After Elvis Presley rocked The Milton Berle Show with his bump-and-grind rendition of "Hound Dog," this gritty R&B tune became indelibly linked with his name. Yet, he was not the first to record a hit version of it, nor did he sing the original lyrics.
The song was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 for blues singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton at the request of Johnny Otis, a hustling bandleader, producer, composer, and R&B deejay. Otis invited the team to watch
Thornton growled the saucy lyrics to a hard-driving blues beat, and "Hound Dog" sold over half a million copies, climbed to number one on the R&B charts, and became a top-selling record in the R&B market during 1953.
Several performers covered "Hound Dog," including country artists Tommy Duncan, Betsy Gay, Jack Turner, and Billy Start, and lounge act Freddie Bell and the Bellboys.
Part of the reason Elvis' version became so famous was undoubtedly due to television. Elvis introduced the song to a national audience on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, and the attention generated by that controversial performance resulted in a booking on The Steve Allen Show, where Elvis gamely sang the song to a basset hound.
By the time Elvis sang "Hound Dog" on The Ed Sullivan Show, the song was associated with controversy. Elvis teased Sullivan's studio audience, who were primed for fireworks from the young singer, by starting and then stopping the song after the first note.
A male singer belting out the opening line to "Hound Dog” seems odd because the song was clearly written for a female voice, and Elvis' decision to add "Hound Dog" to his repertoire has been interpreted variously by rock music historians. Some insist that Elvis must have been familiar with the
It seems likely, however, that Elvis did know of Thornton's record. Though Elvis' recorded version was a rock 'n' roll interpretation patterned after
Pressured by producer Steve Sholes to record the tune, Elvis finally captured "Hound Dog' after about 30 takes in RCA's
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Although "Hound Dog" was originally sung by "Big Mama" Thornton, Elvis Presley's
famous television performances subsequently linked his name to the tune.