Study Guide

Hound Dog Technique

  • Music

    Musically, "Hound Dog" says something about the connections and differences between R&B and rock and roll. Written and first recorded as a conventional blues song, it was converted into a rock and roll hit with some minor tweaking of rhythm and structure. 

    Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" reveals the song's blues origins. In live performances, she often introduced the song with a typical blues non-rhythmic call-and-response with the guitar before settling into the first verse. Once the song gets moving, the guitar, still in typical blues fashion, continues to answer Thornton with a fill after every line. During the extended guitar solo the roles are reversed—the guitar carries the melodic burden while Thornton provides a vocal fill at the end of each phrase.

    In Elvis Presley's rock and roll rendition of "Hound Dog," the R&B influence is still apparent. The accent is still on the backbeat and an electric guitar continues to provide the primary counter-point to the vocal melody. 

    But the differences are apparent from the start. There's no blues introduction, the pace is more up-tempo, the rhythm guitar provides a more driving rhythmic frame for the vocals, a snare roll announces the transition from chorus to verse, and the bass line is typical of a hundred rock and roll songs of the era.

  • Songwriting

    Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote "Hound Dog." Recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, the song was one of their earliest hits. The team was productive well into the 1980s, but their greatest success occurred in the 1950s and 1960s with songs like "Hound Dog," "Kansas City," "Stand By Me," and "Is That All There Is." 

    The pair also became known for songs that use colorful, humorous language and teen vernacular. In "Poison Ivy," they wrote:

    She's pretty as a daisy but look out man she's crazy
    [...]
    You'll be scratchin' like a hound the minute you start to mess around.

    In "Along Came Jones," the pair tapped into every kid's Saturday morning memories:

    I plopped down in my easy chair and turned on Channel 2,
    A bad gunslinger called Salty Sam was chasin' poor Sweet Sue.

    And in one of their most famous songs recorded by the Coasters, kids were simply warned, "Yakety Yak, don't talk back."   

    Leiber and Stoller wrote "Hound Dog" before they had settled into this "teen-talk" niche, but they were already demonstrating their interest in using plain, colorful speech in their lyrics. The team was clearly influenced by the blues, which had always drawn upon the vernacular in voicing the trials of common people. In this regard, Leiber and Stoller demonstrate further the connection between R&B and rock and roll.

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