Like the Elvis Presley hit "Jailhouse Rock," this song is about a party that breaks out at the county jail. Elvis' song ends with everyone having a good time, but in 10cc's song, the party is kiboshed by riot police who use rubber bullets to quell the uprising, a more likely outcome.
Band member Eric Stewart recalled: "I was amazed, but pleased that the BBC never banned the track, although they limited its airplay, because they thought it was about the ongoing Northern Ireland conflicts. In fact, it was about an Attica State Prison riot like the ones in the old James Cagney films."
Graham Gouldman remembered: "Kevin and Lol had the chorus and part of the verse but then got stuck. We all loved the chorus and realized it was a hit in itself, so we wanted to persist with it. I chipped in the line 'we've all got balls and brains, but some's got balls and chains.' One of my finer couplets." (quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)
Lol Creme is lead singer on this track; he wrote the song along with Kevin Godley and Graham Gouldman. Godley recalled to Uncut:
"Lol may have been working with a strange tuning. I'm not sure, but undoubtedly he was playing this smelly old Spanish guitar, and I'd sat down with a notebook opposite him. I think we started writing it in my parents' house, and it just came out. It was one of those lucky songs that didn't take a fortnight to write.
We knew what the feeling of this thing was, which is kind of weird because the lyric is essentially about a fictitious black and white movie from the era of James Cagney. We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films... you know, with a prison riot, and there's always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies.
But the chorus talks about rubber bullets, which weren't invented until the 1970s by the British government to quell the troubles in Northern Ireland. So it didn't make any sense at all. But it just worked."
Some radio stations refused to play this because of the controversy over the British army using rubber bullets in its efforts to bring peace to troubled Northern Ireland. The band's protests that the song actually dealt with a riot in an American prison fell on deaf ears.
This is the only UK #1 disgraced producer Jonathan King has been involved in, it was on his UK label. King was convicted of sexual offenses against minors.
Album version runs 5:15 with an extra chorus and some lyrics edited out from the 3:30 single version, including the lines:
We all got balls and brains But some's got balls and chains
This won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Beat Song.
This was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, which was part-owned by Stewart, the band's guitarist and engineer.
This was used as the theme song to the pilot episode of the American animated TV series Superjail, which aired in May 2007.
Suggestion credit: Daryl - Stoke, Midlands, England, for above 2
Colin from London, United KingdomIt's not Kevin Godley, but Lol Creme, who sings most of the lead vocal. Godley only sings the bridges "I love to hear those convicts squeal, it's a shame these slugs ain't real" and "Is it really such a crime for a guy to spend his time". When this was released, radio stations played a truncated edit of the song, with a short intro, and the final verse jumps from "When Uncle Sam is the one who belongs in the exercise yard" to "Is it really such a crime...". This short version can be found on YouTube clips of Top Of The Pops from 1973.
Jez from London, United KingdomGreat song - and a lyrical parody of 'Jailhouse Rock', which is apparent by the opening line.
Daevid from Glendale, CaJohn B.------the album "Sheet Music" is, in my opinion as good as 'Rubber Bullets' was a single! Great Band.
John from Brisbane, United StatesForget all about what 10cc did after this.This Rubber Bullets is the best thing they ever did.Only I do not know why the bigold USA did not recognize it,back in 1973.
John from Brisbane, United StatesI dig Rubber bullets,Helter skelter,Brother louie and At seventeen.They are some of the best ever!
John from Brisbane, United StatesRubber Bullets does enlighten children in a comedical way and it tells my kid not to be foolish.