1001 Songs Challenge,  1950s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #53: Riot in Cell Block No.9 (1954)

On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.

My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.

I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.

So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!


The Robins – Riot in Cell Block No.9 (1954)

Riot in Cell Block Number 9

” Riot in Cell Block #9″ is a classic and pervasive R&B song composed by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1954. The song was first recorded by The Robins the same year. That recording was one of the first R&B hits to use sound effects and employed a Muddy Waters stop-time riff as the instrumental backing.


Almost a mirror image of yesterday today with our extended stay in the US continuing and once again we get to enjoy some R&B. I’m not complaining! Today’s hosts are The Robins and like The Orioles they are also considered pioneers of the doo-wop sound. As with The Orioles, The Robins were of the 1940s and 1950s but then disbanded to leave their influence on the artists that followed. Today’s song is Riot in Cell Block No.9.

The song sees the narrator telling us about a prison riot that has broken out. It started in Cell Block No.4 and then quickly spread to the neighbouring cells and has intensified in No.9. The warden brings in a tommy gun to try and regain control, it’s back to the cells or the chair he says, but one of the prisoners, Scarface Jones, refuses to bow and asks for the dynamite with a lit fuse. This riot isn’t going to stop. In the end, tear gas is deployed and the prisoners are ushered back to their cells. The riot is over…for now.

The Robins make good use of sound effects with sirens at the outset to take us into this catchy number. It has a good beat to it as Richard Berry takes us through the verses with the rest of the group joining him with the chorus to tell us a riot is going on. The group insisted the song wasn’t to be taken seriously but there is an edge to it and something darker festering beneath. The song would prove influential but this version has it all.


Favourite songs so far:

Edith Piaf – La Vie en Rose (1946)

Elmore James – Dust My Broom (1952)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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