Don’t Be Cruel
Writer(s): Otis Blackwell/Elvis Presley (see lyrics here)
Released: July 13, 1956
First Charted: July 27, 1956
Peak: 111 US, 2 HP, 16 CB, 18 HR, 110 CW, 15 RB, 24 UK, 12 CN, 2 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 8.0 US, 10.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 4.0 radio, 37.06 video, 21.09 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Elvis made chart history 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, says it is 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, CPM 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 recorded “Don’t Be Cruel” on July 2, 1956 at RCA’s New York City. He’d already done “Hound Dog” that day and, after a break for lunch, he started sifting through demos for something else to record. He was struck by the song “Don’t Be Cruel,” written by R&B performer Otis Blackwell, whold’ written “Fever” for Little Willie John. He’d given “Cruel” to the Four Lovers (later the Four Seasons), but encouraged them not to record it after Elvis showed interest. SS
Presley reworked the arrangement on piano, changing the music and lyrics, just as he had done with other Blackwell compositions. WK “The King lays back and lets his supporting cast show their stuff: Bill Black with a virtual bass solo at the top, D.J. Fontana popping the backbeat, the Jordanaires crooning like rock’s first barbershop harmony team, Scotty Moore sketching in some guitar here and there.” DM On top of it all, 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. TC Phillips said later, “they have finally found this man’s ability.” TC
First posted 7/13/2014; last updated 3/26/2023.