The feeling of getting locked up haunts many artists, whether figuratively or literally.
If it’s not Elvis Presley talking about a jailbird rocking behind bars, it’s Loretta Lynn sharing her experiences inside a women’s prison.
Prison is a dreaded environment for the vast majority.
But for legendary artists like the Man In Black, the painful experiences behind bars helped propel them to the very top of their musical careers.
See what life’s like in the big house from our playlist of the 25 best songs about prison.
1. “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
You could bet on it.
That Elvis Presley’s classic prison song would appear somewhere in this list.
The upbeat jail song finds Elvis acting like a jailbird, rocking behind bars with his excellent musical skills.
It should be on your playlist.
2. “Murder Was The Case” by Snoop Dog
You can’t mention the classic prison songs without thinking about a certain laidback gangster rapper from California.
In this song, Dogg Father talks about a man handed a rare moment of transition by a judge.
His only duty is to change his ways and become a righteous man.
But he fails to take it, committing a new crime that gets him murdered in prison.
Snoop Dogg’s conviction in the case involving Philip Woldermariam might have inspired him to write this song.
3. “Life In Prison” by Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard sings about a man convicted of murder in his 1967 country jail song.
Guilty of murdering his lover, the man in the song escapes the death penalty only to face the worst.
Merle Haggard’s “Life In Prison” was partly inspired by the singer’s experiences behind bars in the 1950s.
He was accused of restaurant robbery and spent three years in California’s San Quentin State prison.
4. “Women’s Prison” by Loretta Lynn
Nobody could describe the story of the women’s prison better than the queen of country music.
Loretta Lynn’s “Women’s Prison” is a passionate story about the plight of women in prison.
This song is yet another example of Lynn’s excellent storytelling attributes.
Blinded by love, the woman in the song killed her lover because she found her cheating.
And now she will pay the ultimate price by spending her life inside a women’s prison.
5. “Way Too Pretty For Prison” by Miranda Lambert
“Way Too Pretty For Prison” is a duet by Miranda Lambert and Maren Morris.
The pair come together to hatch a plan about eliminating a cheating partner.
Of course, they don’t want to end up behind bars which makes this hit one of those funny jail songs.
“He cheated on me, he’s villain/And you know I’d help you kill him/But we’re way too pretty for prison/Hard time ain’t our kind of living.”
6. “In Prison” by My Chemical Romance
The felon in Chemical Romance’s song must spend some time behind bars after getting involved in a crime.
He thought he was too smart for the police and would escape freely.
But he must now spend some time in the big house.
While in prison, the addressee struggles with guilt and mental battles.
He even finds it hard to get along with fellow prisoners.
“My cellmate’s a killer, they made me do push-ups (in drag)/But nobody cares if you’re losing yourself am I losing myself/Well, I miss my mom.”
7. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s song was a tribute to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight boxer sentenced to 19 years in prison.
He was convicted of a triple murder in New Jersey in 1966, a crime the American singer is convinced Carter didn’t commit.
When people talk about music as a powerful tool to protest social injustices, Dylan’s 1976 classic rock song comes to mind.
And it’s easy to see why the song has become a timeless classic and a fan favorite over the years.
8. “Not Even Jail” by Interpol
Interpol’s “Not Even Jail” is about the unique prison we create in our minds.
The track is about mental prison and the narrator’s desire to find a new meaning in life.
9. “Jail Guitar Doors” by The Clash
“Let me tell you ’bout Wayne and his deals of cocaine.”
Begins the first line of The Clash’s pop song.
The story is based on MC5’s guitarist Wayne Kramer and his drug dealings that landed him in prison.
The narrator thinks Peter in the second verse is insane for refusing fame and money.
He also mentions Keith while referring to the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who was battling drug addiction.
“Jail Guitar Doors” inspired a strong movement that rehabilitated prisoners using the power of music.
10. “Jailhouse Blues” by Lightnin’ Hopkins
“I just want you to open the door, ’cause this ain’t no place for me.”
That’s Lightnin’ Hopkins’ only plea in this prison song.
We don’t know what his crime was.
But thirty days in jail seem too much for the Texas-born country blues singer.
Loneliness is slowly getting the better of him.
And he can’t take it anymore.
11. “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy
“Jailbreak” was part of Thin Lizzy’s 1976 album with a similar name and is not about an ordinary jailbreak.
It is another way of saying tonight’s performance is going to be great.
It’s like they are going to cause unrest with their thrilling performance.
As far as the Irish band is concerned, this was their greatest song.
It propelled them to massive success in the 1970s, dismissing the one-hit wonder tag.
12. “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s experiences laid the foundation for his prison song.
In the track, Cash tells the tale of an inmate yearning to escape from prison and ride to San Antonio.
He wants to be free and wouldn’t mind risking it all to return to the outside world.
The sound of a nearby train makes him homesick.
Cash wrote the song during his time with the Air Force in Germany.
The live performance version of “Folsom Prison Blues” topped the country music charts and peaked at #32 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
13. “Prison Song” by System Of A Down
System Of A Down’s song condemned the US government for the increasing number of prisons in the country in the 1980s.
The protest song was meant to draw the listeners’ attention to the status of the US criminal justice policy.
And the lyrics have been relevant for years.
14. “Fish In The Jailhouse” by Tom Waits
Fish isn’t metaphoric in this song.
It looks like the narrator has hatched a plan to free themselves from prison.
The jailbird in the song assures his mate that skeleton keys made from fish bones will give them the freedom they so badly crave.
It’s a crazy idea when you think of it.
But if the jailbird believes this is the path to freedom, who are we to doubt him?
15. “Jailhouse” by Sublime
Sublime’s version of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ hit became one of the band’s best-ever prison songs.
The inspiring lyrics highlight the endless battle involving the youth and the law.
16. “My Own Prison” by Creed
The American rock band from Florida isn’t talking about an ordinary prison here.
But rather a self-made prison.
The Creed’s lead singer Scott Stapp wrote the lyrics, describing the mental prison and the consequences he suffered.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to reevaluate your life when your past actions come back to haunt you.
17. “Prisoner” by The Weeknd
“Prisoner” is one of the five collaborations between The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey.
The mid-tempo duet talks about the pair’s obsessions.
They are trapped in a sad world.
And they’ll do anything to make them forget their miserable lives for a moment.
They are confined to their painful addictions.
18. “Rusty Cage” by Soundgarden
For Soundgarden, a prisoner isn’t just that one guy locked behind bars.
The narrator is trapped in his small, rusty, torturous cage and yearns to break free.
The powerful lyrics made the song so successful for many artists that covered it later, like Johnny Cash.
19. “Starkville City Jail” by Johnny Cash
In his classic country song, the Man In Black talks about spending a night in the Starkville City Jail.
Johnny Cash was innocently picking flowers while enjoying the southern breeze.
But it’s hard to resist arrest when caught outside after the curfew and accused of public drunkenness, among other charges.
He spent the night behind bars and was fined $36.
Later, he wrote a song about it.
20. “Suicidal Tendencies” by Institutionalized
Locking someone in a mental health facility would rob them of their freedom and happiness, much like a prison does.
And when the narrator finds himself in that situation, he can’t stop worrying about his life.
He only wanted a Pepsi.
And he isn’t even on drugs.
So, why should you lock him in a place that will turn him from a normal man with suicidal thoughts to a zombie?
21. “Cocaine Blues” by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash reworked the classic “Little Sadie” folk song when compiling his “Cocaine Blues” version.
And the track tells a sad tale of Willie Lee.
The man in the song flees after murdering his unfaithful woman, and cocaine is to blame for his actions.
You can’t listen to the lyrics without associating them with Cash’s struggles with drug addiction.
When Willy is finally arrested, he’s sentenced to 99 years in prison.
The Man In Black offers a plea toward the end of his narration.
“Come on you gotta listen unto me/Lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be.”
22. “One Love” by Nas
Clocking at 5 minutes is a tribute from rapper Nas to his buddies in jail.
The list includes Nas’ longtime friend and fellow rapper Cormega, who ironically later became one of Nas’ biggest rivals.
In the song, the American rapper keeps his prisoner friends informed of the happenings in the outside world.
It’s what any good friend would do.
23. “Prisoner Of Love” by James Brown & The Famous Flames
James Brown discussed a different type of confinement when he revived Russ Columbo’s “Prisoner Of Love” in 1963.
He talks about marriage and the chains that bind him.
He wishes to break free, but it’s too late to try.
“Alone from night you’ll find me/Too weak to break the chains that bind me/I need shackles to remind me/I’m just a prisoner of love.”
24. “Still Doing Time” by George Jones
You will probably know George Jones from his endless compositions about lost love, heartbreaks, and remorse.
But in this 1981 country song, the legendary country singer talks about a completely different topic.
“Still Doing Time” is about a man who becomes a prisoner of alcohol.
He can’t escape his addiction, no matter how hard he tries.
It is like serving a life sentence in the bar, referencing the idea of drinking himself to death.
You wouldn’t imagine the idea of a bar being a prison.
But George Jones brings it out so beautifully you are instantly attracted to the song’s lyrics.
25. “Never Leave Me Alone” by Nate Dogg
Let’s sign off with a song from the late rap icon that defined the G-funk era.
Nate Dogg’s “Never Leave Me Alone” features vocals from his rapper cousin Snoop Dogg.
Like a typical jailbird, Snoop wonders if his lover is still faithful to him.
He says someone snitched on him, and the judge obliged by sentencing him to 100 years in jail.
Best Songs About Prison – Final Thoughts
Prison has always taken a central theme in many songs.
From true stories of spending time behind bars to protesting social injustices and wrongful arrests, there are countless jail songs to describe every experience.
Some artists imagine spending their lives in prison for a wrongful arrest.
Others share their actual experiences behind bars.
While the rest highlight the endless struggle between the law and the people.
Hopefully, you will get a tune that resonates with your experiences from our list of the 25 best songs about prison.