Friday, January 9, 2009

Whaddaya Got?: Elvis Presley: "Hound Dog"

At the heart of rock 'n' roll there's...well, there's a lot of things, of course, but rebellion is one of the main elements. (This rebelliousness has continued on, in various forms, including the act of staying awake - i.e. U2's "Bad" or the neat Arcade Fire summation - "Rebellion (Lies).") The first act of rebellion is to rebel, the second is harder - either to find someplace/person/thing more to your liking, or to somehow create it (if it can be created) yourself. Being a rebel is glamorous and hard, and comes either through personality or circumstance. Artists of all kinds are natural rebels, though just about anyone can be one, though some are more...convincing than others. (Simply misbehaving in school or getting into 'wacky hijinks' is never enough, unless the school is indeed corrupt or said hijinks are done with some forethought and have some kind of point. Even in rebellion, logic prevails.)

The fall of '56 was a time of disruption and disillusionment. The Suez crisis was a prime example of the UK in the post-war period, presuming to have the answer and then blowing it. The Soviet invasion of Hungary is also worth mentioning, as well as the re-election of Eisenhower in November.

Against this comes Elvis, his voice starting the song with an angry contempt towards "you." Is this "you" a man, a company, a country, a way of thinking? The exhilarating thing is, to all of those things and more, YES. DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore attack and damn while Presley spits out "high-classed" as if it is the least harmful thing he could say.

During the instrumental breaks, the Jordanaires - brought in by Colonel Parker and seemingly pointless here - hold on to their notes for dear life, as if they were tied together by ropes in the back of Elvis' truck and forced to sing at gunpoint. They are lame, dull, the very representation of the animal in question, their "aahs" as flat, unconvincing and frustrating as they ought to be. They're never going to catch a rabbit and they sure don't sound high-classed. The Jordanaires would remain on Elvis' records on & off for the rest of his life, barking or yelping or crying, sometimes helpful, sometimes not. (Then Play Long has already chronicled some of these battles, as most of you likely know, and will be doing so again soon.)

And so, Elvis has arrived - "Blue Suede Shoes," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Hound Dog" being the effective hook, line and sinker for the whole world, or at least the UK, to a state of Elvis fandom which I will faithfully describe as best I can in this blog.

(I should also note that the song which kept "Hound Dog" from number one - Frankie Laine's "A Woman in Love" - is lovably demented in its own right, but clearly feels like another era's music hanging on in the face of Elvis vs. The Man.)

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