Prison songs often relate to the history and culture of prison life. Many different types of songs have been written about prison, including ballads, blues, country, folk, rap, and rock. These songs often reflect the realities of prison life, including experiences such as violence and abuse, overcrowding, and racial inequality. Many artists have written prison songs as a way to raise awareness about the conditions of prisons and the incarcerated. Some well-known prison songs include;
10. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
The song ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ was written by Johnny Cash and recorded in 1957. The song is about a man who is incarcerated in Folsom State Prison. The lyrics describe the man’s feelings of sadness and despair, as well as his hope for freedom. It’s one of Cash’s most famous songs, and it has been covered by many other artists, including Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. This song is a classic example of a prison song that is both sad and hopeful at the same time.
9. Hurricane – Bob Dylan
The song ‘Hurricane’ by Bob Dylan is about the imprisonment of boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder. Dylan calls out the racism and injustice of the trial, and how Carter was denied a fair chance at justice. The song helped to raise awareness of Carter’s case and eventually led to his release from prison.
8. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
‘Jailhouse Rock’ is a 1957 rock and roll song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Elvis Presley recorded the song at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on April 30, 1957, and it was released in 1957. It was Presley’s seventh single released by RCA Victor and was one of the songs that launched his career. The song tells the story of a young man who is sent to prison for killing a man in a fight and is taken under the wing of a seasoned inmate who helps him adjust to life behind bars. The song was one of Presley’s most successful singles, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and selling more than two million copies.
7. One Love – Nas
‘One Love’ is a song by American rapper Nas. The song features vocals from R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné!, and samples the doo-wop song of the same name by The Paragons. ‘One Love’ peaked at number seventy-eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 and remains Nas’ highest-charting single in the United States. internationally, the song peaked within the top forty of the charts in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In 2001, Nas’ recording was ranked number 248 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 500 Songs of the 1980s and 1990s. In 2010, it was ranked number 375 on XXL’s list of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. In 2012, Complex named it one of the classic tracks of Nas’ career.
6. Chain Gang – Sam Cooke
‘Chain Gang’ is a song written by American musician Sam Cooke, released in 1961. The song is about the experience of being incarcerated and longing for freedom. Cooke was inspired to write the song after hearing about the brutal conditions of a chain gang in the southern United States. The song became a hit, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming one of Cooke’s signature tunes. It has been covered by several artists, including the Beatles, who included it on their album With the Beatles.
5. 16 on Death Row – Tupac
’16 on Death Row’ is a song by American rapper Tupac Shakur, released in 1997 on his album All Eyez on Me. According to Hiphopgoldenage, The song is a reflection on Tupac’s own experience of being incarcerated and the struggles that he faced while in prison. Tupac paints a picture of the harsh reality of life behind bars, and the way that it can grind a person down.
4. Back on the Chain gang – The Pretenders
‘Back on the Chain Gang’ is a song by British-American rock band The Pretenders. It was released as the lead single from their third studio album, Learning to Crawl, in 1982. The song was written by band members Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers and was inspired by the death of Pretenders bassist James Honeyman-Scott. The song peaked at number 5 on the UK Singles Chart and number 35 on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1985, the song earned the band a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
3. Holloway Jail – The Kinks
The ‘Holloway Jail’ song by The Kinks is a great example of how a prisoner can feel while incarcerated. The lyrics talk about the feelings of loneliness, frustration, and boredom that a prisoner can feel while locked up. The song also paints a picture of how the prisoners interact with each other and how they try to pass the time.
2. Broken Love Song – Pete Doherty
Pete Doherty’s “Broken Love Song” is a haunting ballad about a love that’s been lost due to prison. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, and how his love for the woman he left behind is the only thing keeping him going. You can feel the desperation and longing in Doherty’s voice as he sings and it’s clear that this is a man who is truly in pain.
1. Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” is a classic country song about a man who has been incarcerated. According to Leelofland, the song tells the story of the protagonist’s struggles with the law and how his mother always tried to help him, even though he often ended up back in prison. “Mama Tried” is a heart-wrenching song that shows the frustration and desperation of someone who feels trapped by the system.
In summary, these are 10 awesome songs about prison. Each song tells a unique story about the struggles and hardships of life behind bars. These songs offer a glimpse into the lives of those who are incarcerated and provide a powerful message about the human spirit. These songs show that, despite the odds, hope and resilience can still be found in the darkest of places.