This Day in Music, July 1: Hot Dogging

By , Contributor

In June 1956 Elvis Presley appeared on The Milton Berle Show on ABC TV. The live programme saw Elvis appearing on the deck of the USS Hancock, docked at the naval station in San Diego bay. Elvis performed his latest single, "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Blue Suede Shoes", his sexually-charged and "shocking" onstage pelvic gyrations causing a national uproar.

A national debate occurred between the younger teenage crowd, which loved rock 'n' roll music and the establishment, which preferred jazz and orchestra music and feared that Elvis was contributing to the corruption of America's youth.

Presley was warned by the San Diego police chief that if he ever returned to his city and performed in a similar way, he would be jailed for disorderly conduct. "I've had enough complaints from parents to assure me that this twerp is not doing the kids any good," said the chief.

It was in Las Vegas in April that Elvis had heard and seen Freddie Bell & The Bellboys perform their version of "Hound Dog", in turn inspired by the original Big Mama Thornton recording of 1952. Presley was impressed and asked Bell if he would mind if he (Elvis) recorded the song himself. Bell told him to go ahead and the rest we know, more or less.

Elvis's drummer added the drum break which defined their version and, as importantly, allowed Elvis the musical space to shake his hips in a way that was to create rock 'n' roll performance history.

Still, TV producers of future appearances were concerned enough about Elvis's hip movements to consider carefully how they were to be presented.

In keeping with the Emasculation Of Elvis, on July 1, 1956 Elvis appeared on NBC-TV's The Steve Allen Show and performed "Hound Dog" - to a live basset hound. After the show, Elvis, having appeared wearing a black tuxedo outfit (complete with a top hat, white tie, and tails), was by all accounts sanguine about the appearance, but his band were incensed, and the Presley camp vowed never do the show again. Indeed, in later years, when asked about this appearance, Elvis said, "It was the most ridiculous appearance I ever did and I regret ever doing it".

A viewing of the footage nowadays reveals that Elvis, like the true professional he was, pulls off the sketch with ease: he hams it up, playing and singing to the dog, which he even appears to kiss at one point. 

Steve Allen subsequently became the first host of The Tonight Show, where he was instrumental in innovating the concept of the television talk show. Thereafter, he hosted numerous game and variety shows, including The Steve Allen Show, which would include guests appearing in comedy type sketches.

The morning after the Steve Allen Show performance, Elvis's studio version was recorded by Elvis with his regular band  (Scotty Moore on lead guitar, Bill Black on bass, D. J. Fontana on drums, backing vocals from the Jordanaires, and Elvis on rhythm guitar). Elvis produced the session himself, insisting on getting the song exactly right, and eventually recording 31 takes. "Hound Dog" was initially released as the B-side to "Don't Be Cruel" on July 13, but both sides topped the charts independently, a rare feat, at the same time topping all three Billboard charts: pop, country/western, and rhythm and blues, the first record in history to do so.

So, on September 9, when Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, performing "Ready Freddie" and a curtailed version of "Hound Dog", the latter was already at No. 1, where it stayed for 11 weeks. According to Elvis legend, Presley was shot only from the waist up because of studio censorship, but actually, although most of the shots did only feature Elvis from the waist up, there were enough full-length views to show his full menu of moves. Although he was wearing a jacket and playing a guitar, his rocking, swivel-hipped gyrations elicited much screaming from the excitable teenage audience.

Elvis's next TV appearance would be a repeat Ed Sullivan Show, on October 28, 1956, again performing "Hound Dog", and this time seen by approximately 60 million viewers - a record 82.6% of the television audience, cementing his popularity.

Ironically, over the years, the small ceramic statue of a basset hound with a top hat is now among the more popular items of Presley memorabilia sold at Graceland to fans from around the world. ("I said you was high-class, but that was just a lie..")

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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