Song Spotlight: “Hound Dog”

Our newest family member - Duke the Basset Hound

  • Mood: Upbeat, full of attitude
  • Theme: Dogs and/or freeloading gigolos
  • Tempo: Moderate
  • Genre/style: Rhythm and blues/Rock and roll

We have a new family member in our house! This one gets around on four legs and has very long, droopy ears. His name is Duke, and he’s the adorable basset hound pictured above. I alluded to the inevitable canine addition to our household in this previous song spotlight post, but I thought his arrival was worth another song spotlight. Fortunately, that means I get to feature one of my go-to songs for elders both in group music therapy and in one-to-one interactions: “Hound Dog.”

“Hound Dog” is a 12-bar blues written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller in the mid-1950s. Elvis Presley’s 1956 version is by far the best known, but the song was first recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1952. To me, her recording has a more improvisational, blues-y feeling, with Thornton’s vocal interplay with the instruments and all of the musicians barking and howling like hound dogs at the end of the song. Big Mama Thornton’s version drew a lot of attention and was followed by no fewer than six cover versions by country musicians in 1953. You can hear one by Billy Starr here.

If you listen to those recordings by Big Mama Thornton or Billy Starr, you’ll probably notice that the lyrics are different than the ones you know from Elvis. That’s because Freddie Bell of Freddie Bell and the Bellboys rewrote the lyrics at the request of Bernie Lowe, to appeal to a broader audience. Here are the original lyrics:

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog snoopin’ round my door

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog snoopin’ round my door

You can wag your tail but I ain’t gonna feed you no more

And here are the revised lyrics:

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time

You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine

Does that change your thoughts on what this song is really about? Jerry Lieber, the original lyricist, thought these changes didn’t make any sense, stating “the song is not about a dog; it’s about a man, a freeloading gigolo” (quoted from this article). Still, Elvis Presley made the revised version of the song very famous, ultimately selling more than 7 million copies. Elvis first performed the song live in Las Vegas, and later performed it on several TV variety shows. You can see a particularly charming video of Elvis singing to an actual basset hound here (I love his reaction to the dog!):

I love this song for many reasons. When folks ask for songs by Elvis, this is one of the first ones I choose. Its repetitive lyrics make it one of the easier Elvis Presley songs to remember – for clients and for me. (I have particular trouble remembering the words to “Love Me Tender.” I’m not sure why.) Its upbeat tempo is great for raising the energy level in a session as well. This song also lends well to discussions about Elvis himself (“what did you think about all of that hip shaking?”) as well as discussions about dogs and other pets.

Another huge advantage of “Hound Dog” is its simple 12-bar blues form. This is a rock and roll song with three chords, and it can be reproduced easily by a group with tone chimes grouped by chords or by an individual client with a guitar in open tuning. Folks can find the groove easily while playing percussion instruments. The melody is simple enough to allow for lyric changes, too, either planned during a songwriting exercise or spontaneous during active music-making. The framework of “Hound Dog” is very familiar yet wide open for adaptation.

Of course, “Hound Dog” made it onto the playlist I put together for our family’s drive to Iowa to pick up our new pooch from the basset hound rescue. What other dog songs do you know and love? I’d love to hear your favorites in the comment section below!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

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4 thoughts on “Song Spotlight: “Hound Dog”

  1. musi2045 says:

    Yes! I’ve ALWAYS preferred the Big Mama Thorton version – she was such an interesting lady with an incredible voice! My mom and I used to dance around the kitchen to her record…. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

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