Monday, March 2, 2015

"Don't Be Cruel" by Elvis Presley ("Tupperware," 2/26)

Title of Song: “Don’t Be Cruel”
Artist: Elvis Presley
Release Date: July 13, 1956

The Presenter (Hanna White):
            We chose to analyze the song “Don’t Be Cruel”. The song was actually written by Otis Blackwell and later performed by Elvis Presley. As the king of rock and roll, we felt that Elvis perfectly encapsulated the feeling of the 1950s because of his upbeat music. The song ended up being one of Elvis’s biggest and longest lasting hits.  Many things contributed to the success of this song. First was the genre. Typically considered a pop song, the song also had an air of rock and roll to it, which was very popular with the younger, rebellious generation. The lyrics also contributed to the song’s popularity. Elvis sings about a man who is alone, apologizing to his girlfriend, declaring his fidelity and eventually asking her to marry him. This appealed to the older generation who appreciated the traditional theme of getting married and starting a family. Finally, simply the catchy tune of this bouncy pop/ rock and roll song appealed to audiences, much in the same way songs today do to us.
            The song was distributed on the A-side of vinyl records. Basically, vinyl records had two sides, the A-side and the B-side. The A side was the side that the record label and artist wanted to display first, and the B-side usually wasn’t as popular. However, Elvis’s B-side of his records almost always reached the same success. In this case the B-side of “Don’t Be Cruel” was actually “Hound Dog” which helped the popularity of the song. The duo vinyl record sold 4 million copies in 1956. It has been covered by numerous artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Swan, Connie Francis, and currently sits at number 197 on the Rolling Stones list of greatest 500 songs of all time.

"B-Side." The Record. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
"Don't Be Cruel - Elvis Presley | Listen, Appearances, Song Review | AllMusic." AllMusic. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.

The cover to one of the many "Don't Be Cruel" releases of later decades. 

The Contextualier (Ronnie Bandurka):
            The 1950’s served as a catalyst decade for changing social norms in United States popular culture, especially in the way of music and dance, as subsequent periods felt the impact that the 50’s rock ‘n’ roll revolution brought as demonstrated by 60’s protest rock and 70’s punk and disco. Rock was a developing genre at the time, one that youths clung to for its fresh and usually lively sound that adults often viewed as vulgar and inappropriate; this split between American youths and the baby boomer/war veteran generations grew wider as mainstream media largely appealed only to adult audiences while music and dance targeted the teenagers of the 50’s. One of the most notable artists of the 1950’s is Elvis Presley, who performed dozens of legendary hits including “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Don’t Be Cruel” and is known for his rhythmic “gyrating” style of dancing, his smooth voice, and his existence as an infamous sex symbol. “Don’t Be Cruel” was one of Presley’s earlier hits, one that drew in the ostracized youths of the 50’s by fitting in nicely with the new waves of rock and rockabilly and offering fun, energetic, and arguably sexually-freeing expression. Other genres that were popular in the 50’s include pop, country, and blues, with the rockabilly style that “Don’t Be Cruel” boasts being a mixture of rock, country, and blues influences. 

            Later decades would see the increasing influence of traditionally black musical styles through the rise of disco, soul, funk, blues, and R&B, but in the 50’s, racial tensions were still very high and the relationship Presley had with his songwriters was often questioned. Presley wrote very few of his own songs and often relied on the expertise of black writers to provide him with the hits we attitude to Presley himself today; “Don’t Be Cruel,” in particular, was written by Otis Blackwell, who did end up sharing the songwriting credit with Presley despite not seeing an ounce of the same fame as the rock singer. Presley was controversial in a myriad of ways, including his dancing, sexuality, and erasure of black artists in a genre that was arguably built by them, and “Don’t Be Cruel” was just the beginning of a long life of such notoriously “improper” behavior. “Don’t Be Cruel,” along with “Hound Dog,” created a ‘double-sided hit,’ as it was called during the days of record sales, with the songs signifying a slew of social and cultural unrests: racial tensions in the music world, the growing generation gap between the baby boomer/war generation and the teenagers of the time period, the difficulties of post-World War II America in regards to social stability, and the rise of the “sexually explicit” in the mainstream media through the popularity of newly formed dancing styles and musical genres like rock and blues.

The Greasers of the 50's that Elvis shared a similar style with.

Otis Blackwell, the original songwriter for "Don't Be Cruel."

Works Cited
"Don't Be Cruel." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Gilmore, Brian. "DON'T BE CRUEL: Otis Blackwell's Triumph - American
Songwriter."American Songwriter. 1 July 2007. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <>.

Pearsen, Stephen. "Music Played in the 1950's, Popular Music From the 50s." The People History. N.p. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <>.

Sanders, April. "What Entertainment Did Teenagers Have in the 1950s? | The Classroom | Synonym." Synonym Classroom. Demand Media. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <>.

The Connector (Jillian Emerson):
 ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ Connector
            Gender roles in the 1950’s were still very rigid and defined. However, while many women knew their place was in the homes, many were not happy with their positions in society. Women were beginning to long for roles outside of the home, one that required an education and advancement on their current lives. Betty Freidman suggests this exact idea in the Feminine Mystique:  that women’s desires are no longer being fulfilled by the house (Friedan). However, society was not quite ready in the 50’s to accept women in their new roles. Many societal pressures were placed on women to ensure that they remained in their submissive position in the house, such as consumer advertisement. Society wanted women to remain powerless and unable to think and survive for themselves. Elvis’ song is about a heartbroken man trying to win his love back. Some of the lyrics include “Don’t make me feel this way/ Come on over here and love me” (Presley 1958). Does this song illuminate the pressure put on women in the 50’s to act and behave a certain way? Elvis, through his words, is almost commanding the women to stay in her place. This song could illuminate the woman breaking her typical stereotypes in society and walking away from what she is usually acquired to doing even despite the man’s wish.

Discussion Question: Can you think of any other ways music has illuminated a certain scenario in our society, whether it be in the 50's or today?

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