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Hound Dog (song)

"Hound Dog"
Single by Big Mama Thornton
B-side "Night Mare"[1][2]
Released March 1953
Format 78 RPM 10" single
Recorded August 13, 1952, Radio Recorders Annex, Los Angeles, California
Genre Blues
Length 2:52
Label Peacock Records
Writer(s) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s) Johnny Otis
Big Mama Thornton singles chronology

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"Hound Dog" is a twelve-bar blues song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton on August 13, 1952 in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in March 1953. "Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at #1. Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll", and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

"Hound Dog" has been recorded more than 250 times. The best-known version of "Hound Dog" is the July 1956 recording by Elvis Presley, which is ranked No. 19 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time; it is also one of the best-selling singles of all time. Presley's version, which sold about 10 million copies globally, was his best-selling song and "an emblem of the rock 'n' roll revolution". It was simultaneously No. 1 on the US pop, country, and R&B charts in 1956, and it topped the pop chart for 11 weeks — a record that stood for 36 years. Presley's 1956 RCA recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988, and it is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".

"Hound Dog" has been at the center of many lawsuits, including disputes over authorship, royalties, and copyright infringement by the many answer songs released by such artists as Rufus Thomas and Roy Brown. From the 1970s onward, the song has been featured in numerous films, in Grease, Forrest Gump, Lilo & Stitch, A Few Good Men, Hounddog, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Nowhere Boy.

Background and composition

On August 12, 1952, R&B bandleader Johnny Otis asked 19-year-old songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to his home to meet blues singer Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton.[3] Thornton had been signed by Don Robey's Houston-based Peacock Records the year before, and after two failed singles, Robey had enlisted Otis to reverse her fortunes.[4] After hearing Thornton rehearse several songs, Leiber and Stoller "forged a tune to suit her personality—brusque and badass".[3] In an interview in Rolling Stone in April 1990, Stoller said: "She was a wonderful blues singer, with a great moaning style. But it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of 'Hound Dog' and the idea that we wanted her to growl it."[5] Leiber recalled: "We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear,' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds, and she had all these scars all over her face" conveying words which could not be sung. "But how to do it without actually saying it? And how to do it telling a story? I couldn't just have a song full of expletives."[5][3] In 1999, Leiber said, "I was trying to get something like the Furry Lewis phrase 'Dirty Mother Furya'. I was looking for something closer to that but I couldn't find it, because everything I went for was too coarse and would not have been playable on the air."[6] Using a "black slang expression referring to a man who sought a woman to take care of him",[7] the song's opening line, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog", was a euphemism, said Leiber[5] The song, a Southern blues lament,[8] is "the tale of a woman throwing a gigolo out of her house and her life":[9]

You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Quit snoopin' 'round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain't gonna feed you no more[10]

The song was written for a woman to sing in which she berates "her selfish, exploitative man",[11] and in it she "expresses a woman's rejection of a man — the metaphorical dog in the title".[12] According to Iain Thomas, "'Hound Dog' embodies the Thornton persona she had crafted as a comedienne prior to entering the music business" by parading "the classic puns, extended metaphors, and sexual double entendres so popular with the bawdy genre."[13] R&B expert George A. Moonoogian concurs, calling it "a biting and scathing satire in the double-entendre genre" of 1950s rhythm and blues.[14]

Leiber and Stoller wrote the song "Hound Dog" in 12 to 15 minutes, with Leiber scribbling the lyrics in pencil on ordinary paper and without musical notation in the car on the way to Stoller's apartment.[3][15] Said Leiber, "'Hound Dog' took like twelve minutes. That's not a complicated piece of work. But the rhyme scheme was difficult. Also the metric structure of the music was not easy."[5] According to Leiber, as soon as they reached the parking lot and Stoller's 1937 Plymouth, "I was beating out a rhythm we called the 'buck dance' on the roof of the car. We got to Johnny Otis's house and Mike went right to the piano…didn't even bother to sit down. He had a cigarette in his mouth that was burning his left eye, and he started to play the song."[16]

Big Mama Thornton's version (1952)

Leiber regarded the original recording by the 350-pound "blues belter" Big Mama Thornton as his favorite version,[15][17] while Stoller said, "If I had to name my favorite recordings, I'd say they are Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog' and Peggy Lee's 'Is That All There Is?'"[18] Thornton recorded "Hound Dog" at Radio Recorders Annex[19]:111–112 in Los Angeles on August 13, 1952, the day after its composition. It subsequently became her biggest hit.


According to Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography, Thornton’s "Hound Dog" was the first record that Leiber and Stoller produced themselves, taking over from bandleader Johnny Otis. Said Stoller:

We were worried because the drummer wasn't getting the feel that Johnny had created in rehearsal.
"Johnny," Jerry said, "can't you play drums on the record? No one can nail that groove like you."
"Who's gonna run the session?" he asked. Silence. "You two?" he asked. "The kids are gonna run a recording session?"
"Sure," I said. "The kids wrote it. Let the kids do it."
Johnny smiled and said, 'Why not?'"[19]:65

Otis played drums on the recording,[20] replacing Leard "Kansas City" Bell. As Otis was still signed to Mercury Records at this time,[21] he used the pseudonym Kansas City Bill (after his drummer) on this record. Therefore, Otis, guitarist Pete Lewis, and bassist Albert Winston are listed as "Kansas City Bill & Orchestra" on the Peacock record labels.[22][23] In an interview included on the album Leavin’ Chicago, Thornton credits Lewis for establishing the feel of her recording.

During the rehearsal, Leiber objected to Thornton's vocal approach, as she was crooning rather than belting it out. In June 2001 Leiber recalled: "We took the song back to Big Mama and she snatched the paper out of my hand and said, 'Is this my big hit?' And I said, 'I hope so.' Next thing I know, she starts crooning 'Hound Dog' like Frank Sinatra would sing 'In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning.' And I'm looking at her, and I'm a little intimidated by the razor scars on her face, and she's about 280-320 pounds, and I said, 'It don't go that way.' And she looked at me like looks could kill and said—and this was when I found out I was white—'White boy, don't you be tellin' me how to sing the blues.'"[24] After this "testy exchange",[13] Leiber sang the song himself to demonstrate how they wanted it done. Said Stoller: "Big Mama heard how Jerry was singing the thing. She heard the rough-and-tough of the song and, just as important, the implicit sexual humor. In short, she got it."[19]:64 In an interview with music writer Ralph J. Gleason, Thornton said: "They were just a couple of kids, and they had this song written on the back of a paper bag." Thornton claims that she added a few interjections of her own, played around with the rhythm (some of the choruses have thirteen rather than twelve bars), and had the band bark and howl like hound dogs at the end of the song: "I started to sing the words and join in some of my own. All that talkin’ and hollerin’—that’s my own."[25] Thornton interacts constantly in a call and response fashion during a one-minute long guitar "solo" by Lewis. Her vocals include lines such as: "Aw, listen to that ole hound dog howl…OOOOoooow", "Now wag your tail", and "Aw, get it, get it, get it". This "blues talk",[26] is "a common practice in blues music".[27] Years later Thornton helped launch a controversy over "Hound Dog", claiming to have written it. However, when questioned further on the matter, Thornton explained that, while the song had been composed by Leiber and Stoller, she had transformed it: "They gave me the words, but I changed it around and did it my way". In his book Race, Rock, and Elvis, Michael T. Bertrand says that Thornton’s explanation "ingenuously stresses artist interpretation as the sole yardstick with which to measure authenticity".[28]

Thornton recorded two takes of the song, and the second take was released.[3][29] Habanera and Habanera-mambo variations can be found in this recording.[30] Influenced by African-American musical cultures,[31] its "sounds range from the gravelly beginning of several phrases, to her spoken and howled interpolations, and the ending with dog sounds from the band."[31] According to Robert Fink, Thornton's delivery has flexible phrasing making use of micro-inflections and syncopations. Over a steady backbeat, she starts out singing each line as one long upbeat. When the words change from "You ain't nothin' but a HOUND Dog", she begins to shift the downbeat around: "You TOLD me you was high-class / but I can SEE through that, You ain't NOTHIN' but a hound dog." Each has a focal accent which is never repeated.[32] According to Maureen Mahon:

Thornton's "Hound Dog" differed from most of the rhythm and blues records of the era in its spare arrangement. There are none of the honking saxophone solos or pounding piano flourishes that marked the R&B sound. Instead, supported by guitar, bass and drums, her resonant vocals dominate the foreground, conveying her haughty relief at being through with a trifling man. Thornton maintains a confident attitude, bringing the blues tradition of outspoken women into the R&B context and helping to set the style for rock and roll by putting sexuality and play with gender expectations in the foreground.[33]

Release and reception

In late February 1953 "Hound Dog" was released by Peacock (Peacock 1612),[3][29] with the song credited erroneously on the label to Leiber-Stroller [sic]-Otis.[34] Thornton recalled later who she learned her record was in circulation while she was on her way to a performance with the Johnny Otis Orchestra during this tour in Dayton, Ohio. “I was going to the theater and I just turned the radio on in the car and the man said, ‘Here’s a record that’s going nationwide: ‘Hound Dog’ by Willie Mae Thornton.’ I said, ‘That’s me!’ [laughs] I hadn’t heard the record in so long. So when we get to the theater they was blasting it. You could hear it from the theater, from the loudspeaker. They were just playing ‘Hound Dog’ all over the theater. So I goes up in the operating room, I say, ‘Do you mind playing that again?’ ’Cause I hadn’t heard the record in so long I forgot the words myself. So I stood there while he was playing it, listening to it. So that evening I sang it on the show, and everybody went for it. ’Hound Dog’ just took off like a jet.”[35] On March 7, 1953, "Hound Dog" was advertised in Billboard, and reviewed positively on March 14, 1953 as a new record to watch, described as "a wild and exciting rhumba blues" with "infectious backing that rocks all the way".[36] According to Johnny Ace biographer James M Salem, "The rawness of the sound combined with the overt sexuality of the lyric made 'Hound Dog' an immediate smash hit in urban black America from late March to the middle of July 1953."[37] It spent fourteen weeks on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts,[38] seven of them at number one.[39] By April 30, 1953, Cash Box magazine listed the song as "the nation's top-selling blues record", and it topped the charts in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Newark, Memphis, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.[40] The song was named as the Best Rhythm and Blues song of 1953 by Cash Box magazine,[3] and was ranked #3 on Billboard's Best Selling Rhythm & Blues Chart for 1953.[41]

Don Robey estimated that Thornton's version of "Hound Dog" sold between 500,000 and 750,000 copies, and would have sold more had its sales not been diluted by an abundance of cover versions and "answer songs".[37] The success of "Hound Dog" secured Peacock Record's place as a major independent label.[42] However, despite its success, neither the composers nor artist were compensated well for their efforts. According to Stoller, "Big Mama's 'Hound Dog' went to #1, sold a million copies, and did nothing for our bank statements. We were getting screwed."[19]:67 After suing Robey, "We were given an advance check for $1,200," said Stoller, "but the check bounced."[19]:66 As a result, Leiber and Stoller started their own label, Spark Records,[43][44] and publishing company, Quintet Music.[19]:67 Those ventures were successful, but Leiber and Stoller would only earn substantial royalties from "Hound Dog" when it was covered by Elvis Presley (RCA #6604) in July 1956.[17] Similarly, Thornton stated: "That song sold over two million records. I got one check for $500 and never saw another."[45][46] In 1984, she told Rolling Stone, "Didn't get no money from them at all. Everybody livin' in a house but me. I'm just livin."[47]

Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is credited with "helping to spur the evolution of black R&B into rock music".[7] Brandeis University professor Stephen J. Whitefield, in his 2001 book, In Search of American Jewish Culture, regards "Hound Dog" as significant, as it "marked the success of race-mixing in music a year before the desegregation of public schools was mandated"[48] in Brown v. Board of Education.

Awards and accolades

In February 2013, Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" was inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame.[49] It has also received the following accolades:

  • #2 Acclaimed Music: The Top Songs From 1953[50]
  • #18 Women Who Rock - The Top 25 Girl-Power Anthems[51]
  • #36 Rolling Stone Fifty Essential Recordings From The Fifties (1990)[52]
  • #65 Acclaimed Music: The Top 200 Songs from the 1950s[53]
  • #675 Acclaimed Music: All Time Top 3000[54]
  • Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll"[55]

Chart succession

Preceded by
"(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean" by Ruth Brown
Billboard R&B National Best Sellers number-one single
(Big Mama Thornton version)
April 18, 1953 – June 6, 1953
(7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"I'm Mad" by Willie Mabon and His Combo

Responses (1953–1955)

Cover versions

Thornton’s "Hound Dog" was so popular that it spawned at least ten cover versions of the original before Elvis Presley recorded it in July 1956.[33] One of the earliest covers of Thornton's original was that of Little Esther, who recorded made an R&B cover on March 11, 1953 (b/w "Sweet Lips") on Federal Records (Federal 12126) that was released by April. While Federal's trade ads touted this release as the greatest record ever made by Little Esther,[56] in its review on April 11, 1953, Billboard opined: "It fails to build the same excitement of the original."[57]

Within a month of the release of Thornton's "Hound Dog", the following six country cover versions of the song—all credited erroneously to Leiber-Stoller (or Stroller [sic])-Otis—were released on several different labels by white artists:[12]

On February 24, 1954, The Cozy Cole All Stars recorded an instrumental version, "Hound Dog Special" (MGM 11794), a "spend off [sic] of Willie Mae Thornton's" version.[64]

Bass player Al Rex, who joined Bill Haley and His Comets in the fall of 1955,[65] told of performing the song when given the spotlight at live performances. "I used to do 'Hound Dog.' Haley would get mad at me if I'd do that. This was even before Presley did it. Haley didn't like those guys from Philadelphia that wrote the song."[66] As Leiber and Stoller were not from Philadelphia (and Haley recorded other Leiber and Stoller songs), Haley was probably referring to Freddie Bell and Bernie Lowe, of Philadelphia's Teen Records.

In later years Big Mama Thornton's version was covered by such artists as: The Dirty Blues Band on their 1968 album Dirty Blues Band; Etta James; Robert Palmer; and Macy Gray.

Answers and parodies

By the end of 1953 at least six "answer songs" that responded to 'Big Mama' Thornton's original version of "Hound Dog" were released.[12][37] According to Peacock's Don Robey, these songs were "bastardizations" of the original and reduced its sales potential.[67]

On March 8, 1953,[68] just two weeks after Thornton's original version was released,[69] and even before a review of "Hound Dog" had been published in Billboard,[70] Memphis disc jockey Rufus Thomas (adopting the nickname, "Rufus 'Hound Dog' Thomas") recorded "Bear Cat (The Answer To Hound Dog)" (Sun 181) at Sun Studios at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis. While retaining the same melody as "Hound Dog", Sun founder Sam Phillips wrote new lyrics,[11] in which he altered the gender of the singer, who bemoaned that his woman was a "bear cat", a Jazz Age slang term for "a hot-blooded or fiery girl".[71][72] The record's spare electric guitar work by Memphis bluesman Joe Hill Louis was greatly influenced by that of Pete Lewis on the original.[68] According to James M. Salem:

[I]nstead of barking and howling there is meowing and hissing in the background. In true answer form, the gender of the participants was reversed. This time the protagonist is male, directly challenging the worthless female of the original song—correcting her previous insults and re-directing them at her. "You know what you said about me woman?" says the man in open confrontation. "Well…You ain't nothin' but a bear cat, scratchin' at my door." All the irony and sarcasm of the original is captured in the answer, even the sexuality: "You can purr, pretty kitty, but I ain't gonna rub you no more."[67]

By the end of March, "Bear Cat" was in stores, prompting Billboard to described it as "the fastest answer song to hit the market".[68] It became both Thomas' and Sun Records' first hit,[73] eventually reaching #3 on the R&B charts.[11] However, as Phillips claimed a writing credit for the song,[74] a copyright-infringement suit ensued that nearly bankrupted Phillips' record label.[75][76][77][78]

A spate of answer records followed:

  • On March 18, Blues shouter Roy Brown recorded "Mr. Hound Dog's in Town" for King Records (45-4627).[79][80][81] While it had the same melody and many of the same lyrics as the original, Brown is credited as the sole writer.[82]
  • Vocalist Charlie Gore and guitarist Louis Innis recorded "(You Ain't Nothin' But A Female) Hound Dog" (King 45-1212) for King Records on March 22.[83][84] This song was credited to Innis, Lois Mann (a pseudonym of King Records owner Syd Nathan, the latter his wife's maiden name),[85] and Johnny Otis.[86]
  • Blues guitarist John Brim released an answer song in March called "Rattlesnake" on Chess Records' Checker subsidiary[12] with Little Walter on blues harp.[60]
  • Jake Porter's Combo Records released "Real Gone Hound Dog" (Combo 25), "an obscure 'answer' record to 'Hound Dog'",[87] by Chuck Higgins and His Mellotones' with a vocal by Higgins' brother "Daddy Cleanhead". The composition was credited to Higgins and Porter (as V. Haven).[88]

On March 28, Billboard reported that, "In an effort to combat what has become a rampant practice by small labels—the rushing out of answers which are similar in melody and/or theme to ditties which have become smash hits—many pubbers are now retaining attorneys. Common practice, of course is to regard the answer as an original. Currently publishers are putting up a fight to protect their originals from unauthorised or infringing answers."[89] In that same issue, Robey told Billboard he had notified the Harry Fox publishing agency "to issue Sun a license on 'Bear Cat' in order that Robey might collect a royalty".[68]

On April 4, 1953, Robey wrote to Phillips that, "unless contracts are signed and in the office of Mr. Harris Fox by Wednesday, April 8th, 1953, I will be forced to take immediate steps with Court Actions",[90] hoping "this will not cause any unfriendly relations, but please remember that I have to pay when I intrude upon the rights of others, and certainly must protect my own rights."[90] On April 11 Bob Rolontz reported in Billboard: "The answers to r&b tunes, which have become prolific with the many replies to such smash hits as 'I Don't Know', 'Mama' and 'Hound Dog' are being given a serious scrutiny by the original copyright holders of the tunes on the original hit waxings. It appears they do not think too highly of writing an answer to a hit unless a license is obtained and permission to write a parody is given by the publisher."[91] On the prior page, Peacock Records placed an advertisement promoting Thornton's release as "The Original Version of 'Hound Dog'", warning: "Beware of Imitations – Follow the Leader for Good Results" before reminding the reader: "The Original – The Best".[92] Two pages later, Intro Records touted the version by Tommy Duncan and the Miller Bros. as "Best of them all!!!"[93]

Their requests for payment having been ignored, Robey and two other music publishers initiated unprecedented legal proceedings in April against the record companies that released these competing songs, alleging copyright infringement.[67] As a result, Chess Records withdrew Brim's "Rattlesnake" from sale.[12] In the Memphis courts, Lion Publishing Co. sought royalties and treble damages, claiming "Bear Cat" was "a dead steal". In May, Phillips responded: "There's a lot of difference in the words. As for the tune, there's practically no melody, but a rhythm pattern", adding that it is hard to differentiate between any two 12-bar blues songs.[94] Despite the threat of legal action,[81] Brown's "Mr. Hound Dog's in Town" was still being advertised in Billboard on June 6,[95] and answer records such as "Call Me a Hound Dog" by Jimmie Wilson[96] and "New Hound Dog" by Curley Bridges with Frank Motley and His Motley Crew[12] kept coming.

On July 8 Robey wrote to Phillips again, thanking him "kindly for your co-operation in this matter",[68] but Phillips still refused to purchase a mechanical license for Thomas' "Bear Cat". Robey then instructed his company lawyer Irving Marcus to sue Phillips and Sun Records,[97][98] hoping to use this as a test case to determine the legal status of all answer songs.[99] Finding the tune and some of the lyrics of "Bear Cat" to be identical to those of "Hound Dog", in a "precedent-setting" decision the Court ruled against Phillips by July 25,[11][97][100] upheld the charges of plagiarism, and ordered him to pay 2% of all of the profits of "Bear Cat" plus court costs.[101] As this amounted to $35,000 compensation, Phillips was reduced to near bankruptcy, ultimately forcing him to sell Elvis Presley's Sun contract to RCA for $35,000 to raise the funds to settle his debts.[102] While earlier pressings of Sun 181 bore the caption "(The Answer To Hound Dog)" above the A-side title, as a result of the legal action this was removed from all later pressings. In the 1980s, Sam Phillips conceded: "I should have known better. The melody was exactly the same as theirs, but we claimed the credit for writing the damn thing".[68]

Meanwhile, in late July 1953, "Lion [Music] itself was in court defending the contention of Syd Nathan Records [sic] in Cincinnati that he had an interest in the song 'Hound Dog' and should have a fifty per cent share of its success."[68][100] Nathan, president of King Records, claimed that Valjo Music, one of King Records' publishing affiliates, had legal rights to the song as Johnny Otis, who claimed to be a co-author, was under exclusive contract to them at the time.[100] In response, Robey counter-sued both King Records and Valjo Music over Roy Brown's answer record, and also over Little Esther's cover record (King 12126).[67][100][103]

When the dust settled, the publishing for "Hound Dog" (in all variations) remained with Lion, and writing credit with Leiber and Stoller. In April, 1954, Billboard's Rolontz summed up the events thusly: "The year 1953 saw an important precedent set in regard to answer tunes … since the 'Hound Dog' decision, few record firms have attempted to 'answer' smash hits by other companies by using same tune with different lyrics."[68][104]

Later in 1953, Country satirical musicians Homer and Jethro released "(How Much Is) That Hound Dog in the Window",[105] a parody of the Bob Merrill-penned Patti Page hit, "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?"[106][107] Billboard noted: "By coincidence or intent, the use of 'hound dog' also recognizes the top r&b record of the moment."[108]

"Rip offs"

Two records were released that were neither cover versions of nor answers to Thornton's release, yet used a similar melody without any attribution to Leiber and Stoller. The first was Smiley Lewis's "Play Girl", credited to D. Bartholomew[109] and released by the Imperial Records label (Imperial 45-5234) by the end of March 1953.[110][111] Described as a "stomping uptempo boogie rocker",[112] it began: "You ain't nothin' but a Play Girl / Staying out all night long".[113] In April 1955,[114] female impersonator Jesse "Big 'Tiny'" Kennedy recorded "Country Boy" accompanied by His Orchestra that was released by RCA's Groove Records (Groove 4G-0106) by May 21.[115][116] While credited solely to Kennedy, this song has a similar melody to "Hound Dog":[117] "'Country Boy' has a deceptively slouching flip on the ‘Hound Dog’ motif - this time with Tiny proclaiming proudly that he ‘ain’t nothing but a country boy’".[118]

In the early 1970s Robert Loers, owner of Dutch label Redita Records, found a song with the same melody as "Hound Dog" called "(You Ain't Nuttin' But a) Juicehead" on an anonymous acetate at Select-o-Hits, the Memphis distributorship owned by Sam Phillips' brother, Tom, where Sun artifacts were stored.

When Juice Head first appeared on a Redita Records LP [in 1974], it was credited to Rosco Gordon. But it's not Rosco. It simply is not him. Really. Even Rosco confirmed that. It might not even be a Memphis Recording Service demo. Just substitute the words "Hound Dog" for "Juice Head" and what have you got? Of course the inspiration for this song came from Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog" or perhaps even from Rufus Thomas' "Bear Cat". But the song's other parent is Eddie Vinson's slowed down "Juicehead Blues'" which harks to the previous decade…If indeed this originated from Sam Phillips' studio, it was nothing that Phillips needed to touch because it was another lawsuit waiting to happen."[119]

Philip H. Ennis sees "Two Hound Dogs", which was recorded on May 10, 1955 by Bill Haley & His Comets (Decca 29552),[120] as a response to Thornton's recording.[121] While not an answer record in the traditional sense, the lyric characterized "Rhythm" and "Blues" as the titular "Two Hound Dogs," an apparent testament to the stature of "Hound Dog."

Freddie Bell and the Bellboys' versions (1955–1956)

"Hound Dog"
File:Hound Dog Teen.jpg
Single by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys
B-side "Move Me Baby"[122]
Released 1955
Format 45 RPM 7" single
Recorded 1955, Philadelphia
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:45
Label Teen Records
Writer(s) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

In 1955, Philadelphia-based Teen Records co-founder Bernie Lowe suspected that "Hound Dog" could potentially have greater appeal, but knew it had to be sanitized for mainstream acceptance, and so asked popular Las Vegas lounge act Freddie Bell of Freddie Bell and the Bellboys to rewrite the lyrics. "They replaced the racy with the ridiculous, turned a declaration of no more sex ('You can wag your tail but I ain't gonna feed you no more') into a reprimand for poor hunting skills ('Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine')".[123] Additionally, they replaced "Snoopin' 'round my door" with "cryin' all the time". The song was now literally about a dog.[12] Jerry Leiber, the original lyricist, found these changes irritating, saying that the rewritten words made "no sense".[124] However, "[n]ow street legal, the song was given a rock and roll rhythm and put on the Bell Boys' playlist."[123]

Described as "one of their trademark spoofs, a send-up of Big Mama Thornton's 'Hound Dog' complete with vulgar beat and mock drum fusillades",[125] their new "slightly 'big band' style of rock 'n' roll'"[126] version of "Hound Dog" was recorded in early 1955 on Teen Records (TEEN 101), "a subsidiary of the equally obscure Sound Records".[127] On the single's label, authorship is credited to Leibler [sic] and Stoller.[34] Their version of "Hound Dog" included the "most overused rhythmic pattern" of the 1950s, the three-beat Latin bass riff pioneered by Dave Bartholomew[128] that was also used in Rufus Thomas' "Bear Cat", a 1953 answer song to Thornton's original recording, and subsequently in Presley's 1956 recording.[129]

Their recording of "Hound Dog" was a local hit in the Philadelphia area, but attracted no national attention.[125] However, the regional popularity of this release, along with the group's showmanship, yielded a tour; an appearance in the seminal pioneer Rock and Roll musical film Rock Around the Clock in January 1956;[130] and a recording contract with Mercury Records that resulted in a UK #4 hit with "Giddy Up a Ding Dong" in September 1956.

Elvis Presley's version (1956)

"Hound Dog"
Single by Elvis Presley
B-side "Don't Be Cruel"
Released July 13, 1956
Format 45 rpm, 78 rpm single
Recorded July 2, 1956, RCA Studios, New York City, New York
Genre Rock and roll, rockabilly, country
Length 2:15
Label RCA Records
Writer(s) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s) Steve Sholes
Elvis Presley singles chronology

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Larry Birnbaum described "Hound Dog" as "an emblem of the rock 'n' roll revolution".[12] George Plasketes argues that Elvis Presley's version of "Hound Dog" should not be considered a cover "since [most listeners] … were innocent of Willie Mae Thornton's original 1953 release".[131] Michael Coyle asserts that "Hound Dog", like almost all of Presley's "covers were all of material whose brief moment in the limelight was over, without the songs having become standards."[132] While, because of its popularity, Presley's recording "arguably usurped the original", Plasketes concludes: "anyone who's ever heard the Big Mama Thornton original would probably argue otherwise."[131]

Presley was aware of and appreciated Big Mama Thornton's original recording of "Hound Dog".[133] Ron Smith, a schoolfriend of Presley's, says he remembers Elvis singing along to a version by Tommy Duncan (lead singer for the classic lineup of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys).[134] According to another schoolmate, Elvis' favorite r'n'b song was "Bear Cat (the Answer to Hound Dog)" by Rufus Thomas, a hero of Presley's.[9] Nevertheless, it was Freddie Bell and the Bellboys' performance of the song, with Bell's amended lyrics, that influenced Presley's decision to perform, and later record and release, his own version: "Elvis's version of 'Hound Dog' (1956) came about, not as an attempt to cover Thornton's record, but as an imitation of a parody of her record performed by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. … The words, the tempo, and the arrangement of Elvis' 'Hound Dog' come not from Thornton's version of the song, but from the Bellboys'."[135] According to Rick Coleman, the Bellboys' version "featured [Dave] Bartholomew's three-beat Latin riff, which had been heard in Bill Haley's 'Shake, Rattle and Roll'."[136] Just as Haley had borrowed the riff from Bartholomew, Presley borrowed it from Bell and the Bellboys.[136]

Presley's first appearance in Las Vegas, as an "extra added attraction", was in the Venus Room of the New Frontier Hotel and Casino from April 23 through May 6, 1956, but was reduced to one week "because of audience dissatisfaction, low attendance, and unsavory behavior by underage fans."[137][138] At that time, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, who had been performing as a resident act in the Silver Queen Bar and Cocktail Lounge in the Sands Casino since 1952,[130][139] were one of the hottest acts in town. Presley and his band decided to take in their show, and not only enjoyed the show, but also loved their reworking of "Hound Dog", which was a comedy-burlesque with show-stopping va-va-voom choreography.[140] According to Paul W. Papa: "From the first time Elvis heard this song he was hooked. He went back over and over again until he learned the chords and lyrics."[141][142] Presley's guitarist Scotty Moore recalled: "When we heard them perform that night, we thought the song would be a good one for us to do as comic relief when we were on stage. We loved the way they did it."[143] When asked about "Hound Dog", Presley's drummer D. J. Fontana admitted: "We took that from a band we saw in Vegas, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. They were doing the song kinda like that. We went out there every night to watch them. He'd say: 'Let's go watch that band. It's a good band!' That's where he heard 'Hound Dog,' and shortly thereafter he said: 'Let's try that song.'"[144]

When asked if Bell had any objections to Presley recording his own version, Bell gave Colonel Tom Parker, Presley's manager, a copy of his 1955 Teen Records' recording, hoping that if Presley recorded it, "he might reap some benefit when his own version was released on an album."[145] According to Bell, "[Parker] promised me that if I gave him the song, the next time Elvis went on tour, I would be the opening act for him—which never happened."[146] In May 1956, two months before Presley's release, Bell re-recorded the song in a more frantic version for the Mercury label,[63] however it was not released as a single until 1957.[147] It was later included on Bell's 1957 album, Rock & Roll…All Flavors (Mercury Records MG 20289).[148][149] By summer 1956, after Presley's recording of the song was a million-seller, Bell told an interviewer: "I didn't feel bad about that at all. In fact, I encouraged him to record it."[150] After the success of Presley's recording, "Bell sued to get some of the composer royalties because he had changed the words and indeed the song, and he would have made millions as the songwriter of Elvis’s version: but he lost because he did not ask Leiber & Stoller for permission to make the changes and thereby add his name as songwriter."[63]

Early performances

Soon after, Presley added "Hound Dog" to his live performances,[122][151] performing it as comic relief. "Hound Dog" became Elvis and Scotty and Bill's closing number for the first time on May 15, 1956 at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis,[152] during the Memphis Cotton Festival before an audience of 7,000.[153] Presley's performance, including the lyrics (which he sometimes changed)[154] and "gyrations", were influenced by what he had seen at the Sands. As the song always got a big reaction, it became the standard closer until the late 1960s.[153][155]

Television performances

Milton Berle Show

Presley first performed "Hound Dog" for a nationwide television audience on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, his second appearance with Berle. By this time, Scotty Moore had added a guitar solo, and D.J. Fontana had added a hot drum roll between verses of the song. Presley appeared for the first time on national television sans guitar. Berle later told an interviewer that he had told Elvis to leave his guitar backstage. "Let 'em see you, son", advised Uncle Miltie.[156] An upbeat version ended abruptly as Presley threw his arm back, then began to vamp at half tempo, "You ain't-a nuthin' but a hound dog, cuh-crying all the time. You ain't never caught a rabbit…" A final wave signaled the band to stop. Elvis pointed threateningly at the audience, and belted out, "You ain't no friend of mine."[157] Presley's movements during the performance were energetic and exaggerated. The reactions of young women in the studio audience were enthusiastic, as shown on the broadcast.[158][159]

Over 40,000,000 people saw the performance, and the next day, controversy exploded.[160] Cultural theorist David Shumway wrote, "Berle's network, NBC, received letters of protest, and the various self-appointed guardians of public morality attacked Elvis in the press."[161] TV critics began a merciless campaign against Elvis, making statements that he had a "caterwauling voice and nonsense lyrics" and was an "influence on juvenile delinquency" (despite the fact that when he started the movements, most of the audience laughed at it), and began using the sobriquet, "Elvis the Pelvis".[140]

Steve Allen Show

Elvis next appeared on national television singing "Hound Dog" on The Steve Allen Show on July 1. Steve Allen wrote: "When I booked Elvis, I naturally had no interest in just presenting him vaudeville-style and letting him do his spot as he might in concert. Instead we worked him into the comedy fabric of our program…We certainly didn't inhibit Elvis' then-notorious pelvic gyrations, but I think the fact that he had on formal evening attire made him, purely on his own, slightly alter his presentation."[162][163] As Allen was notoriously contemptuous of rock 'n' roll music and songs such as "Hound Dog", he smirkingly presented Elvis "with a roll that looks exactly like a large roll of toilet paper with, says Allen, the 'signatures of eight thousand fans,'"[164] and the singer had to wear a tuxedo while singing an abbreviated version of Hound Dog to an actual top hat-wearing Basset Hound.[165] Although by most accounts Presley was a good sport about it, according to Scotty Moore, the next morning they were all angry about their treatment the previous night.[166]


The morning after the Steve Allen Show performance, the studio version was recorded for RCA Victor by Elvis' regular band of Scotty Moore on lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, D. J. Fontana on drums, and backing vocals from the Jordanaires. Presley recorded this version along with "Don't Be Cruel" and "Any Way You Want Me" on July 2, 1956, at RCA's New York City studio. The producing credit was given to RCA's Steve Sholes; however, the studio recordings reveal that Elvis produced the songs himself, which is verified by the band members. Presley insisted on getting the song exactly the way he wanted it, recording 31 takes of the song.[167]

Release and reception

"Hound Dog" (G2WW-5935) was initially released as the B-side to the single "Don't Be Cruel" (G2WW-5936) on July 13, 1956.[168] Soon after the single was re-released with "Hound Dog" first and in larger print than "Don't Be Cruel" on the record sleeve.[169] Both sides of the record topped Billboard's Best Sellers in Stores and Most Played in Jukeboxes charts alongside "Don't Be Cruel", while "Hound Dog" on its own merit topped the country & western and rhythm & blues charts and peaked at number two on Billboard's main pop chart, the Top 100. Later reissues of the single by RCA in the 1960s designated the pair as double-A-sided. By August 18, 1956, Peacock re-released Big Mama Thornton's original recording, but backed with "Rock-a-Bye Baby".[170]

While Presley was performing "Hound Dog" on television and his record was scaling the charts, Stoller, who had been on vacation in Europe, was returning on the ill-fated final voyage of the Andrea Doria. On July 26, 1956, Leiber met the just-rescued Stoller on the docks and told him, "We got a smash hit on Hound Dog," Stoller said, "Big Mama's record?" And Leiber replied: '"No. Some white guy named Elvis Presley." Stoller added: "And I heard the record and I was disappointed. It just sounded terribly nervous, too fast, too white. But you know, after it sold seven or eight million records it started to sound better."[19]:90[171] Leiber and Stoller tired of explaining that Presley had dropped most of their lyrics.[10] For example, Leiber complained about Presley adding the line, "You ain't caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine", calling it "inane…It doesn't mean anything to me."[19]:94[16] Forty years later, Leiber told music journalist Rikky Rooksby that Presley had stamped the hit with his own identity: "(A) white singer from Memphis who’s a hell of a singer—he does have some black attitudes—takes the song over…But here’s the thing: we didn’t make it. His version is like a combination of country and skiffle. It’s not black. He sounds like Hank Snow. In most cases where we are attributed with rock and roll, it’s misleading, because what we did is usually the original record—which is R&B—and some other producer (and a lot of them are great) covered our original record."[172]

Presley's definition of rock and roll included a sense of humor—here, during his second Sullivan appearance, he introduces "Hound Dog".

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On September 9, with the song topping several U.S. charts, Presley performed an abbreviated version of "Hound Dog" on The Ed Sullivan Show hosted by Charles Laughton. After performing "Ready Teddy", he introduced the song with the following statement, "Friends, as a great philosopher once said…" Elvis's first time on the Sullivan show was an event that drew some 60 million TV viewers. During his second Sullivan show appearance, October 28, he introduced the song thusly (although unable to keep a straight face): "Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please. Ah, I'd like to tell you we’re going to do a sad song for you. This song here is one of the saddest songs we’ve ever heard. It really tells a story, friends. Beautiful lyrics. It goes something like this." He then launched into a full version of the song. Elvis was shown in full during this performance.[173][174] Again, Presley drew more than 60 million viewers.

In September 1956, Democratic congressman Emanuel Celler, chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee was disgusted at "the bad taste that is exemplified by Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog' music, with his animal gyrations, which are certainly most distasteful to me, are violative of all that I know to be in good taste."[175] In October 1956 Melody Maker critic Steve Race reacted negatively to Presley's rendition of "Hound Dog": "When Hound Dog was released—and believe me 'released' is the word—I sat up and took rather special notice. Lo these many times I have heard bad records, for sheer repulsiveness coupled with the monotony of incoherence, Hound Dog hit a new low in my experience."[176] Race added: "My particular interest in Presley's 'Hound Dog' does not lie simply in the fact that I don't like it. The point about the whole thing is that, by all and any standards, it is a thoroughly bad record",[177] lacking in "tone, intelligibility, musicianship, taste [and] subtlety", through defying "the decent limits of guitar amplification".[178] In 1957, Frank Sinatra supported US Senator George Smathers' crusade against "inferior music", including "Hound Dog", which Sinatra sarcastically referred to as "a masterpiece."[179] Oscar Hammerstein II had "a particular loathing of 'Hound Dog'".[180] In 1960, Perry Como told The Saturday Evening Post: "When I hear 'Hound Dog' I have to vomit a little, but in 1975 it will probably be a slightly ancient classic."[181] Albin J. Zak III, Professor of Music at the State University of New York, Albany, in his inaugural American Musicological Society/Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lecture, "'A Thoroughly Bad Record': Elvis Presley’s 'Hound Dog' as Rock and Roll Manifesto", in October 2011 asserted: "In retrospect…we can recognize defining moments of crystallization…The record was widely scorned by music industry veterans and high-pop aficionados, yet in its rude enthusiasm it represents an emphatic assertion of aesthetic principle at the dawn of rock and roll."[182] In 1997, Bob Dylan indicated that Presley's record influenced his decision to get into music: "What got me into the whole thing in the beginning wasn't songwriting. When 'Hound Dog' came across the radio, there was nothing in my mind that said, 'Wow, what a great song, I wonder who wrote that?' … It was just…it was just there."[183]

Presley's "Hound Dog" sold over 4 million copies in the United States on its first release. It was his best-selling single and, starting in July 1956, it spent eleven weeks at #1—a record not eclipsed until Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" held at #1 for 13 weeks in 1992.[184] It stayed in the #1 spot until it was replaced by "Love Me Tender", also recorded by Elvis. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1956.[185] "Hound Dog" would go on to sell 10 million copies worldwide, including 5 million in the United States alone.[186][187] In 1958, the "Hound Dog"/"Don't Be Cruel" single became just the third record to sell more than three million copies, following Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer".[16] Despite its commercial success, "Elvis used to say that 'Hound Dog' was the silliest song he'd ever sung and thought it might sell ten or twelve records right around his folks' neighborhood."[188]

Awards and accolades

In 1988, Presley's original 1956 RCA recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In December 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 19 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the highest ranked of Presley's eleven entries. In March 2005, Q magazine placed Presley's version at No. 55 of Q Magazine's 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.[189] Presley's version is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".[55]

Charts and certifications

Chart succession

Preceded by
"My Prayer" by The Platters
US Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
August 18, 1956 – September 16, 1956
(5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley
US Cash Box number-one single
August 18, 1956 – September 8, 1956
(4 weeks)
US Most Played in Jukeboxes number-one single
September 1, 1956 – November 10, 1956
(11 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Green Door" by Jim Lowe
Preceded by
"Honky Tonk" (Part 1 & 2) by Bill Doggett
US Top Selling Rhythm and Blues Singles number-one single
September 15, 1956 – October 20, 1956
(6 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Honky Tonk" (Part 1 & 2) by Bill Doggett
Preceded by
"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" by Elvis Presley
US Top Selling Country & Western Singles number one single
September 15, 1956– November 17, 1956
(10 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Singing the Blues" by Marty Robbins
Preceded by
"Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley
US Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
September 29, 1956 – October 27, 1956
(5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley


The commercial success of Presley's 1956 RCA version of "Hound Dog" precipitated a proliferation of cover versions, answer songs, and parodies. Additionally, "Hound Dog" was translated into several languages, including German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and even Bernese German.

Cover versions

By 1964, Presley's version of "Hound Dog" had been covered over 26 times, and by 1984, there were at least 85 different cover versions of the song, making it "the best-known and most often recorded Rock & Roll song".[202] In July 2013 the official Leiber & Stoller website listed 266 different versions of "Hound Dog", but acknowledged that its list is incomplete.[203] Among the notable artists who have covered Presley's version of "Hound Dog" are: Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps; Jerry Lee Lewis; Chubby Checker; Pat Boone; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Betty Everett; Little Richard; The Surfaris; The Everly Brothers; Junior Wells; The Mothers of Invention; Jimi Hendrix; Vanilla Fudge; Van Morrison; Conway Twitty; Jimi Hendrix & Little Richard; John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band; John Entwistle; Carl Perkins; Eric Clapton; and James Taylor.

As Presley was a major seminal influence on John Lennon,[204] and "Hound Dog" was a favorite of the young Lennon and his mother,[205] during The Beatles' early career "Hound Dog" was one of the songs Lennon played since August 1957.[204][206] On August 30, 1972, Lennon performed the song with the Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band at Madison Square Garden, New York City, in one of his last charity concerts,[207] and was released on his Live in New York album on January 24, 1986.

In 1999 David Grisman, John Hartford, and Mike Seeger included "Hound Dawg" on their 1999 album Retrograss, which was nominated for a Grammy in the Traditional Folk Album category in 2000.

Foreign language versions

Among those artists who have recorded non-English versions of "Hound Dog" are:[203]

  • Ralf Bendix (in German, as "Heut Geh’ Ich Nicht Nach Hause") (1957);[208]
  • Die Rock and Rollers with the Johannes Fehring Orchestra (in German, as "Das Ist Rock And Roll") (lyrics: Fini Busch) (1957);
  • Dyno Y Los Solitarios (in Mexican Spanish, as “Sabueso”) (1960: Discos Audiomex).[209]
  • Los Rogers (in Spanish, as "El Twist Del Perro") (1961);
  • Lucky Blondo (in French, as “Un Vieux Chien de Chase") on his album To Elvis from Nashville (1977: Philips)
  • Angela Ro Ro (in Brazilian Portuguese, as "Hot-Dog") (1984)
  • Züri West (in Bernese German as "Souhung") on their album Elvis (June 15, 1990: Black Cat at Sound Service)
  • Aurelio Morata (in Spanish, as "Perra Boba") Tributo Al Rey (1997: Picap)


After the Presley version of "Hound Dog" became a commercial success, Homer and Jethro parodied it as "Houn' Dawg" (RCA Victor 47-6706; 20-6706),[210][211] including such lines as: "You look like an Airedale, with the air let out".[212] Several parodies emphasized the cross-cultural appeal of Presley's record. Lalo "Pancho Lopez" Guerrero, the father of Chicano music,[213] released a parody version in 1956 entitled "Pound Dog" (L&M LM1002) about a chihuahua.[214] In January 1957, Jewish American satirist Mickey Katz released a Yinglish novelty song version, "You're a Doity Dog" (Capitol F3607), singing with a Yiddish accent, and having a klezmer break between verses.[215] In this freilach-rock song, Katz sang "You ain't nothin' but a paskudnick".[216] By March 1957, veteran country singer Cliff Johnson responded to the popularity of Presley's "Hound Dog" by recording his self-penned "Go 'Way Hound Dog (Let Me Sing My Blues)" (Columbia 4-40865; Australia: Coronet Records KW-022),[217] described in Billboard as "rockabilly that professes satiation with rockabilly music."[218] In 1991, Elvis "translator" El Vez,[219] backed by The Memphis Mariachis, released "(You Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Chihuahua", a "Chicano Power parody"[220] that opens with: "You ain't nothin' but a Chihuahua/ Yapping all the time."[221][222][223][224]

Encouraged by the 1994 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. that "ruled that … musicians do not have to obtain permission from the original artists to perform and record parodies of those compositions",[225] other parodies of "Hound Dog" emerged subsequently. These include "Found God", a self-acknowledged parody of Presley's version by popular Christian band ApologetiX,[226] which, using the original tune, opens with: "I ain't nothin' but I found God/It took quite a long time".[227]


Over the years "Hound Dog" "has been the subject of an inordinate number of lawsuits".[68] The most protracted was Valjo Music Publishing Corporation v. Elvis Presley Music that was initiated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in October 1956, after the commercial success of Elvis Presley's version of the song, and concluded in December 1957.

Valjo Music Publishing Corporation v. Elvis Presley Music


Leiber and Stoller were introduced to Otis in July 1952 by Federal Records' Ralph Bass when Otis needed songs for artists he was recording for Federal,[228] including Little Esther, Little Willie Littlefield, and Bobby Nunn of The Robins. In exchange for Otis using their songs, Leiber and Stoller gave Otis a one-third interest in those songs and assigned the publishing to Otis' company, Valjo Music Publishing Company.[228] Similarly, on August 30, 1952, Leiber and Stoller signed a contract with Spin Music Inc.—another publishing company in which Otis held an interest—assigning it certain rights to "Hound Dog" and some other songs in exchange for royalties to be divided equally between Leiber, Stoller, and Otis.[229] When the song was copyrighted initially on September 9, 1952, words and music were credited to Don Deadric Robey and Willie Mae Thornton, with Lion Publishing Co. identified as the registered publisher.[230] However, on March 26, 1953, it was credited to Leiber, Stoller, and Otis; and Valjo Music—not Spin—was the registered publisher.[231]

According to the findings of the court in Valjo Music Publishing Corporation v. Elvis Presley Music: "Thereafter Otis, in apparent disregard of the contracts both with Spin Music Inc. and plaintiff, arranged to have 'Hound Dog' published by Lion Music Publishing Company of Houston, Texas, and released by its affiliate Peacock Records. Otis executed a writer-publisher contract on October 10, 1952 with Lion Music Publishing Company in which Leiber, Otis and Stoller were described as the writers of 'Hound Dog.'"[228] Thus, Otis received a co-writing credit with Leiber and Stoller on Thornton's Peacock Records release and on all of the 1953 cover versions. The court also noted: "Otis signed not only his name but also signed—or perhaps forged—the names of Stoller and Leiber to it. The president or proprietor of Lion Music Publishing Company noted the similarity of the handwriting of the signatures and made contact with Leiber and Stoller who advised him that Otis had no authority to sign their names to the agreement and that Otis was not a co-author of the song, although he was entitled to receive one-third of the royalties. Lion then arranged for a contract with Leiber and Stoller alone for the publishing rights."[228] In order for Leiber and Stoller to execute the contract with Lion—"which, because we were underage, had to be signed by our mothers"[19]:66—a court appointed Mary Stein (for Leiber) and Adelyn Stoller (for Stoller) as their legal guardians in late April 1953.[232] The contract assigned the publishing for "Hound Dog" to Lion. Otis' credit was omitted from all subsequent records.[19]:66 Following on the popularity of Elvis' live and televised performances of "Hound Dog", Elvis Presley Music made the acquisition of half the publishing for the song from Lion Music a precondition to issuing a recording, to which Robey assented.


In October 1956, the success of Presley's version prompted Valjo to sue Leiber and Stoller and Elvis Presley Music to have Otis restored as co-writer and recover damages for lost royalties.[233][234] In Valjo Music Publishing Corporation v. Elvis Presley Music, Otis as plaintiff alleged that he was the co-author of "Hound Dog" along with two defendants, Leiber and Stoller. The defendants denied that Otis wrote any part of the song.[235] On August 26, 1956, Otis signed a release of any claims to the song in exchange for $750.[228] In court, Otis claimed that he had done so because he had learned that the defendants were legally infants at the time of the original contracts in 1952, and would, therefore, disaffirm any contract that they had with him.[236] This made no sense to the United States Southern District of Court of New York: "Otis was a man who had many years experience in the music business. He must have realized that even though Leiber and Stoller were infants they could not disaffirm his co-authorship of a song, if in fact he had been a co-author."[237][238] Further, while Leiber and Stoller acknowledged that they had given Otis one-third of the mechanical rights for the original Thornton recording, they denied giving him one-third authorship credit.[239] On December 4, 1957, Valjo's claim was dismissed in the New York Federal Court,[240][241] on the basis that Otis was "unworthy of belief", that he admitted forging Leiber and Stoller's signatures on a declaration to third-party publisher Lion Music, that Leiber and Stoller were underage at the time, and that Otis had signed a release to any claims for $750.[229][242] As the evidence would not sustain Valjo's contention that Otis had collaborated in the writing of "Hound Dog",[243] the Court voided Leiber and Stoller's contract,[17] ordered Otis to pay the legal costs of the defendants,[244] and awarded 46.25% of the song to Leiber and Stoller, with Lion Music receiving 28.75% and Elvis Presley Music receiving the final 25%.[245]

Despite the Court's findings, Otis continued to claim that he wrote the third verse and rewrote some of the lyrics in the second verse[246][247]—including adding "You made me feel so bad. You make me weep and moan. You ain't looking for a woman. You're looking for a home"—and edited out what he described later as "derogatory crap";[245] but Leiber and Stoller maintained consistently and emphatically that Otis was "not a writer of the song" (emphasis theirs).[19]:66

In popular culture

  • The AGM-28 Hound Dog missile's name is inspired by Presley's version of the song.[248]
  • "Hound Dog" was one of the songs featured in the America Sings attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California from June 1974 to April 1988.
  • The song was one of six that Johnny Casino and the Gamblers (Sha Na Na) performed in the school dance scene in the 1978 musical film Grease.
  • The instrumental version by Les Welch & His Orchestra was used in Phillip Noyce's 1978 Australian film Newsfront and its soundrack album, Music and Songs from the Film Newsfront.[249]
  • "Hound Dog" was included in Alan Bleasdale's 1985 stage musical Are You Lonesome Tonight? and on the subsequent soundtrack album by the original London Cast.
  • The song was included in the soundtrack of the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas with Jeff Beck and Jed Leiber (son of "Hound Dog" songwriter Jerry Leiber) playing it as an instrumental.
  • The Big Mama Thornton original was included in the soundtrack of the 1992 courtroom drama A Few Good Men.
  • In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, Forrest remembers a time when a young guitar player stays at his home, with Forrest dancing to the man playing "Hound Dog"—the man being Elvis Presley. The film cuts to Elvis playing "Hound Dog" later in life, suggesting that Gump's peculiar dancing inspired Elvis's famous dance.[16]
  • The song was included in the 1995 musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe, and in the 2002 TV special Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller. The 1995 soundtrack album Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber And Stoller performed by the original Broadway Cast won a Grammy award in 1996.


Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton

  • with Kansas City Bill and Orchestra "Hound Dog" / "Night Mare" (US: February 1953; Peacock 1612) (UK: 1954; Vogue V 2284) (Sweden, 1954; Karusell K 66) (France, 1954: Vogue V 3328) Song is credited to Leiber-Stroller [sic]-Otis.[170]
  • "Hound Dog" / "Let's Go Get Started" (1969: Mercury Records 72981)
  • She's Back (1970: Back Beat Records BLP-68) Reissued: (1974: ABC/Back Beat BBLX-68).
  • Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings (1992: Peacock MCAD-10668)

Freddie Bell and the Bellboys

  • "Hound Dog"(1955: Teen 101)
  • "Hound Dog" (Leiber-Stoller-Otis) / "Big Bad Wolf" (1957: Mercury Records 45152)[147] (Australia: 1957; Mercury 45152)
  • Rock'n'Roll Vol. 2 (UK: Barclay 14159 EP) (Sweden: 1957; Mercury EP-1-3502) (Norway: Mercury EP)
  • Rock´n Roll All Flavors (1957: Mercury)

Elvis Presley

  • Elvis: The First Live Recordings These are recordings from the Louisiana Hayride radio show from 1955 and 1956. (1982: Music Works PB 3601)
  • "Hound Dog" / "Don't Be Cruel" (Recorded: July 2, 1956; Released: July 13, 1956: RCA Victor 47-6604) (Canada: July 13, 1956; RCA Victor 20-6604) (Germany: August 4, 1956; RCA 20-6604; 47-6604) (UK: September 1956; HMV POP 249) (Belgium: September 1956; 47-6604) (Australia: 1956; RCA 10186) (Italy, 1956: RCA Italiana 45N 0515) "Perro De Caza (Hound Dog)" (Spain: 1957; RCA 3-10052) (Japan: August 1962; Victor SS-1297)

Cover versions

Thornton version

  • Little Esther (Recorded: March 11, 1953; Released: April 1953: Federal 12126)
  • Jack Turner and His Granger County Gang (April 4, 1953: RCA Victor 47-5267)[59]
  • Billy Starr (April 4, 1953: Imperial 45-8186)
  • Eddie Hazlewood (April 11, 1953: Intro Records 45-6069)
  • Betsy Gay (April 11, 1953: Intro Records 45-6070) On Various Artists Boppin' Hillbilly, Vol. 4 (Netherlands: 1988; White Label WLP2804)
  • Tommy Duncan and the Miller Bros. (April 18, 1953: Intro Records 45-6071)
  • Cleve Jackson [Jackson Cleveland Toombs] and His Hound Dogs (1953: Herald H-1015) on Various Artists, Chicago Rock (Netherlands: 1974; Redita [1st series] 108) Various Artists Boppin' Hillbilly, Vol. 5 (Netherlands: 1989; White Label WLP2805)
  • The Cozy Cole All Stars (William Randolph Cole) "Hound Dog Special" (Recorded: February 24, 1954: MGM 11794) "A spend off [sic] of Willie Mae Thornton's" version.[64] (instrumental)
  • The Dirty Blues Band Dirty Blues Band (1967: Bluesway 6010) (1968: Bluesway 45-61016) Modified Thornton version
  • Etta James Matriarch of the Blues (2000: Private Music)
  • Robert Palmer Drive (2003)
  • Macy Gray Various Artists Lightning In a Bottle: A One Night History of the Blues (Recorded live at Radio City Music Hall in New York City; 2004 DVD directed by Antoine Fuqua)

Presley version

Answers and parodies

  • Charlie Gore & Louis Innis "(You Ain't Nothin but a Female) Hound Dog" (March 22, 1953: King 3587)
  • Homer and Jethro "(How Much Is) That Hound Dog In The Window?" (Bob Merrill) (March 1953: RCA Victor 47-5280)
  • Roy Brown and His Mighty, Mighty Men "Mr. Hound Dog's in Town" (March 1953: King Records 45-4627)
  • John Brim "Rattlesnake" (1953: Checker 769)
  • Chuck Higgins and His Mellotones (vocal by "Daddy Cleanhead") "Real Gone Hound Dog" (written by C. Higgins & V. Haven) (1953: Combo 25)[88]
  • Smiley Lewis "Play Girl" (D. Bartholomew) (1953: Imperial 45-5234)[110]
  • Rufus "Hound Dog" Thomas, Jr. "Bear Cat (The Answer To Hound Dog)" (March 1953: Sun Records 181)
  • Unknown (attributed to Rosco Gordon) "(You Ain't Nuttin' But a) Juicehead" (Probably March 1953: unreleased demo recorded at Sun Records)[259] On Various Artists "706 Blues": A Collection of Rare Memphis Blues (Netherlands, 1974: Redita LP-111) On Various Artists (Netherlands 1988: Keep On Rolling (Redita 131) Various Artists Sun Records: The Blues Years 1950-1958 (1996: Charly CDSUNBOX 7)
  • Juanita Moore and the Eugene Jackson Trio "Call Me a Hound Dog" (Robert Geddins) on Various Artists Toast of the Coast: 1950s R&B from Dolphin's of Hollywood, Vol. 2 (Recorded ca. 1953; Released: UK: March 10, 2009: Ace)
  • Frank "Dual Trumpeter" Motley & His Crew (with vocal by Curley Bridges) "New Hound Dog" (1954: Big Town 116)
  • Big "Tiny" Kennedy [Jesse Kennedy, Jr.] and His Orchestra "Country Boy" (Tiny Kennedy) (October 1955: Groove 4G-0106) Re-released 2011: Juke Box Jam JBJ 1025)
  • Homer and Jethro "Houn' Dawg" (November 10, 1956: RCA Victor 20-6706; 47-6706)
  • Lalo "Pancho Lopez" Guerrero "Pound Dog" (1956: L&M LM1002)
  • Cliff Johnson "Go 'Way Hound Dog (Let Me Sing My Blues)" (1956: Columbia 4-40865; Australia: 1957; Coronet Records KW-022)
  • Mickey Katz and His Orchestra "You're A Doity Dog (Hound Dog)" (January 1957; Capitol F3607) (Germany: 1957; Capitol F 80 411)
  • Johnny Madera "Too Many Hound Dogs" (Bob Crewe, Frank Slay) (November 1960: Swan Records 4063)
  • El Vez and The Memphis Mariachis (as "(You Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Chihuahua") (1991) Son of a Lad From Spain? (December 14, 1999: Sympathy 4 the R.I.)

See also


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  219. ^ Junu Bryan Kim, "What If Elvis Were Mexican?", Vegetarian Times (April 1991):96.
  220. ^ Erika Lee Doss, Elvis Culture: Fans, Faith, & Image (University Press of Kansas, 1999):206.
  221. ^ Harold Fiske, Hack Like Me (Penguin Books Canada, 1999):98.
  222. ^ American Graphic Systems, Inc, I am Elvis: A Guide to Elvis Impersonators (Pocket Books, 1991).
  223. ^ Jason Blake Meyler, Reconstructing the US Latino/a image in literature and performance art (Stony Brook University, 2006):170.
  224. ^ Stuart Thornton, "El Vez is part Weird Al, part Elvis – and all entertainment", Monterey County Weekly (May 8, 2008).
  225. ^ Steve Hoffman, "Christian group ApologetiX readies for Farmer City concert", Pantagraph (Bloomington: October 31, 2008).
  226. ^ "Found God" (2005).
  227. ^ "Is Apologetix the way to welcome God's return?" The Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, TN: March 15, 2007):B.2
  229. ^ a b Library of Congress. Copyright Office, Decisions of the United States Courts Involving Copyright, 1957-1958: Copyright Office Bulletin No. 31. Reprint 1972 (1972):639-641.
  230. ^ Library of Congress. Copyright Office., Catalog of Copyright Entries 1952 Unpublished Music Jan-Dec 3D Ser Vol 6 Pt 5B (U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1952):508, 804, 824.
  231. ^ Library of Congress. Copyright Office., Catalog of Copyright Entries, 3D Ser Vol 7 Pt 5A, (U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1953):211.
  232. ^ Galen Gart, ed., First Pressings: The History of Rhythm & Blues, First Pressings: The History of Rhythm & Blues, Vol. 3 (Big Nickel Publications, May 1986):40.
  233. ^ "Who Let That Hound Dog Off His Leash?" Billboard (October 27, 1956):18, 21.
  234. ^ Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal 18 (Hastings, 1995):130ff.
  235. ^ Library of Congress. Copyright Office, Decisions of the United States Courts Involving Copyright, 1957-1958: Copyright Office Bulletin No. 31. Reprint 1972 (Library of Congress. Copyright Office, 1972):638.
  236. ^ Julie Cromer Young, "From the Mouths of Babes: Protecting Child Authors From Themselves", West Virginia Law Review 112 (2000):442.
  237. ^ 156 F. Supp. 568-570 (S.D.N.Y. 1957).
  238. ^ Julie Cromer Young, "From the Mouths of Babes: Protecting Child Authors From Themselves", West Virginia Law Review 112 (2000):42-443.
  239. ^ George Lipsitz, Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (University of Minnesota Press, 2010):42-43.
  240. ^ Opinion, Valjo Music vs. Elvis Presley Music in US District Court, Southern District of New York, December 4, 1957
  241. ^ Billboard, 16 December 1957, p.28
  242. ^ United States. Copyright Office. Bulletin, Decisions of the United States Courts Involving Copyright (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973):637ff.
  243. ^ United States. Courts, Modern Federal Practice Digest: All Federal Case Law in the Modern Era, Volume 37 (West Publishing Company, 1961):14.
  244. ^ Dennis Hartman, Motion Picture Law Review: Including Radio, and the Theater, Volume 20 (D. Hartman, 1959):105.
  245. ^ a b George Lipsitz, Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (University of Minnesota Press, 2010):43.
  246. ^ "Valjo Music Loses 'Hound Dog' Suit", The Billboard (December 16, 1957):28.
  247. ^ Journal of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A., Volume 5 (New York University Law Center, 1957):161.
  248. ^ Ellis Katz (February 9, 2011). "A Brief Account of the Beginning of the Hounddog (GAM 77) Program". AMMS Alumni. Retrieved February 6, 2012. I recall Joe Berrer (Joe was president of the Missile Division at the time; not sure of the spelling of his last name) returning from Inglewood where he had met with Dutch Kindleberger and Lee Atwood regarding the contract award and telling us that it had been decided to name the GAM-77 as "Hounddog". At the time Elvis was "King" and his musical fame carried over to our bird. 
  249. ^ "Music and Songs from the Film Newsfront"
  250. ^ "Cashmere Mafia"
  251. ^ F. Kathleen Foley, "'Hound Dog': Elvis Meets Rap Music", LA Times (November 29, 1996).
  252. ^ Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues CD 5PK"
  253. ^ "The Road to Memphis"
  254. ^ "Dakota Fanning - Hounddog" on YouTube
  255. ^ "Dakota Fanning - Hounddog" on YouTube
  256. ^ "Jill Scott as (Big Momma Thornton) [sic] - Hound Dog" on YouTube
  257. ^ "Soundtracks"
  258. ^ "Hound Dog", The Beatles Bible.
  259. ^ "The discredited LP Keep On Rocking Redita 131"

Further reading

External links