Digital Classroom: Elvis Presley, "Hound Dog"
"Hound Dog" (1956)
“Hound Dog” is one of the most well-known and controversial songs in the history of rock and roll. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two young Jewish songwriters in Los Angeles, wrote the song. Leiber and Stoller loved R&B. They wrote it for Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, a singer working with Johnny Otis’s band. Thornton’s version hit #1 on the R&B charts in 1953. Elvis Presley (inducted 1986) heard it in an arrangement by Freddie Bell and The Bellboys in Las Vegas in 1956. It was one of his earliest hits at RCA, spending eleven weeks at #1. His performance of the song on The Milton Berle Show featured bumps and grinds and made no excuses for its overt sexuality, which helped create the idea that rock and roll generally (and Elvis specifically) was morally dangerous. The song is also seen as the most illustrative example of the white appropriation of African-American music.
Artifact: Songwriters Contract for "Jailhouse Rock"
Describe what you see.
What do you observe?
- Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote many rock and roll hits of the 1950s including Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” (originally composed for Big Mama Thornton). What does this contract reveal about the business of music and about song ownership, in particular?
- Who are the signing parties? How does “Elvis Presley Music, Inc.” compare to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as individual songwriters? What is the role of the music publisher?
- “Jailhouse Rock” is one of five songs under contract here. How would you compare the five songs listed? Were they equally memorable and/or profitable?
Infographic: Television in the 1950s
Television was an important performance medium for rock and roll artists such as Elvis Presley in the 1950s—and it continues to be a very powerful medium. Explore this infographic to discover the dramatic leap in TV ownership in the 1950s.