In the summer of 1956, 21-year-old Elvis Presley was taking the country by storm. His eponymous debut album had become the first rock and roll album to top the charts; “Heartbreak Hotel” was a No. 1 pop hit; and his concert appearances left shrieking girls and scandalized parents in their wake.
On a June 5 appearance on NBC’s Milton Berle Show, he slowed down an uptempo performance of “Hound Dog,” punctuating his growly singing with the sensuous gyrating and thrusting that would later earn him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.”
The sexy spectacle ignited a wave of controversy, with outraged critics calling him “suggestive and vulgar” and utterly untalented. Even Ed Sullivan pronounced Presley “unfit for family viewing.”
Nevertheless, the appearance was a ratings smash, and NBC had Presley appear again on the new Steve Allen Show on July 1.
Rather than let Presley loose to wantonly inflame the passions of the youth, Allen decided to “work him into the comedy fabric” of the program, presenting him dressed in a tuxedo in front of stately columns and chandeliers, an environment he felt “would have been suitable for Sir Lawrence Olivier reciting Shakespeare.”
To complete the tableau, a low column was wheeled out to Presley, atop which was perched a mournful-looking Basset Hound wearing a top hat.
Presley gamely crooned an abbreviated version of “Hound Dog” to the hound dog (whose name was Sherlock), chuckling between lyrics as he realized that even grabbing the canine by the chin and singing right in its face could not elicit the slightest sign of interest or excitement.
Presley’s hip gyrations were neutered, presenting an altogether more tame and family-friendly version of himself to NBC audiences. He would later look back on the “ridiculous” performance as one of the most embarrassing moments in his career. The ratings were high, though, and the next day he reported to RCA studios, where he recorded his definitive version of “Hound Dog.”
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