Elvis Presley had been performing live for a few years when he booked an appearance on Steve Allen’s show. It was 1956 and the dominant culture could barely contain the incipient sexuality with which his music exploded. This was before it was popular, but now, 20 years later, Elvis is so popular (to this day, Elvis wigs are a huge seller on Halloween).

It seems that there was a sense of containment that many of the older generations felt towards the new sounds and the culture that was developing. Ed Sullivan agreed to let Elvis act on his show, but only allowed himself to be filmed from the waist up. It was understood that showing Elvis’s dance moves and twists would mean that Ed Sullivan no longer had a “family” show.

While it now seems like a relatively tame dance move to us, pelvic twists, at the time, were considered highly taboo and totally inappropriate for mass audiences. Parents of teenagers were often horrified by Elvis’ acting style, and Frank Sinatra called him “a musty-smelling aphrodisiac.”

When Elvis scheduled an appearance on Steve Allen’s show in July 1956, it seemed like another great opportunity for publicity and career advancement. He had been presenting Hound Dog to audiences for a while at the time and had perfected his wagging hips and dance moves. The previous month he appeared on the Milton Berle show. There, he performed “Hound Dog” for screaming fans and this recording can be found on numerous websites. While the song itself doesn’t contain explicit words or anything particularly musically groundbreaking, it was Elvis’s performance that people found offensive.

The lyrics, originally performed as a blues song by a woman, sing about a lazy and useless husband who can’t even put food on the table to feed his family. In Elvis’s version, the words and the music are the same, but adding his dance to the music and the way his voice pounded and growled over the words suddenly gave it an electrically sexual connotation. The line “they said you were upper class”, which in an earlier version meant the promise of a solid husband who was a standing citizen, could now be interpreted as a reference to a woman, where upper class has an immediately sexual meaning. .

For his appearance on The Steve Allen Show, he participated in a comedy skit and then appeared in a suit and tailcoat with flatter hair and slicked back for a performance of his famous song “Hound Dog.” Steve Allen was a composer and television personality who often poked fun at popular artists by reading their lyrics as poems.

There are many popular music songs that will seem silly when read as poems, but when sung, the intention is clear. When he had Elvis as a guest artist, not only did he make him dress much more than appropriate for his performance, but he also had a live basset hound for Elvis to sing along to. While some conservative parents and types were appeased and even entertained by this scenario, Elvis himself was humiliated. It was clear that the actual version of “Hound Dog” required more of a hipster dress style and a high pompadour that was rocked by the rousing dancing and full hip twists.

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