June 5, 1956, was a day that changed Rock and Roll forever. On the Milton Berle Show, a young musician named Elvis Presley scandalized the country on national television.
Elvis’s performance included exaggerated gyrations that drove the girls in the audience wild, and enraged parents and prudes across the country, writes History in the Headlines.
By this time Elvis had a number 1 hit with “Heartbreak Hotel” and was touring, continuing to draw animosity from the conservative media and prompting the Catholic Church (La Crosse, Wisconsin diocese) to contact J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI about Elvis being a threat to American security!
When Elvis appeared on The Steve Allen Show for his next television performance of the classic song, he performed it wearing a tuxedo and singing to a Basset Hound (real live one) wearing a top hat.
The doleful dog just lay there quietly while Elvis sang, a truly hilarious moment in television history. Elvis later said the thought that performance was “the most ridiculous of my career.”
“Hound Dog” was originally recorded as a blues-style tune by Big Mama Thornton in 1953, but it took out from there. Song Facts writes, “Elvis’ version of this song is based on how he heard it performed by a Texas group called Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys, who released the song on the Teen label in 1955. In April 1956, Elvis was booked for two weeks at The New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. One night, Elvis and his band explored the Vegas strip and landed at the Sahara, where Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys were performing in the lounge. When they performed their comedic version of “Hound Dog,” Elvis was impressed and decided to do his own in a similar vein.
Elvis used the same lyrics, which differed from the Big Mama Thornton original. In this approach to the song, Elvis is acting disappointed with his lover and repeating the lyrics, “Well, they said you was high-classed, but that was just a lie” six times. In Thornton’s original, she sings the line twice as “You told me you was high class, but I can see through that.
This was one of the first big hits for the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were teenagers when they wrote it. Based on the success of “Hound Dog,” Leiber and Stoller were hired to write many more songs for Elvis, as well as the score for his movie Jailhouse Rock.”
“Hound Dog” has been recorded over 250 times. Rolling Stone placed The King’s version of the hit at number 19 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.
The smash hit also became one of the best-selling singles of all time, reaching about 10 million copies sold worldwide. “Hound Dog” was simultaneously number one on the United States pop, country, and R&B charts in 1956, and it topped the pop chart for 11 weeks — a record that stood for 36 years. e
Presley’s 1956 RCA recording went into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988 as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”