Hound Dog (song)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Single by Big Mama Thornton|
|Format||78 RPM 10" single|
|Recorded||August 13, 1952
|Writer(s)||Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller|
|Big Mama Thornton singles chronology|
"Hound Dog" is a twelve-bar blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton on August 13, 1952 in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in February 1953. "Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at #1. It sold between 500,000 and 2 million copies. Credited with contributing to the evolution of R&B into rock, 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.
Since its composition, "Hound Dog" has been recorded more than 250 times, and is one of the best known Rock & Roll songs. The best-known version of "Hound Dog" is the July 1956 recording by Elvis Presley that is ranked no. 19 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Presley's version, which sold an estimated 10 million copies globally, was his best-selling song, and "an emblem of the rock 'n' roll revolution". It was simultaneously no. 1 on the US pop, country, and R&B charts in 1956, and topped the pop chart 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 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 by the manyanswer songs released by such artists as Rufus Thomas and Roy Brown. From the 1970s onward, the song has been prominently featured in numerous films, most notably in Grease, Forrest Gump, Lilo & Stitch, A Few Good Men, Hounddog, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Nowhere Boy.
Background and composition
On August 12, 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". Thornton had been signed by Don Robey's Houston-based Peacock Records the year before, 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". In an interview in Rolling Stone in April 1990, Stoller elaborated: "She was a wonderful blues singer, with a great moaning style. But it was as much her appearance as her blues style that influenced the writing of 'Hound Dog' and the idea that we wanted her to growl it." Leiber recalled: "We saw Big Mama and she knocked me cold. She looked like the biggest, baddest, saltiest chick you would ever see. And she was mean, a 'lady bear,' as they used to call 'em. She must have been 350 pounds, and she had all these scars all over her face. I had to write a song for her that basically said, 'Go fuck yourself.' But how to do it without actually saying it? And how to do it telling a story? I couldn't just have a song full of expletives." To resolve this dilemma, "Leiber imagined Big Mama admonishing an unfaithful lover", and attempted to find a suitable "low down, dirty snub". In 1999, Leiber said, "I was trying to get something like the Furry Lewis phrase 'Dirty Mother Furya'. I was looking for something closer to that but I couldn't find it, because everything I went for was too coarse and would not have been playable on the air." Using a "black slang expression referring to a man who sought a woman to take care of him", the song's opening line, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog", was a euphemism, said Leiber, for "You ain't nothin' but a motherfucker." The song, a Southern blues lament, is "the tale of a woman throwing a gigolo out of her house and her life":
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Quit snoopin' 'round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain't gonna feed you no more
The song was written for a woman to sing in which she berates "her selfish, exploitative man", and in it she "expresses a woman's rejection of a man—the metaphorical dog in the title". The song is characterized by sexual innuendo. According to Iain Thomas, "'Hound Dog' embodies the Thornton persona she had crafted as a comedienne prior to entering the music business" by parading "the classic puns, extended metaphors, and sexual double entendres so popular with the bawdy genre." R&B expert George A. Moonoogian concurs, calling it "a biting and scathing satire in the double-entendre genre" of 1950s rhythm and blues.
Leiber and Stoller wrote the song "Hound Dog" in 12 to 15 minutes, with Leiber scribbling the lyrics in pencil on ordinary paper and without musical notation in the car on the way to Stoller's apartment.Said Leiber, "'Hound Dog' took like twelve minutes. That's not a complicated piece of work. But the rhyme scheme was difficult. Also the metric structure of the music was not easy." In their 2009 autobiography, Leiber describes the writing of "Hound Dog": "We ran back to Mike’s house on Norton—he was still living with his folks—and knocked out a song in a matter of minutes. It happened like lightning. We knew, as they say in the South, that this dog would hunt.":62 According to Leiber, as soon as they reached the parking lot and Stoller's 1937 Plymouth, "I was beating out a rhythm we called the 'buck dance' on the roof of the car. We got to Johnny Otis's house and 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."