Thursday, August 14, 2008

Top 5 Songs About Jail/Prison

Tim's Top 5:

I don’t listen to much country music at all, which really limits the opportunity to hear jail-related songs that aren’t from Dr. Dre. Given that limitation, I really like the list that I have here, though I give you liberty to interpret it broadly to include any sort of police custody or punitive conduct by the state.

1) Care of Cell 44 – The Zombies – The opening track from the seminal and all-too-good album Odessey and Oracle [sic], it’s easily the bounciest and cheeriest song you’ll hear about a prison stay.

2) Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash - It’s hard not to put this at #1, but it’s really just too obvious.

3) Mama Tried – Merle Haggard (by way of The Old 97’s) - This is quintessential country storytelling. If there’s a better lesson to be had for parents that 1) their children’s acts aren’t necessarily attributable to them and 2) people who refer to their mother as mama are invariably homicidal maniacs, I’m unaware of it.

4) Jenny Was a Friend Of Mine – The Killers - Clearly the narrator of this song is in police custody for a killing, making it one of the finest police procedural songs in history. If only someone could write a song for the Miranda warnings.

5) Chain Gang – Sam Cooke - Sam Cooke wouldn’t ever serve on a chain gang, since he’d be shot to death before the police would ever get the chance to arrest him. That said, he still captures the basic ethos, if with less emotional weight than Paul Muni.

Honorable mention: “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley; “Trapped on Death Row” by Dr. Dre; “Prisoners of Love” from The Producers (non-musical version); “Doin’ Time” by Sublime (note: this song actually has nothing to do with jail or prison); “Jail Guitar Doors” by The Clash

Dan's Top 5:

Welcome back, Tim. I was beginning to think we'd lost you. Sucks about your injury, and I hope recovery goes well.

1. The Clash - I Fought The Law - This may even be my favorite Clash song, so I'm really surprised that Tim didn't mention it. My favorite part of the whole song is when the lyrics mention the "six gun" and there are six corresponding snare hits. Green Day deserves to rot in hell for their cover version. Cruel irony that Joe Strummer died first.

2. Dropkick Murphys - The Fields of Athenry - This one is an Irish tune originally from the 70's that documents the oppression exerted by the British on the Irish for attempting to survive during the famine of the late 1840's. Essentially, a man has stolen food and awaits a voyage on a prison ship to Botany Bay, Australia. It's a very sorrowful and reflective tale. So naturally, I feel its best treatment comes at the hands of the Dropkick Murphys. (It also gains points because it's not overplayed, as "Shipping Up To Boston" is)

3. Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Blues - No explanation needed. If you feel that there is a needed explanation, go watch Walk the Line.

4. The Killers - Jenny Was a Friend of Mine - Tim summed this one up perfectly. I'm really surprised at how well the content of a police interrogation can be put to music. Funny thing is, in all the years that I've listened to this song, I've never once considered the possibility that the narrator could actually have committed the crime.

5. Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock - Though Elvis was apparently the king of rock 'n' roll, I've never had an affinity for most of his work. This song is pretty much the lone exception. The conclusion of The Blues Brothers, quite possibly the only good SNL-based movie in history, earns this enough points that it should be higher. But I like the position of my other picks better, and I'm way too lazy to go back and change things.

Ryan's Top 5:

The time for being obvious is now.

1. Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash - "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die." Fucking top that.

2. Jailhouse Rock - Elvis Presley - Hello, my name is Ryan, today I write lists for Rolling Stone.

3. Jailbreak - AC/DC - This song, like many of their other songs, kicks ass.

4. Holloway Jail - The Kinks - I love the way the guitar sounds in this song. And I love simple songs where the theme is People-Taking-Babies-Away. See The Ramones' "The KKK Took My Baby Away."

5. Jailbreak - Thin Lizzy - I also like catchy songs. To-NIGHT there's gonna be a jailbreak...

15 comments:

Roughly Speaking... said...

I did actually just never consider that I Fought The Law was really about incarceration, though I'm happy to stick with original Clash songs instead of covers.

Dan said...

I guess I could do simple research before I post. But upon listening to the versions that preceded the Clash, there's no way that I'd leave it off for being a cover, especially when it's the best version I've heard.

Ryan said...

I do love the Bobby Fuller Four version, but yeah, The Clash > Most Bands.

Thomas said...

Whiskey in the Jar - A fine prison tune, lots of versions, I prefer Jerry Garcia's for lyrical interpretation and Metallica's for musicality...

Eric said...

Essential addition: The Auld Triangle, orig. by Brendan Behan, now an Irish folk tune or anthem

Eric said...

Also, in addition to The Auld Triangle, All Around This World, trad. by the Dead, and Hell's Ditch by The Pogues - better than all the rest!

J said...

If you're curious about country songs about jail... Ol' Red by Blake Shelton is a good one too.

Alex G. said...

No honorable mention of Soggy Bottom Boys' "In The Jailhouse Now"?

That was pretty my introduction to the New World jailhouse music, and I found it awesome. :)

~*Joker*~ said...

Uh, isn't Jailbreak a Thin Lizzy song?

Kayla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kayla said...

Better than the Clash song is the song I Fought the Law (and I won) by Dead Kennedys. Come on, winning is ALWAYS better!

skippercollector said...

These are the prison songs I know of:
Folsom Prison Blues/Johnny Cash
Green, Green Grass of Home/Porter Waggoner
Tom Dooley/The Kingston Trio

These songs are about criminals on the run:
Band on the Run/Paul McCartney & Wings
Bohemian Rhapsody/Queen
El Paso/Marty Robbins
Gimme Some Water/Eddie Money
Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun/Julie Brown
I Shot the Sheriff/both Bob Marley and Eric Clapton
Indiana Wants Me/R Dean Taylor
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia/Vicki Lawrence
Renegade/Styx
Run, Joey, Run/David Geddes
Shotgun/Junior Walker & the All-Stars
Take the Money and Run/Steve Miller Band

And in a category by itself is:
Mack the Knife/Bobby Darin

AliceMorales said...

Roughly Speaking... said...

I did actually just never consider that I Fought The Law was really about incarceration, though I'm happy to stick with original Clash songs instead of covers.

"Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won."
Heck yea it is about prison!

AliceMorales said...

Roughly Speaking... said...

I did actually just never consider that I Fought The Law was really about incarceration, though I'm happy to stick with original Clash songs instead of covers.

"Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won."
Heck yea it is about prison!

Rick Vogelzang said...

Stonewall Jackson - Life to Go