By Larry Teren
Hound Dog was written in 1952 for a much-forgotten female singer. It was reworked in 1956 to the more up-tempo hell-bent rhythm barked by the legendary King of Rock, Elvis Presley. It sold more than five million records and made an instant national star out of Elvis Presley when he sang it on the Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan television shows.
Mention the names Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and very few people will know who they are but to a generation of Baby Boomers they wrote possibly the defining song of the 1950’s and the anthem of rock and rollers everywhere.
The lyrics are simple and somewhat corny but they represent the attitudes of post World War Two children who were used to getting their way when they threw tantrums at overly permissive parents more interested in keeping up with the Joneses. Besides, no one really paid much attention to the words Elvis mumbled back then. They were more busy looking at him swing those hips
Jerry Leiber and his partner Mike Stoller made an appearance together in the mid 1950’s as mystery guests on the iconic television game show, What’s My Line. They cringed and the audience laughed hysterically when asked by a panelists if in their job they inflicted pain on others. They responded that if it was true, it was not done intentionally The moderator John Charles Daly made them agree that it depended on who was on the receiving end. Bennett Cerf, the resident wit, decoded that to mean one of two things, either they were new school music composers or designers of ladies intimate apparel. He chose to make his question the latter and was given an emphatic “no” answer. The next questioner, Dorothy Kilgallen, had a big grin on her face as she said that it left only one thing- they composed rock and roll music.
Such was the attitude of the older generation at the time. One of the panelists even wondered out loud what was their fallback once this “fad” was over. Another commented that the two were so quiet because they were busy counting all the money they made. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller went on to write and produce other hits such as Jailhouse Rock, Is That All There Is?, Love Potion Number 9, and On Broadway.
If Hound Dog was our Baby Boomer generation’s anthem, Davy Crockett was our Psalm. If a boy in 1955 didn’t own a coonskin cap it was only because he was dirt poor. Many of us felt confused and betrayed when Fess Parker, the one and only Davy Crockett, went on to play Daniel Boone in a hit 1960’s television series. Davy’s tv partner George Russell was played by Buddy Ebsen. Buddy proceeded to outshine Fess in stardom in The Beverly Hillbillies, also a 1960’s iconic series.
By the time the 1970’s took shape, both The Beverly Hillbillies and Daniel Boone were buried along with many other hit series in television’s graveyard. Elvis Presley was semi-retired, no longer making movies, allegedly into drugs and outshone by the British pop invasion. What’s My Line was in sinful color and syndicated and the Generation X children started to wield their buying power.
By then, baby boomers were old enough to stop playing games and go out and make a living. It’s no longer a hound dog world but play that song and we’ll still shake, rattle and roll. We just need to make sure that there’s a walker or an ice pack nearby.