Rolling Stone named "Hound Dog" the 19th greatest song of all time. That's quite an honor—especially for a song that proclaims, "you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine."
Let's face it: Lyrically, the song isn't brilliant. And musically, it's pretty conventional. "Hound Dog" is built on a typical blues chord progression, with a rock and roll bass line and rhythm, but really, there's nothing especially innovative about it.
So, what's the story? Why do people still listen to—and still love—this song?
Rolling Stone offers us a clue, suggesting that the song was a kind of "declaration of independence from one generation to its cold rigid elders" (source). Okay, but what sort of rebellion does a modified blues song with nonsensical lyrics really declare? Or, to put it another way, how much "independence" did the song really reflect?
|Writer(s)||Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller|
|Musician(s)||Elvis Presley (lead vocals, guitar), Scotty Moore (guitar), Bill Black (bass), D.J. Fontana (drums), The Jordanaires (back-up vocals)|
|Learn to play||Tablature|
|Album||Don't Be Cruel (Single)|
Virtually every pop, country, R&B, and rock and roll performer of the past half century was influenced by Elvis Presley. John Lennon summed up Presley's seminal importance succinctly: "Before Elvis, there was nothing." (Source)
Peter Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (1995)
This first volume explores Elvis' youth, up until age 24, when he is inducted into the army. Guralnick is a respected cultural historian, and this two-volume work is the definitive Elvis biography.
Peter Guralnick, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (2000)
This second volume picks up where Last Train to Memphis leaves off, and follows Presley through his death in 1977. Again, this two-volume work is the definitive biography.
Priscilla Presley, Elvis and Me (1986)
If you're interested more in the "inside" story from a person with a unique attachment to Presley, you might like this older book from his young bride.
Elvis Presley (1956)
This was Presley's first studio album—it's actually a compilation of tracks recorded by his first label (Sun) and his second (RCA). Only one of his hit singles ("Blue Suede Shoes") is included. But the album reveals the early Elvis and says something about his early audience—it sat on the top of the pop charts for ten weeks.
From Elvis in Memphis (1969)
Presley's successful 1968 television special revived his recording career after almost a decade of concentrating on movies. One track, "In the Ghetto," was released as a single and reached #3.
He Touched Me (1972)
Elvis shows his range in his third (and last) gospel album.
The Essential Elvis (2007)
During Elvis' early years, the emphasis was more on singles than albums, so it's legitimate for even a purist to buy one of the posthumously released compilation albums. Start with this two-disc set that contains most of his biggest hits.
The Writers and the Artist
Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Leiber.
The Infamous First Performance of "Hound Dog"
Elvis Presley on the Milton Berle Show.
Singing to and About a Dog
Presley performing on the Steve Allen Show.
Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton
The first to record "Hound Dog."
Elvis '56 (1987)
This documentary explores the pivotal year in the rising star. Performance footage includes the critical performances on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan shows.
Elvis: '68 Comeback Special (1968)
Worried that rock and roll had left him behind while he was busy making movies, Presley filmed this TV special in 1968. It worked. One hit came directly out of the show ("If I Can Dream") and others soon followed.
Love Me Tender (1956)
Elvis made more than 30 films, and this was his first. Originally, his was to be small part in a film titled The Reno Brothers. But the producers expanded Presley's role, had him record additional songs, and re-titled the film to take advantage of the mega-sales of his single, "Love Me Tender."
Elvis Presley Official Site
The official website includes a decent video gallery, a small news archive, and the usual downloads and merchandise. Some of the more original features are a "sighting" page and some teacher resources.
Elvis Presley Fan Site
Here's pretty good fan site set apart by its thorough annotated timeline.
"Hound Dog" (Audio)
This big track was recorded in 1956 in New York City.
"Hound Dog" Live on The Steve Allen Show
Here's Presley's July 1st, 1956 performance of "Hound Dog"—his second television performance of the track (the first being the controversy-sparking performance on Milton Berle's show on June 5th, 1956).
"Hound Dog" Live on The Ed Sullivan Show
Here's the film-from-the-waist-up performance from October 28th, 1956.
Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys, "Hound Dog"
Along with Big Mama Thornton's version (we recommend tracking down that version for a listen, too), Freddie and the Bell Boys inspired Elvis to record the song.