#265: 1956, Elvis Presley, Hound Dog

by Jackie_South on August 23, 2011

It’s a fatal week for people with the initials JL: first Jack Layton, now Jerry Leiber have passed on (Watch out, John Lydon).

Leiber wrote the lyrics, whilst his partner Mike Stoller wrote the tunes, for many of the great hits of the fifties, in particular working with Elvis Presley, for whom they wrote Jailhouse Rock, Love Me, Loving You and King Creole.

But possibly their greatest hit that Presley recorded was written four years before Elvis broke through for Big Mama Thornton.  Hound Dog was a brilliant cross-over between blues, the emerging rock’n’roll sound and early theatrical pop, which was subsequently covered by a number of country artists before being re-worded to remove some of the inuendo by Freddie Bell and The Bellboys.  “Snoopin’ round my door” became “Cryin’ all the time” and “You can wag your tail, but I ain’t gonna feed you no more” was replaced by “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine.”  All of which makes less sense, and Leiber thought so too at the time.

As the old quote goes, it may not have made sense, but it did make dollars and cents.  Presley saw the Freddie Bell version in his first visit to Las Vegas and adopted it.  The rest is history.

Whilst Heartbreak Hotel and Elvis’ first album catepulted him to fame, Hound Dog ensured he stayed at the top, in part because of this performance on the Milton Berle Show that scandalised American society with his gyrating hips and earned him the nickname Elvis The Pelvis.

Whilst it might have gone through a transformation of its lyrics to get there, its Leiber’s original that provided the template: a song written by a Jewish bloke from Baltimore for an Alabaman African American woman that then changed the world when it passed the lips of the hillbilly boy from Memphis.

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