Rock Flashback: Elvis Presley and “Hound Dog”
It was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s more awkward moments, but it was followed by one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most glorious days. Both involve rock’s most famous singer and what is arguably his most famous song, and both happened 55 years ago this weekend.
On July 1, 1956, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Elvis Presley[/lastfm], then a rage thanks to the success of “Heartbreak Hotel,” appeared on The Steve Allen Show, a primetime variety show on NBC. Allen was famous for disliking rock ‘n’ roll, but he was smart enough to know that people wanted to see it on TV, so he booked a number of stars during his show’s run. But Presley’s appearance is the most famous. Allen wanted Elvis to be part “of the comedy fabric of our program,” so he famously asked Elvis to sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound wearing a top hat.
Elvis had first performed “Hound Dog” in May after seeing it performed in Las Vegas, and he had sung it on The Milton Berle Show at the beginning of June, when his movements caused a scandal in the press. But on the night he appeared with Allen, he had yet to record it.
The next morning, Elvis and his bandmates were fuming about their treatment by Allen (although they had been gracious the night before) when they showed up at RCA Records’ studio in New York City. Now maybe their anger had something to do with the fury of their performance. If so, their anger must have been deep and long-lasting: the famous version of “Hound Dog” that became one of the biggest hits of all time is take 31. [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]D. J. Fontana[/lastfm] beats his drum kit like it’s displeased him, and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Scotty Moore[/lastfm] wields his guitar like a machine gun.
Also cut that day: “Don’t Be Cruel.” Both songs would be released on the same single, which would be #1 from mid-August 1956 through the end of October, an 11-week run that would be unequaled for over 20 years. Not a bad day’s work.