Elvis Presley Songs

Hound Dog

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 rehearse in his garage-turned-studio. After watching the mighty singer belt out a few numbers, Leiber and Stoller composed "Hound Dog" -- a song about a gigolo -- in about ten minutes.

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. Memphis disc jockey Rufus Thomas recorded an answer song called "Bear Cat," which was released on Sam Phillips' Sun label.

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. Bell enlivened the tempo and tampered with the lyrics in a humorous way, adding the line, "You ain't never caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine." Elvis caught the Bellboys' act in April 1956 when he was booked into the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Though Elvis and his combo flopped in Vegas, he brought back a little souvenir in the form of Bell's comedic version of "Hound Dog."
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 Thornton version because he was an R&B enthusiast, and they speculate that he recorded Bell's version because he recognized its humor. Detractors suggest that he appropriated the blues tune without realizing its roots.

It seems likely, however, that Elvis did know of Thornton's record. Though Elvis' recorded version was a rock 'n' roll interpretation patterned after Bell's, his rendition on the Berle show owes something to the growling, bump-and-grind vernacular of Thornton's bluesy "Hound Dog."

Pressured by producer Steve Sholes to record the tune, Elvis finally captured "Hound Dog' after about 30 takes in RCA's New York studios. Backed by "Don't Be Cruel," the record became the biggest two-sided hit single in history.

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Hound Dog
Although "Hound Dog" was originally sung by "Big Mama" Thornton, Elvis Presley's
famous television performances subsequently linked his name to the tune.