In September 2012, I went on a train journey across the US with my friend Louise. We started in New York, and travelled to San Francisco, via Washington DC, New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago.
In Memphis, we stayed with a girl called Amy-Noelle: a friend of a friend of a friend. When it became apparent that we really needed a car in Memphis to be able to get anywhere, Amy-Noelle was kind enough to oblige. She was, however, slightly less enthusiastic about taking us to our final destination in Tennessee: the Days Inn hotel on Elvis Presley Boulevard, where we’d be staying for one night, before moving on to Chicago. Apparently being seen anywhere near the hotel was incredibly embarrassing for Amy-Noelle.
Initially Louise and I thought that staying in the Days Inn, with its guitar shaped pool and Elvis photos on every wall, was quite funny as well. We couldn’t wait to get to Graceland the next day to laugh at Elvis’ extravagance: his glitzy sequined white suit and his colourful Cadillac cars. But as we spent hours at Graceland, we were soon engrossed in the exhibits, and it quickly became apparent why John Lennon had said “before Elvis, there was nothing”. One of the most interesting exhibits was about Elvis' influence on other artists. Bono called him the ''big bang' of rock n roll'. David Bowie said he was a 'major hero', while Bob Dylan described hearing his music for the first time as being 'like busting out of jail'. Has any other artist had such a major influence on pop music? He may not have invented rock n roll, but he did a huge amount to popularise it.
It’s hard to pick a favourite Elvis song, but there’s something about Hound Dog that encapsulates what Elvis was about: the sense of energy and fun that he brought to his performances. Interestingly, when Elvis performed Hound Dog to a television audience for the first time, he was advised to leave his guitar backstage to make sure the audience could see him properly. So he danced, and the NBC ended up being inundated with letters of protest. One critic called it “a display of primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper.” Elvis became ‘Elvis the Pelvis,’ and when he next appeared on television, he was encouraged to perform the song to an actual hound dog in the studio.
Frank Sinatra hated it. Democratic congressman Emanuel Celler said it was “violative of all that I know to be in good taste”. Even Bob Dylan, who cited Elvis as an early inspiration, said that “when Hound Dog’ came across the radio, there was nothing in my mind that said, ‘Wow, what a great song, I wonder who wrote that?’ … It was just…it was just there.”
But I really like it. How can you not hear that song and immediately fall in love with Scotty Moore’s guitar solo?