Yesterday was the anniversary of Elvis Presley death. Today we celebrate his life with another number one single.
One day, early in his career, Elvis was playing Las Vegas and had some time off. He wandered into a casino where a group called Freddie Bell and the Bellboys was playing. They were singing a rock and roll version of “Hound Dog.” “Hound Dog” did not start out as a rock and roll song. It was a blues song, a black blues song. The song was first sung by Big Mama Thornton in 1953, written by the legendary team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller would go on to write many songs which became big hits during the late Fifties and even into the Sixties. Remember the Coasters? Almost everything they recorded was written by Leiber and Stoller.
I’m getting off track. Elvis heard “Hound Dog” and liked it a lot. He decided to add it to his repertoire and it became the closing number in his show. Big Mama Thornton’s version was a sexual song about a woman and her philandering husband. Freddie Bell cleaned it up a lot and that is what we hear in Elvis’s version. Elvis recorded the song, along with “Don’t Be Cruel” on July 2, 1956 and the two-sided record was released on July 13, just eleven days later.
He performed “Hound Dog” on the Milton Berle Show in June of 1956, even before it was recorded. During the performance, he began to rotate his hips in time to the music and thus “Elvis the Pelvis” was born. Elvis never really liked the nickname, but accepted it as part of the fame.
“Don’t Be Cruel” was written by Otis Blackwell, who wrote a number of classics during the Fifties. He is responsible for “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, other Elvis songs like “All Shook Up” and “Return to Sender” and “Handy Man” which was recorded by Jimmy Jones.
The double sided hit “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel” went right to number one and stayed there for eleven weeks. The record was the top single of 1956 and it was the best selling single of the entire Fifties decade.
We are privileged to have two videos today, one for each song. The first, “Hound Dog,” is a recording that I like when Elvis appeared on The Steve Allen Show just before he recorded the song. Allen has Elvis singing to an actual hound dog. Enjoy:
Next, here is a live video of “Don’t Be Cruel”. I don’t know what show this was recorded from, but it’s cool to see Elvis’s expressions and hear the girls squeal as he sings:
Next: “Love Me Tender” – Elvis Presley