Elvis Presley: Hound Dog
In his article ‘Elvis: Presliad’ Marcus Griel discusses Elvis Presley’s journey from a country boy in the woods and welfare to the status of imminence he received as a pop star that transcended the class distinction he was not born into. The song ‘Hound dog’ is useful in understanding what was so appealing about Elvis, and what was ultimately his downfall. A long way from his Milkcow Blues and the controlled adherence to the rules we see in his Sun records with Sam Philips like ‘That’s All Right Mama’, ‘Hound Dog’ is an indulgence of emotion, drums, and that signature pelvis shaking.
Griel suggests that while Elvis established himself with Milkcow Blues, unlike what many believe was him selling his ‘true’ self to RCA, Milkcow Blues was not his thing. It worked, it sold records and gave Elvis the structure he needed and a successful commercial formula, but he was by and large eclectic. Griel suggests that in leaving Sun records and moving to RCA, he was able to present his authentic multiplicity in music and this is evident in ‘Hound Dog’.
Elvis transcends both ethnic boundaries and cultural boundaries in his music, with his ability to adopt the subtle nuances of African American culture and music and make it his own. Like Jimmy Rogers before him, he moved back and forth with ease, but the music industry had not progressed enough to keep up. Many country stations refused to play any Elvis songs as a result of his culture crossing. He also showed his multiplicity in his ability to cross genres, moving from Milkcow Blues to songs like Blue Moon that are experimental and blend cultures further, and then going back to his roots singing Gospel songs like ‘How great thou art’. What set him apart from the rest was his ability to stay true to the song and bring it to life, inflicting it with his energy and passion.
‘Hound Dog’ is a song that illustrates Elvis’ multiplicity through his passionate performance of the lyrics juxtaposed with the way he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The image is almost like the mirror-self described by Goffman, where he is able to deliver a believable performance onstage to his audience and then looks at it introspectively offstage and has a laugh but what makes it so endearing is he lets his audience in on it. Like ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’ where Elvis belts out a powerful ‘I’d rather see you dead little girl/ Than to be with another man’ and feigns toughness and anger, he does the same thing in ‘Hound Dog’ singing with emotion ‘’Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine.’ He then moves with ease to the next like ‘Well they said you were high classed’ in a self-deprecating humorous tone, letting you know his toughness was feigned.
Ultimately his over-riding ambition to have it all ended up being his undoing. His desire to embrace all genres meant that he didn’t specialise in anything, leading to him losing his audience. But his ability to immerse himself in each genre and perform the role required of him is what makes songs like ‘Hound Dog’ win his audience over and stand the test of time.