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SoundTRAX: "Jailhouse Rock"

The cover of the "Jailhouse Rock" ep features Elvis Presley against a red background.
RCA Victor

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

It was on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, that the man who would earn the moniker of "The King of Rock and Roll" and change the face of music and popular culture forever was born.

Elvis Aaron Presley.

Now I'm not going to rehash all the usual details of his stratospheric rise, substantial fall, subsequent comeback, or his untimely and tragic death at just 42 in 1977. That is well-worn territory.

This segment is called SoundTRAX for a reason so naturally we're going to examine the music from one of his films.

I know what you're thinking: the man made a lot of stinkers. And you'll get no argument from me. But you can mostly blame his notorious manager Col. Tom Parker for that, who would sign Elvis to anything that made a substantial amount of money, quality be damned.

And even though Presley longed to be a good actor, Parker would take it upon himself to turn down roles on his behalf, ones Parker felt might hurt Elvis' image, thereby affecting Parker's bank account.

Some of the films he allegedly turned down without even consulting Elvis?

The Defiant Ones— the role that earned Tony Curtis an Oscar nomination.

The filmmakers behind Midnight Cowboy wanted Elvis to audition to play Joe Buck, but Parker said it was too seedy. So Jon Voight got the part and the Oscar nom.

One Elvis really wanted in on was The Godfather, as he loved the novel by Mario Puzo. Sources say he wanted the role that eventually went to Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen) and even lobbied for the title role. But we can probably chalk that one up to the best actor winning.

But the ones he did end up in, thankfully, weren't all as atrocious as, say, Harum Scarum or Clambake.

My favorite was and shall forever be Jailhouse Rock from 1957.

Sure, it was a musical, and Elvis was in no danger of being named Best Actor by any means. But the camera loves him and he appears completely at ease as Vince Everett, a convict who learns to play guitar and when released, becomes a huge music and film star.

The character is truly unlikable for the majority of the film. But the songs are irresistible and have stood the test of time.

The soundtrack was released as a five-song EP with the title track, "Young and Beautiful," "I Want to Be Free," "Don't Leave Me Now," and "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care." "Treat Me Nice" was not included on the soundtrack, which is a shame, but it was added to a deluxe CD reissue in 1997.

But it doesn't matter. For today's SoundTRAX selection, it can only be one. The one with a dance sequence— choreographed by Presley himself— so iconic it is often credited with being the precursor for what would become the modern music video.

In honor of what would have been Elvis Presley's 89th birthday, written by the legendary Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it's the title track from Jailhouse Rock.

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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