Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Hound Dog

First recorded by “Big Mama” Thorton (R&B #1 1953).
Also recorded by Jack Turner & His Granger County Gang (1953), Eddie Hazelwood (1953), Betsy Gay (1953), Tommy Duncan & the Miller Brothers (1953), Freddie Bell & The Bell Boys (1955).
Hit version by Elvis Presley (US #1/C&W #1/R&B #1 1956).

From the wiki: “Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote ‘Hound Dog’ as a 12-bar Blues song. It was first recorded in Los Angeles by Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton in August 1952, and became her only hit record. Credited with contributing to the evolution of R&B into Rock and Roll, Thornton’s recording of ‘Hound Dog’ is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

“In August 1952, R&B bandleader Johnny Otis invited 19-year-old songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to his home to meet Blues singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, a ‘foul-mouthed three-hundred pound R&B singer’. Leiber recalled: ‘We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see … I had to write a song for her that basically said, ‘Go fuck yourself.’ Leiber and Stoller wound up writing a Southern Blues lament, ‘the tale of a woman throwing a gigolo out of her house and her life.’

“Thornton had been signed by Don Robey’s Houston-based Peacock Records in 1951 and, after two failed singles, Robey had enlisted Otis to reverse her fortunes. After hearing Thornton rehearse several songs, Leiber and Stoller ‘forged a tune to suit her personality — brusque and badass.’ Leiber and Stoller claim to have written ‘Hound Dog’ in 12 to 15 minutes. ‘It happened like lightning,’ Leiber recalled. ‘We knew, as they say in the South, that this dog would hunt.’ Stoller remembers that ‘Mike went right to the piano … didn’t even bother to sit down. He had a cigarette in his mouth that was burning his left eye, and he started to play the song.’

“Of the many different versions of ‘Hound Dog’ produced over the years (350+), Leiber regarded the original recording by the 350-pound ‘Blues Belter’ Big Mama Thornton as his favorite version. Significantly, Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’ was also the first record that Leiber and Stoller produced themselves, taking over from bandleader Otis. Thornton recorded two takes of the song, and the second take was the one released.

“Among the covers released in the wake of Thorton’s recording were a Country & Western version by Jack Turner & His Granger Gang (a pseudonym for humorists Homer & Jethro, and a group which featured Chet Atkins on guitar); Eddie Hazelwood’s two-step honky tonk; Tommy Duncan’s smooth, jazzy reading of the song; and a recording by Hollywood child actress Betsy Gay (Our Gang). None of those recordings approached the popularity of Thorton’s original production, estimated to have made between 500,000-1,000,000 sales.

“The best-known cover of ‘Hound Dog’ is, of course, the July 1956 recording by Elvis Presley that is ranked #19 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was in Las Vegas, in 1955, that Presley witnessed Freddie Bell & The Bell Boys performing their version of ‘Hound Dog’. Presley was impressed enough with their performance that he asked Bell if he would mind if he (Elvis) recorded the song himself. Bell told him “Sure, go ahead”, and the rest is rock ‘n roll history.

“Presley’s version, which has sold an estimated 10 million copies globally, was not only his best-selling song but was also simultaneously the #1 song on the US Pop, Country, and R&B charts in 1956, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for 11 weeks — a record that stood for 36 years. Presley’s original 1956 RCA recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988, and is also listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

“Since its release, ‘Hound Dog’ has been at the center of many lawsuits, including disputes over authorship, royalties, and copyright infringement because the many answer songs that followed (including ‘Bear Cat’, by Rufus ‘Hound Dog’ Thomas, and Roy Brown’s ‘Mr. Hound Dog is Back in Town’). It has also been prominently featured in numerous films, including Grease, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, and Forrest Gump.”

Jack Turner & His Granger County Gang, “Hound Dog” (1953):

Eddie Hazelwood, “Hound Dog” (1953):

Betsy Gay, “Hound Dog” (1953):

Tommy Duncan & the Miller Brothers, “Hound Dog” (1953):

Freddie Bell & The Bell Boys, “Hound Dog” (1955):

Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog” original recording (1956):

Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog” incl. live TV performance on The Milton Berle Show (1956):