Single of the week

Three Lions (Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds)

In America, only one song by the same artists has reached the top spot twice in separate chart runs, that was Chubby Checker’s The Twist which did so in 1960 and 1962. In the UK, the same feat has happened twice, firstly in 1991 when Bohemian Rhapsody topped the chart 16 years after it was first there and that was following Freddie Mercury’s death. The second time was in 2002 when George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord returned to the top spot exactly 31 years after its original run and that was following George’s death. Only last week have we had a song return to number for a third time.

Pages of misheard lyrics are rife on the internet, but many of the examples look too contrived to have evolved naturally. In 1985 Prince had a hit with Raspberry Beret and one of the lines was ‘Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees’ the Liverpool musician Ian Broudie heard it as ‘Thunder drowns out what the lighting seeds’ and that became their name. They were the most successful Merseyside band of the nineties. This was largely due to Ian’s melodic songwriting and strong vocals, but the contributions at different times of guitarist Paul Hemmings, bass player Martyn Campbell and keyboard player Angie Pollock should not be overlooked. Chris Sharrock was the group’s first drummer and for a time they also had Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey, in the band too.

Between 1989 and 1996 they charted eight UK singles but none had made it into the top 10. When they were asked to make a record for Euro 1996, Ian Broudie was not sure, “I would never have bought a football single myself and I certainly didn’t want to do one of those cheer-leader records. Being a fan is being about losing and, if we did it, I wanted to write it from a fan’s point of view.” He asked the football-obsessed comedians, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, to sing on the record and help with the words.

David Baddiel explained what he remembered at the time, “What I do remember clearly is getting, probably on cassette, Ian having come up with the melody. We’d talked, I think, about football’s coming home.” Ian added, I remember Frank coming up to Liverpool but David couldn’t make it because there was a Chelsea game on he wanted to watch, but Liverpool were playing Leeds and David and I went to watch that match. Then we went back to the studio after the match and I played, in a jovial way, this la-de-da tune that we all know.” David continued, “Football comes home was from a branding slogan that was already around and whoever came up with that we owe a bit of debt to, but then Ian came up with this melody which was actually ‘it’s coming home, it’s coming home’ which worked around Ian’s melody.”

“I remember when we played the single to Terry Venables and the team,” Broudie recalled, “They were training and we had this horrible ghetto-blaster. I was suddenly conscious of the words, ‘Everyone knows the score, we’ve seen it all before’ in other words, ‘We’re rubbish’ and we did get some funny looks. But the song is from a fan’s point of view and England fans are pretty long-suffering.” When it came to presenting the song to the players Broudie was worried, “I could see them thinking: ‘what is this guy saying? We’re going to get stuffed?’ Fortunately Frank Skinner made an impromptu speech explaining the song’s hopeful sentiments, then Paul Gascoigne pronounced his approval, and all was well.”

Three Lions was the first football single which suggested that the team might not win and was therefore more realistic. It turned out to be correct as England lost to Germany in a penalty shoot-out in the semi-final. The reason for the title is that the Lion has been a symbol of England since the 11th century and it was featured on early versions of the English Coat of Arms. English medieval warrior rulers had a reputation for bravery and the most notable was Richard I who was known as Richard the Lionheart. After he died in 1199, the arms on the second Great Seal of Richard I was used by his successors until 1340 and depicted three golden lions on a red field, representing the ruler of the Kingdom of England, Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine. Between 1154 and 1189 the crest was a single vertical lion facing left, from 1189 – 1198 there was two vertical lions facing each other and 1198 – 1340 there were three horizontal lions facing left but looking forward.

After Three Lions, the Lightning Seeds had further hits with What If…, Sugar Coated Iceberg and You Showed Me but then in 1998 they were asked to update Three Lions for the 1998 World Cup with slightly different lyrics. Again, England did not come through and the home team, France, won. “We’re like Spinal Tap,” Broudie said, “we’ve had hundreds of drummers, they keep appearing and disappearing.” When they met up with Ringo Starr’s son, Zak, he was with The Who who were not on the road at the time, so he joined them, playing drums on the remake of Three Lions. “The song has passed into folklore,” says Broudie, “Every time there’s a big match, you can guarantee that some newspaper will be quoting from the song in their headlines.”

Lightning Seeds disbanded in 2000, and although a reunion tour has been mooted, it grows less likely as Ian Broudie has been producing hit singles and albums by The Coral and The Zutons.

Another new version of Three Lions was recorded by The Squad to tie in with the 2010 World Cup and featured Robbie Williams, Russell Brand and commentator John Motson. Brand told The Sun about recording the tune: “I was embarrassed by how emotional I felt singing this song. I nearly cried. It took me back to Euro ’96 – Spice Boys, dentist’s chairs and Gazza’s last hurrah. It’s the only good England song and I look forward to singing it as we crash out on penalties. Then I will be crying.”

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia England got further than expected. By the time of the semi-final, it was no longer a World Cup, just European as the only teams left were England, France, Croatia and Belgium. At this point the football anthems began to make the UK chart again. The week England made it to the quarter finals Three Lions re-entered the chart at number 72, but as it was all down to streaming and downloading the version that entered the chart was just billed as Three Lions because it was an amalgamation of the 96 and 98 versions. The following week it climbed to number 42 and once we’d made it to the semi-final it sprang up to number 24. The week we were due to play the semi-final the midweek sales flashes had the song at number one. When England lost to Croatia the streaming dropped off but it had done sufficiently well earlier in the week to remain at number one when the chart was revealed on Friday 13th July – not unlucky as it became the first song to top the chart three times. Even the chart-topping predecessor, George Ezra, selflessly encouraged fans to buy Three Lions. That week’s ‘sales’ of Three Lions was 79,999 which was made up of 43,369 in paid-for downloads and 36,410 streams. It took the single’s total sales to date to 1,078,421.

In this day and age you need to be a mathematician to understand the chart rules implemented by the Official Chart Company. The rules state that an act with a lead credit can only have a maximum of three tracks in the chart, this followed the Ed Sheeran debacle where every track from his Divide album went into the top 20. Other rules state that if a track has had three consecutive weeks of sales decline then ACR (accelerated chart ratios) kicks in, which means that a sale to stream ratio will change from 1:100 to 1:200 (in the case of premium streams) or 1:600 to 1:1200 (in the case of ad funded streams). But these rules do not apply until a song has been on the chart for at least 10 weeks. As of 1st July 2018 video streams were taken into account for chart counting. Just to add to any confusion, a new recent tweak of chart rules say that a track only escapes ACR if it is not being actively promoted, Three Lions wasn’t so as chart commentator, Alan Jones, put it, “If Three Lions was being actively promoted, its sales this week would be 116,189 instead of 79,779.” Anyone keeping up with this? Incidentally, the week following the final saw another chart record set when Three Lions dropped from number one to number 97 beating the previous record set by the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir’s rendition of A Bridge Over You which dropped to a mere number 29 in 2016.

Tom, a producer on the Radcliffe and Maconie show on BBC6 Music, just before the final, witnessed and was incensed that some French football fans people in a pub were singing ‘Football’s coming home’ but not for England but for themselves. Well, why not, for them it did.

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Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson)

Michael Jackson clearly had a very vivid imagination as can be clearly seen in the hit single Smooth Criminal and the story is entirely fictional, but some of the terminology is based on some real phrases which Jacko picked up whilst on a training course.

Michael has really always been a star, but after his 1979 album Off The Wall, he was catapulted to a different level and people were queueing up to work with him for what was to become the biggest-selling album of all-time – Thriller. The superstar pairing of Jacko and producer Quincy Jones continued and personnel included on Thriller were Paul McCartney, James Ingram, Janet and LaToya Jackson, David Paich, Jeff Porcaro, Rod Temperton, David Foster, Greg Phillinganes and, of course, Vincent Price. It went on to sell over 40 million copies worldwide, but in 1986 when Jacko began work on the follow-up people did wonder if he could ever emulate its success. In short, yes he did. The result was Bad.

The first single was I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, a duet with Siedah Garrett which got to number one, then came the title track which reached number three, The Way you Make Me Feel equally the peak of Bad. The record company continued to milk the album for singles, Man in the Mirror peaked at 21 but then Dirty Diana reached number four, Another Part of Me got to 15 and came Smooth Criminal which was yet another top 10 hit.

The song tells the story of a burglar coming in through the window saw the woman sitting at the table, she tried to run and he struck her leaving blood all over the carpet. As the first rescue team arrive they found she wasn’t breathing and were trying to resuscitate her. The memorable refrain throughout the song is the repetitive line ‘Annie, are you OK? Are you OK Annie?’ This would imply that the assaulted woman was called Annie, but not necessarily.

According to Spike Lee in his documentary Bad 25 Michael had attended CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training prior to writing Smooth Criminal and it was this experience which inspired him to write the song. Annie are you OK is the phrase used as one of the first steps when assessing whether to perform CPR on an unconscious casualty. Young medical trainees are taught to use the phrase to determine if the patient is conscious and responsive. The second verse is Michael singing to an unconscious Annie saying, ‘Will you tell us that you’re ok, there’s a sign at the window that he struck you’ but Annie doesn’t seem to respond.

Michael began penning the song in 1984 and originally called it Al Capone and the demo was recorded the following year. This version eventually appeared on Bad 25 in 2012 which was the 25th anniversary of the album. The original track was re-worked with amended lyrics and became the track we know.

One of the highlights of Michael Jackson’s music was the wonderfully ground-breaking videos that accompanied them. It was at the Motown 25th Anniversary in 1983 that Michael first revealed his Moonwalk, for the Smooth Criminal video he showcased a gravity-defying forward lean often at 45 degrees which he even performed at live shows. The video, which was originally 42 minutes long, was a section of the Moonwalk film that was directed by Colin Chilvers who had created The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Superman films. Colin explained in an interview with Rolling Stone how it came about, “I showed Michael a movie that I felt would fit the theme of the piece, The Third Man. He loved the look of it, that sort of film-noir look, so we used that to get the camera man to light it in a similar way. The dance piece was a tribute to Fred Astaire and he actually wears a similar kind of costume that Fred had used in one of his movies – Band Wagon. We had the pleasure of having Fred’s choreographer, Hermes Pan, come on the set while we were doing the song and dance piece and said that Fred would have been very happy and proud of being copied by such a wonderful person.” The lean was accomplished with specially designed shoes that were able to lock into an anchor on the floor. The video was co-choreographed by Jeffrey Daniel, a one-time member of Shalamar, who himself showcased his own moonwalk. The dancer in the video was Vince Paterson who Michael used in both Thriller and Beat It.

The song opens with a dramatic stab followed by a pumping heartbeat, it’s Jacko’s own heart which had been digitally procssed through a machine known as a Synclavier.

A cover version by California rock band Alien Ant Farm made the UK top three in 2001 and was number one in Australia and New Zealand. Their video is a tribute and pays homage to Jacko and his videos. The band’s guitarist, Terry Corso explained in an MTV interview, “We want to pay homage to Michael Jackson, but on our level. Obviously we’re not that glitzy, so we just want to tastefully take the stuff that’s cool in his videos and apply it in our own dirty little backyard way.”

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A Scottish Soldier (Andy Stewart)

In the old days of variety entertainers turned their hands to acting, presenting, singing and comedy and if you could do all of the above, you could be a star and this week’s subject was just that. He was the Englishman’s image of Scotland with his regular television appearances in a kilt he was known as the kilted minstrel.

Andy Stewart was born in Glasgow in December 1933 but when he was five the family moved north-east to Perth and when he was 11 they moved further north-east to Arbroath. They were a close family and none of them had any inhibitions, his sister, Moira, recalled, “Our father was a musician and a bit of a show off and we all had a bit of the histrionic touch. Andy loved singing and performing and dad encouraged him.” He often gave little performances at school and he once said, “I was only belted three times at school and twice it was for doing impressions and one of them was of my maths teacher.”

It was felt that he could follow in the footsteps of Harry Lauder, a Scottish comic who was immensely popular when Stewart was growing up, but he wanted more to be an actor. His comic timing and knack of being funny led one of his friends, John Cairney, to comment, “He was essentially an actor and he acted the part of a comedian.” He attended Drama College in the mid-fifties which is where he met Sheila who later became his wife. His mimicry was spotted by someone who brought it to the attention of a producer at the BBC where is got a slot doing impressions of Louis Armstrong and Bruce Forsyth on BBC Scotland. Andy recalled, “Whilst I was there I had a chance meeting with a man who said to me ‘I am starting this show called the White Heather Club but there is no room for you Andy because, although I know you can do impressions, I’m looking for someone who can do bothy ballads.'” A bothy is an outside farm building in the northeast region of Scotland where unmarried labourers used to sleep and those labourers used to sing songs. Andy continued, “I turned to him and said, well I could sing a bothy ballad to which he replied ‘go on then, sing one for me now.'” He did and it got him the job.

It was his love of poetry that led him to songwriting and in 1959 he signed a recording contract with Top Rank records, his first release was Donald Where’s Your Troosers, a song Stewart had co-written with Neil Grant and the arranger Iain MacFadyen. It wasn’t a big seller spending one week on the UK chart at number 37. The follow-up, A Scottish Soldier which has the parenthesis Green Hills of Tyrol was a completely different story. The tune, which Stewart first heard on a family holiday at the Braemar Highland Games, was old but the lyrics, written by Stewart, were new and he explained how he came to write the song, “I wish I could say that it was written somewhere in tranquil solitude, but I wrote it in a pub. I had always known and loved The Green Hills of Tyrol because my father was a musician and played it on his fiddle and I remembered it from when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. It was one of the few things I could play as a boy on the mouth organ and I’d always had an ambition to write words to the tune. When I first began putting words to music, I was haunted by this tune and eventually inspiration came during rehearsals for The White Heather Club. I got an idea for the lyric for the song, it was a story about a Scottish soldier who finds himself in a far land, his soldiering days are over and the call of his own country takes him back for his final resting to Scotland. And I sat down and the words just came to me; ‘there was a soldier, a Scottish soldier.’ I wrote two verses and then I got pianist Harry Carmichael to fit the tune to my words. The next day we were doing the song and I knew it wasn’t right. It was Bobby MacLeod’s Black Band that was playing it with us and of course they didn’t need the music, they knew the tune, they just had to play the arrangement that had been set down of the tune. So I went down to one of the pubs in Springburn Road and I wrote on the back of an envelope the third verse (the slow verse) and came back and just sang the song.

In September 1960 following a sell-out summer season in Dundee, Andy travelled to London to record the song at Abbey Road studios accompanied by The Mike Sammes Singers, “I flew down on a Sunday and I should have known it would go alright because that was through public demand – the first night I sang it on The White Heather Club we had about 800 letters the next day saying they liked the song. I got this message left saying “I hope you realise this is Sunday and it’s double-time and we hope this is all going to be worth it”

On the Andy Stewart website, there is a section called  The untold story which states, The popular romantic idea of the Scottish soldier defending his beloved Scotland – patriotic to the end, and the notion of the tune being an old Scottish traditional, were actually far from the truth behind the origins of A Scottish Soldier. The tune, The Green Hills of Tyrol, a well-known ‘Scottish’ melody was transcribed for the pipes by Pipe-Major John MacLeod of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders during the Crimean War (1853-56) from the third act of Rossini’s 1829 opera William Tell. Rossini in-turn had adapted that tune from Alpine folk music – nothing at all to do with Scotland. However that did not stop Andy receiving a backlash from traditionalists who wrote to him saying he had ruined a ‘fine old Scottish pipe tune’ by putting words to it. The theme of the dying soldier, wishing to return to the hills of home rather than die in a foreign country is not a straightforwardly sentimental one. The soldier Andy was imagining was far away from home for reasons of monetary gain, war being to him a lucrative business, defending those who rewarded him well. Although there may have been battles glorious and deeds victorious, when the bugle ceases the underlying story is not one of patriotic heroism.

By the mid-eighties, Stewart’s health wasn’t in good shape; he had two heart by-pass operations and for a man in his fifties he began to look a lot older. His doctor advised him to take things easy at which point Stewart decided to set off on an Australian tour. He did say “I would need a psychiatrist to tell me just why I carry on.” He was set to appear in a Pride of the Clyde variety-revue at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow in October 1993 but died of a heart attack just before at the age of 59.

A Scottish Soldier spent a staggering 40 weeks on the UK chart but climbed no higher than number 19, but did chart in the US and made the top five in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, surprisingly, India.

Years after its success, Stewart reflected, “If those people had known the origins for the melody, they would probably have choked on their porridge. The tune is actually a traditional Swiss air heard in Sardinia and borrowed by a Scottish Pipe-Major during the Crimean War.”

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Baba O’Riley (The Who)

Just like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Queen’s Brighton Rock, this week’s suggestion was an album track which became so well-known that anyone would have thought it was their biggest hit. Its author had written a rock opera around three years earlier and was planning on following it up in 1971 with another, but it never came to fruition, but one of the tracks written for it became an everlasting legacy.

That rock opera in 1969 was Tommy – the story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid who played the meanest pinball and The Who embarked on the Tommy tour to promote it. Pete Townshend recalled after the tour, “I saw people dance themselves into oblivion, a permanent state of ecstasy. I’ve seen moments in Who gigs where the vibrations were becoming so pure that I thought the whole world was just going to stop, the whole thing was just becoming so unified.”

The sequel was to be called Lifehouse and as Townshend explained, “The essence of the story-line was a kind a futuristic scene. It’s a fantasy set at a time when rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist. The world was completely collapsing and the only experience that anybody ever had was through test tubes. In a way they lived as if they were in television programmes. Everything was programmed. The enemies were people who gave us entertainment intravenously, and the heroes were savages who’d kept rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force and had gone to live with it in the woods. The story was about these two sides coming together and having a brief battle.” The project was never completed.

Baba O’Riley, which was originally intended as the opening piece for that project, takes the first part of its title from Meher Baba – a spiritual leader who Townshend met in 1967. He was a self-declared Spiritual guru. He was born Merwan Sheriar Irani in Central India in 1894 and it is claimed that when he was around 19 he was kissed on his head by a holy woman which gave him a religious reality and so he began studying leaders and their experiences which led him to become more holy. By the age of 31 he took a vow of silence and began communicating by use of chalk and slate, two years later he gave up using the writing implement and began using a self-built alphabet board. He maintained that silence right up until his death in 1969.

As for the second part, O’Riley came from the Californian-born composer Terry Riley who was a pioneer at the minimalist school of Western classical music and specialised in Indian classical music who Townshend admired and was a key influence on many of the keyboard riffs heard on the album Who’s Next. In the sleeve notes from that album, Townshend said he wrote it as his vision of what would happen if the spirit of Meher Baba was fed into a computer and transformed into music. The result would be Baba in the style of Terry Riley, or Baba O’Riley, a title which is not mentioned in the song.

Townshend spent a number of weeks on his Lowry organ at home trying to get the right keyboard/synthesizer sound. Eventually he found a marimba setting and set it on repeat to get the complicated repeating chord pattern at the start of the track. It also had a special pedal that, when pressed, would repeat each note played three times in succession. The track is virtually impossible to replicate, especially when playing live, so, like Queen on the middle rock section of Bohemian Rhapsody, the band play it from tape. The intro repeating section is 33 seconds long until the guitar kicks in and Townshend said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “There is this moment of standing there just listening to this music and looking out to the audience and just thinking, ‘I f**king did that. I wrote that.’ I just hope that on my deathbed I don’t embarrass myself by asking someone, ‘Can you pass me my guitar and will you run the backing tape of Baba O’Riley’? I just want to do it one more time.”

As the song opens, ‘Out here in the fields I fight for my meals’ and the talk about ‘It’s only teenage wasteland’ paints a very gloomy picture, well when Lifehouse was conceived (in Townshend’s mind) it was done in a time when a large area of the UK was indeed polluted wasteland, Townshend explained it as: “A self-sufficient drop-out family group farming in a remote part of Scotland decide to return South to investigate rumours of a subversive concert event that promises to shake and wake up apathetic, fearful British society. Ray is married to Sally, they hope to link up with their daughter Mary who has run away from home to attend the concert. They travel through the scarred wasteland of middle England in a motor caravan, running an air conditioner they hope will protect them from pollution.” He went on to explain the ‘teenage’ bit, “they are regular people but they’re the scum off the surface; there’s a few farmers there. It’s mainly young people who are either farmer’s kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them experience suits; then there’s just scum, like these two geezers who ride around in a battered-up old Cadillac limousine and they play old Who records on the tape deck. I call them track fans.”

The last minute and a quarter of the song features a violin which was played by Dave Arbus, a member of the group East of Eden who will always be remembered for their 1971 hit Jig-A-Jig. Arbus was good friends with the Who’s drummer Keith Moon and it was Moon’s idea to add the violin section.

The song has had a fair amount of television exposure; the creators of the crime drama series CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) are clearly fans as they used a different Who song for each instalment. The original series in 2000 used Who Are You, CSI: Miami uses Won’t Get Fooled Again, CSI: NY in 2004 used Baba O’Riley and CSI: Cyber used the 1967 hit I Can See for Miles. It’s also appeared in a commercial for the Nissan Pathfinder. Pearl Jam have covered the track and regularly feature it in their live show and Mr Big recorded it on the b side to their 1992 hit To Be With You.

In an interview with Billboard magazine in 2010, Townshend reflected; “A song like Baba O’Riley, with ‘we’re all wasted,’ it just meant ‘we’re all wasted’ – it didn’t have the significance that it now has. What we fear is that in actual fact we have wasted an opportunity. I think I speak for my audience when I say that, I hope I do.”

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Hound Dog (Elvis Presley)

Bing Crosby’s White Christmas was the first to do it and Gene Autry’s Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was the second, this week’s suggestion was the third, but first non-seasonal song, to do it. Do what? Sell three million copies in America. Yes, Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog did it in 1956 and helped by the facts it spent 11 weeks at number one on the Billboard singles chart.

Hound Dog in its original incarnation doesn’t sound much like we know the Elvis version. It was written by the Jewish American songwriting and record producing partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 and first recorded by the blues singer Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton in that year but not issued until March the following year. Her version spent 14 weeks on the US R&B chart, seven of them at the top.

In an interview in 2001, Jerry Leiber, who often considered himself and Mike Stoller as black songwriters, said, “We’d actually written Hound Dog 90% on the way over in the car. I was beating out a rhythm we called the buck dance on the roof of the car.” The original lyrics were ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, quit snoopin’ ’round my door, You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, quit snoopin’ ’round my door, You can wag your tail, I ain’t gonna feed you no more. You told me you was high class, but I can see through that.’ “We got to [producer] Johnny Otis’ 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. We took the song back to Big Mama and she snatched the paper out of my hand and said, ‘Is this my big hit?’ Next thing I know, she starts crooning Hound Dog like Frank Sinatra would sing In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and I’m looking at her, and I’m a little intimidated by the razor scars on her face, and she’s about 280-320 pounds. Johnny brought Mike back in the room and asked him to sit down at the piano, which was not easy because Johnny had this female piano player who was built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. They finally exchanged seats and did the song the way she thought it should sound. I said, ‘It don’t go that way,’ and she looked at me like looks could kill and said – and this was when I found out I was white – ‘White boy, don’t you be tellin’ me how to sing the blues.’ We finally got through it and we both said ‘that’s a hit.’ And I thought immediately: We both said it, it’s gonna put a hex on it!”

The producer credit states Johnny Otis, but he didn’t actually produce it, it was produced by Mike and Jerry themselves and Jerry explained to Sylvie Simmons in Mojo magazine why, “Johnny Otis was supposed to run the session and when we rehearsed he played drums. When we got in the studio it was his regular drummer on the stool but it wasn’t happening. I said, ‘Johnny, you’ve got to play the drums, do what you did in rehearsal.’ So he said, ‘Who’s going to run the session?’ I said, ‘we will.'”

In 1955 Elvis Presley was booked in for a two-week residency at the New Frontier hotel in Las Vegas and one evening visited the Sahara Hotel on the Strip and there he was a group called Freddie Bell and The Bell Boys performing a kind of parody version of Hound Dog. They had just released their version on the Teen label but if failed to sell, however, Elvis was impressed with their version and decided to covered it in a similar style even keeping the slight change of lyric where Big Mama Thornton sings, ‘You told me you was high class, but I can see through that whereas Bell’s sang ‘Well, they said you was high-classed, but that was just a lie.’

Elvis recorded his version in early July 1956 and it was released as a double A-side with Don’t Be Cruel. Around the same time, Mike Stoller got married and was on honeymoon on a cruise of Europe. It was whilst returning on the SS Andrea Doria that in thick fog the ship collided with the MS Stockholm just sound on Nantucket Island there was 1,134 passengers on board and 50 of them died, but luckily, Mike and his new wife abandoned ship in a lifeboat and were rescued. When Mike arrived at the dock in New York, Jerry was there to give him the good news that they had their first ever hit with Hound Dog. Mike asked, “By Big Mama?” to which Jerry replied, “No, some white guy, a newcomer called Elvis Presley.” Mike later said, “When I heard the record I was disappointed. It just sounded terribly nervous, too fast, and too white. But you know, after it sold seven or eight million records it started to sound better. I should also say that the other things we did with Elvis I liked very much.”

There was much controversy about Elvis’ gyrating hips in the 1950, so when he performed the song on the Steve Allen Show he was told that his movements were not be received well on a family friendly show, so instead Elvis sang the song to a bassett hound.

The song, was featured in the 1994 film Forrest Gump where Gump remembered an occasion when a young Elvis stayed at his home and when he played Hound Dog, Gump, in his leg braces, began to dance and claimed that it inspired Elvis’ famous dance moves. The song has been covered by a number one acts including John Lennon, James Taylor, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Status Quo, Van Morrison, Robert Palmer and The Muppets.

The one thing Jerry Leiber didn’t like about Elvis’ version was the added line, ‘You ain’t caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine’ saying of it, “that was inane, it doesn’t mean anything to me.”

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