19. Elvis Presley, 'Hound Dog'
Writers: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller
Producer: Steve Sholes
Released: July '56, RCA
28 weeks; No. 1
"Hound Dog" was a hit before Elvis Presley sang it, and he was famous for singing it before he recorded it. Written in 1952 by white teenagers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for R&B singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, it was a smash for her, and was immediately covered by a handful of country acts. (The chorus, Leiber noted in 1987, was code for "You ain't nothin' but a motherfucker.") Presley, always on the lookout for hillbilly/R&B crossover possibilities, added the song to his stage act in the spring of 1956, after hearing Freddie Bell and the Bellboys sing it in Las Vegas. On June 5th of that year, his hip-swiveling performance of "Hound Dog" on The Milton Berle Show became an instant sensation — notorious enough that on his next TV appearance, he crooned the song to a top-hatted basset hound. The next morning, Presley and his band got deadly serious about "Hound Dog," perfecting it over 31 takes at New York's RCA Studios. With snarling vocal authority, D.J. Fontana's tommy-gun drumrolls and slashing guitar by Scotty Moore, Presley transformed the song's blues changes and put-down rhymes into a declaration of independence from his generation's cold, rigid elders. "Hound Dog" was the flip side of "Don't Be Cruel," Presley's third RCA single. It was also the song in which he told the world: Like it or not, rock & roll is here to stay.
Appears on: Elvis 30 #1 Hits (RCA)