts the double-bass/guitar/drums line-up and the shaking rhythms he’s using, which is still in the music now. The question, how serious is this person? recurs again and again across the hundreds of hits between Elvis’ appearance and this unasked-for resurrection. We’ve been asking it of Robbie, of Frankee, of Eminem, of Bono. The answer remains the same, how serious do you need them to be? “Jailhouse Rock”, at least, is a 2005 record.

Score: 9

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