The Controversy of Cover Versions

Below are four recordings of the song “Hound Dog.” One is the original version by Big Mama Thornton in 1953,
and the second is the cover version by Elvis Presley in 1956. Also included below are live performances of
each artist. Start by watching the live version by Big Mama Thornton to get an idea of what a wonderful
performer she was. Next, listen to the studio version – that’s the version Elvis heard. Then, listen to the studio
version that Elvis recorded. Finally, watch his live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show to get an idea of how
popular he was. Screaming teenaged fans didn’t start with the Beatles!
This is Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” – Live Version. The song ends at 2:35, but keep watching for an
extra bonus of a great jam with four blues harp players, including blues and R&B legend John Lee Hooker and
guitarist Buddy Guy.
Next we have Big Mama Thornton’s studio version:
Here’s Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” – Studio Version
Elvis’s version of “Hound Dog” performed live.
Let’s take a quick look at the lyrics
Big Mama Thornton’s version is very typical of rhythm and blues of the 1950s. The lyrics use sexual double
entendre to explain how the singer is tired of her lover’s one-track mind.
Here are the opening lyrics of Big Mama Thornton’s version:
You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,
Been snooping’ round my door,
You can wag your tail,
But I ain’t gonna feed you no more,
In Elvis’s version, the music is the same, but the lyrics have been cleaned up for his teenage audience. In his
version, the song really is about a dog:
You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,
Cryin’ all the time,
You ain’t never caught a rabbit,
And you ain’t no friend of mine.
Begin this activity by re-reading pages 92-95 in your textbook about the issue surrounding cover versions.
Then, consider the following questions:
Do you feel that cover versions were fundamentally racist, or do you feel covers were good business?
Were black artists ripped off, or were these cover versions understandable within the context of music business
practices of the day?

Sample Solution