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Elvis Presley: Hound Dog

The mark of a true music legend is when other iconic figures refer to you as the "greatest cultural force of the 20th century." There's no doubt that Elvis Presley was the undisputed king of rock 'n' roll - a lofty position recognised by his peers, both during and after his lifetime.

He has sold more than one billion records to date, making him one of the biggest-selling recording artists in history, and 42 years after his death, he is still a best-selling singer.

According to Forbes' list of top-earning deceased stars, Presley's estate earned $27 million in 2016 from the sale of around one million albums. Since 2000, the late star has sold 4.5 million singles in the UK alone.

Elvis Presley

Credit: Wikipedia

 

Celebrity fans

It was Leonard Bernstein, the famous American composer and conductor, who described Presley as the 20th century's greatest cultural force. He wasn't alone in his praise of the star - John Lennon said there would've been no Beatles without Presley's inspiration.

The former US president, Bill Clinton, admitted it was his "dream" to be the warm-up act for Presley at Madison Square Garden. Even the former Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, was said to be a fan, his favourite track being Are You Lonesome Tonight.

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was another fan, describing Presley as the "nicest and most humble man" you could ever meet, while the iconic musician, Bob Dylan, described hearing Elvis for the first time as being like "busting out of jail!"

Singer Bruce Springsteen famously described Elvis as his "religion", adding, "But for him, I’d be selling encyclopaedias now!"

Elton John said he didn't know where popular music would be without Presley, describing him as the "one who started it all off", while David Bowie said the star was his "major hero."

 

How it all began...

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in January 1935, Presley first sang at the Assembly of God church as a child and received a guitar for his 11th birthday. After being taught how to play by his two uncles and the church pastor, the youngster became a brilliant guitarist, inspired by blues and gospel music.

In August 1953, he went to record a personal disc for his mother at Sun Records' studios in Memphis in August 1953. The track was called My Happiness and it was a tribute to the woman who was the light of his life.

On hearing the recording, Sun's boss, Sam Phillips, was impressed, inviting the 19-year-old back in January 1954 to make some more recordings. One of the records, That's All Right, was played by Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips on his popular radio show, Red, Hot and Blue.

Soon, the switchboard was jammed with callers, asking who this new singer was. There was such a huge response that Phillips called Presley live during the show and interviewed him on air. The teenager never looked back, signing for RCA Records in Nashville in 1956 and then making his first TV appearance.

 

Hound Dog

On 28th October 1956, Presley sang Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. At the time, the press described his gyrating dance moves and raunchy appearance as having "stunned" viewers, leaving a lasting impression!

Some 60 million American viewers tuned in, while one newspaper reported that his hip movements were "causing excited reactions" among the young girls in the studio audience. It was said that the cameras began to focus on tighter shots of the singer, in case the public at home were offended by his suggestive moves!

It was his second appearance on the show and remains a classic today, with more than 1.2 million hits on YouTube. In fact, the complete performance of Hound Dog is still available, 61 years later, as part of a DVD set called Ed Sullivan's Rock 'n Roll Classics.

 

Song's origins

Written by the established team of Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber, Hound Dog was a 12-bar blues song. Although Elvis was an astounding singer and guitarist, he didn't write his own songs.

It was said that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was behind all the song choices and also chose Presley's films. Elvis always delivered the goods and was usually the first person on the set, as he really cared about his recordings.

Although most people associate Hound Dog with Presley, it was originally recorded by R&B singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton on 13th August 1952. When it was released by Thornton in February 1953, it shot to the top of the R&B charts, providing her only number one hit and selling more than 500,000 copies.

Hound Dog has been recorded more than 250 times over the years, but Presley's version is by far the best-known - it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988.  According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it is also noted as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock 'n' roll.

 

Lyrics

Thornton had been signed by Houston-based Peacock Records in 1951, but her first two singles had bombed. In the summer of 1952, Leiber and Stoller (who were then both 19 years old) were approached to write a song for her, aimed at reversing her fortunes.

The songwriters saw Thornton in rehearsals and decided to write a song that suited her personality - which they described as "brusque and badass." In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine in April 1990, Stoller described her as a "wonderful blues singer", with a great style.

Eventually, they came up with "hound dog", which was slang for a man who let a woman take care of him. Stoller described a hound dog as a "gigolo". So the opening line, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," was actually a woman singing to a man that she was tired of him and wanted him out of her life.

The original lyrics in Thornton's version of Hound Dog included the lines, "Quit snoopin' 'round my door! You can wag your tail, but I ain't gonna feed you no more."

She was telling him to leave her home and leave her alone for good because she'd had enough of his sponging ways. The lyrics were modified for the Presley song, so they were more suitable for a man to sing.

It was reported that the recording took 31 attempts before Presley was happy with the end result. He made his band record the song, time after time, eventually going back to version 28 and declaring that was the best one.

Other artists who recorded Hound Dog included Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, The Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jeff Beck - and the slightly less cool Muppets!

 

Major hits

Apart from Hound Dog, Presley had a multitude of major hits during his long career, including 24 studio albums, 20 soundtrack albums and a staggering 111 singles.

He had 33 number one hit singles, including Heartbreak Hotel, All Shook Up, Don't Be Cruel, Jailhouse Rock, It's Now or Never, A Big Hunk o' Love, Suspicious Minds, Hard Headed Woman, Are You Lonesome Tonight and Guitar Man.

He also had a successful movie career as the heartthrob leading man in a series of musicals, including Love Me Tender in 1956, Jailhouse Rock in 1957 and Paradise Hawaiian Style in 1966.

In his personal life, he married Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of a US Navy pilot, in May 1967 and they had one daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, in February 1968.

Sadly, Presley died at the age of only 42 in August 1977, as a result of a fatal heart attack at his Memphis home, Graceland. The legacy of his wonderful music remains an inspiration for other artists and fans to this day.

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