Many listeners first heard 'Hound Dog' when Elvis Presley’s single topped the pop, country and R&B charts in 1956. But some fans already knew the song from Big Mama Thornton’s earlier recording, a giant but exclusively R&B hit. In Hound Dog Eric Weisbard examines the racial, commercial and cultural ramifications of Elvis’s appropriation of a Black woman’s anthem.
Weisbard rethinks the history and influences of rock music in light of Rolling Stone's replacement of Presley’s 'Hound Dog' with Thornton’s version in its 2021 “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. Taking readers from Presley and Thornton to Patti Page’s 'Doggie in the Window,' the Stooges’ 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' and other dog ditties, Weisbard uses 'Hound Dog' to reflect on one of rock’s fundamental dilemmas: the whiteness of the wail.
Eric Weisbard is Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama and author of Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music, also published by Duke University Press.
About the Duke University Press Singles series:
One song, one book, one series. Each book in the Singles series tells a complex story about a single song. Not just a lone track on an album, but a single: a song distributed to and heard by millions that creates a shared moment it is bound to outlive, revealing social fault lines in the process. These books combine popular culture and fandom with music criticism and scholarly research to ask how singles change lives, reshape perceptions, bring people together, and drive them apart. What is it about a single that can pry open a whole world? That can feel common to all and different for each? How can something so little mean so much? Singles offers insightful, provocative answers to these questions.
Duke University Press Books, 152pp, 17.8cm x 17.8cm, paperback, 2023
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