Elvis Presley’s first series of shows in Las Vegas ran from April 23 to May 6, 1956. During his less than successful stint at the Venus Room of the new Frontier Hotel, he took in Freddie Bell and the Bellboys. One of the songs they performed was a cover of “Hound Dog”, first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. Elvis loved Bell’s version and asked about working it into his own act.
Presley first performed the song for a national television audience on June 5, 1956, when he appeared on The Milton Berle Show. 40 million people saw Elvis’ take on “Hound Dog”, complete with controversial gyrations. Critics mocked him, calling him “Elvis the Pelvis”. They savaged him as an “influence on juvenile delinquency” WK and said the song was a showcase for his “caterwauling voice and nonsense lyrics”. WK
With all the attention, he was tapped to perform on The Steve Allen Show for July 1. Allen wasn’t a great fan of rock ‘n’ roll and demanded that Elvis wear a tuxedo. Elvis also had to sing to a top-hat-wearing basset hound. Allen claimed that he wasn’t out to halt Elvis’ presentation style, but the combination of formal wear and singing to a dog reigned in his performance. However, it made for one of The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s most memorable appearances, even if it wasn’t his best.
The following day, Elvis entered the RCA studios in New York City to record the song. “Hound Dog” was originally intended as the B-side for “Don’t Be Cruel”, another song from the session. After the single’s release on July 13, 1956, it became clear that RCA had two hits on their hands and it became billed as a double A-sided single. The pair of songs became Elvis’ best-selling single and the first single in history to top Billboard magazine’s pop, country, and R&B charts. WK Both songs are in the Grammy Hall of Fame and featured in the Dave’s Music Database book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999. The pair of songs jointly spent 11 weeks atop the pop chart, making it the longest-reigning #1 of the rock era until 1992’s “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men spent 13 weeks at the pinnacle.