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Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel”
Writer(s): Otis Blackwell/Elvis Presley (see lyrics here)
Released: 7/13/1956, First charted: 7/27/1956
Peak: 111 US, 16 CB, 110 CW, 16 RB, 24 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, -- UK, 10.0 world (includes US and UK)
Radio Airplay (in millions): 4.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 5.05
Review: Elvis had already shaken the music world with two chart toppers in 1956 when “Don’t Be Cruel,” backed by “Hound Dog,” topped the chart for 11 weeks. Joel Whitburn, the go-to chart historian for Billboard magazine with his Record Research books, calls it the only single in history to have both sides go to #1. He backs up the claim by pointing out that “Hound Dog” hit the charts first and had the initial buzz, but that airplay began to favor “Don’t Be Cruel.” SF
The single was also the first to top Billboard’s pop, rhythm & blues, and country & western charts. WK Not only was it the biggest song of 1956, WHC but the biggest hit of the rock era for the next 36 years, when Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” finally bested it. In terms of chart success, there has never been a more successful double-sided hit in history.
Presley took a demo by Otis Blackwell and reworked the arrangement on piano, changing the music and lyrics, just as he had done with other Blackwell compositions. WK Elvis recorded “Cruel” on July 2, 1956 at RCA’s New York City studio with his regular band featuring guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana. The Jordanaires provided backup vocals. WK
They recorded eight takes of the song after they’d already knocked out thirty takes of “Hound Dog” in the same session. WK Elvis invented a new style for himself when he decided to slap the back of his guitar for extra percussion. RS500
Sam Phillips, Presley’s former producer, was floored when he heard the song, saying that the first time he heard it on his car radio he had to pull over. CR Phillips said later, “they have finally found this man’s ability.” CR
Resources and Related Links:
- Elvis Presley’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- Elvis Presley Performs for a Hound Dog: July 1, 1956
- CR Creswell, Toby. (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 162.
- RS500 RollingStone.com “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”
- SF Songfacts.com
- WHC Whitburn, Joel. (1999). A Century of Pop Music. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Page 77.
- WK Wikipedia.org