And, to wrap up our Aged Cheese category, where we have spent time pretending the British Invasion never occurred, one of the all-timers:
Bridey: Man, he really could sing, couldn’t he? You kind of take it for granted now.
Pete: By the time Elvis recorded his version of “Hound Dog,” he’d already been performing it in his live set, and he’d done it on Milton Berle and Steve Allen’s TV shows — with the infamous dog in a top hat.
Bridey: Yeah, a Bassett hound. The dog stunt was, of course, supposed to embarrass Presley, since Allen was such an insufferable snob about rock ‘n’ roll. Didn’t work, though — Elvis was so charming that Allen couldn’t make a fool of him.
Pete: If I remember right, it was the day after that Steve Allen show that they recorded what became the album version. The arrangement, which wasn’t theirs, of course…
Bridey: Big Mama Thornton, right?
Pete: Actually, Freddy Bell and the Bellboys. A few months earlier, Elvis had been in Vegas and had heard the Bellboys play a much modified version from the Thornton one. And Lieber and Stoller had originally — Big Mama Thornton had done their arrangement, and they wound up playing on it and producing it. And a few years had gone by, and Freddy Bell and the Bellboys had been given the song and had changed the lyrics slightly, and that was the version that Elvis and his band had heard in Vegas.
Bridey: And they made everybody forget about Freddy and the Bellboys — and everything before it. There’s just such a… I don’t know how to describe it, it’s not just the energy of it. Any singer would bring that to this song. There’s just something so, I don’t know, inevitable about the way Elvis takes this on.
Pete: There’s such an ease, a casualness about how Elvis throws it out there, you don’t know if he’s being deadly serious or having the time of his life.
Bridey: He’s utterly at home here, certainly.
Pete: And given that they had already done two TV shows and had it in their live set for a couple of months before the recording, they had the luxury of being able to do with it anything they wanted to. By the time they got to the studio, they had the time to really make it their own, do their own thing with it. Which was pretty unusual, certainly at the time — and even now. Things don’t tend to end up in the live set until after they’re recorded.
Bridey: But it certainly meant they were totally comfortable with this — and it sounds like it means something. I love the drums on this. They’re almost hard rock.
Pete: DJ Fontana.
Bridey: I don’t know what a drummer would call it — those super-fast little fill things that he’s doing.
Pete: It’s just a snare fill. But how he powered through it was certainly not what you’d normally hear from pop music in any genre at the time.
Bridey: The band is not sitting back behind the singer at all. It’s all working together, much more than a lot of other records at the time. Handclaps and all.
Pete: With the recording techniques of the day, it was probably recorded on no more than three or four mics, and recorded live, with Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black, DJ, and the Jordanaires all in the room at the same time. Also in the same session, they recorded “Don’t Be Cruel,” so there was definitely quite a vibe going on that day.
Elvis and the band had such confidence at that time. They knew exactly what they wanted, Elvis knew exactly what he wanted.
Bridey: And he was already a huge star. This is 1956, and he’s making his own rules.
Pete: There’s an interesting contrast with the single just prior to “Hound Dog,” which was “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” That had been released earlier in the year and was already a hit. Elvis had made his first trip to Vegas, and made the two national TV appearances, and in a very rare thing for an artist, as the success is going up, at the same time his confidence is going up, and only a year in, he already knows exactly who he is and who he wants to be for the future.
Bridey: You think of that with someone like, say, Buddy Holly as well, but it’s very rare, as you say.
Pete: When that early in the game, they know who they are, and they have the talent to back it up, then you get an Elvis and a Buddy Holly.
Bridey: It took even the Beatles a while to figure out where their strengths were. Very rare for a pop artist to show up essentially fully formed. Though not as rare as it once was, in these more video- and image-conscious days. Now they know they have to build a character, build a persona. When Elvis did it, it was all new. And the character was, of course, the King.