"Don't Be Cruel" is a song recorded by Elvis Presley and written by Otis Blackwell in 1956.[1] It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2004, it was listed #197 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song is currently ranked as the 92nd greatest song of all time, as well as the fifth best song of 1956, by Acclaimed Music.

Elvis Presley[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Recording[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Don't Be Cruel" was the first song that Presley's song publishers, Hill and Range, brought to him to record.[3] Blackwell was more than happy to give up 50% of the royalties and a co-writing credit to Presley to ensure that the "hottest new singer around covered it".[1]

Freddy Bienstock, Elvis' Music Publisher, gave the following explanation for why Elvis received co-writing credit for songs like Don't Be Cruel. "In the early days Elvis would show dissatisfaction with some lines and he would make alterations, so it wasn't just what is known as a 'cut-in'. His name did not appear after the first year.[4] But if Elvis liked the song, the writers would be offered a guarantee of a million records and they would surrender a third of their royalties to Elvis'."[5]

Presley recorded the song on July 2, 1956 during an exhaustive recording session at RCA studios in New York City.[1] During this session he also recorded "Hound Dog", and "Any Way You Want Me".[3] The song featured Presley's regular band of Scotty Moore on lead guitar (with Presley usually providing rhythm guitar), Bill Black on bass, D.J. Fontana on drums, and backing vocals from the Jordanaires. The producing credit was given to RCA's Steve Sholes, although the studio recordings reveal that Presley produced the songs in this session by selecting the song, reworking the arrangement on piano, and insisting on 28 takes before he was satisfied with it.[1] He also ran through 31 takes of "Hound Dog".[3]

Release[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The single was released on July 13, 1956 backed with "Hound Dog".[1] Within a few weeks "Hound Dog" had risen to #2 on the Pop charts with sales of over one million.[3] Soon after it was overtaken by "Don't Be Cruel" which took #1 on all three main charts; Pop, Country, and R 'n' B.[1] Between them, both songs remained at #1 on the Pop chart for a run of 11 weeks tying it with the 1950 Anton Karas hit "The Third Man Theme" and the 1951/1952 Johnnie Ray hit "Cry" for the longest stay at number one by a single record from late 1950 onward until 1992's smash "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men. By the end of 1956 it had sold in excess of four million copies.[1][3]

Presley performed "Don't Be Cruel" during all three of his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1956 and January 1957.[1]

"Don't Be Cruel"
Single by Cheap Trick
from the album Lap of Luxury
Released July 1988
Format Single
Recorded 1987
Genre Rock and roll
Length 3:06
Label Epic
Writer(s) Otis Blackwell, Elvis Presley
Producer Richie Zito
Cheap Trick singles chronology
"The Flame"


"Don't Be Cruel"


"Ghost Town"


Legacy[edit source | editbeta]Edit

"Don't Be Cruel" went on to become Presley's biggest selling single recorded in 1956, with sales over six million by 1961.[1] It became a regular feature of his live sets until his death in 1977, and was often coupled with "Jailhouse Rock" or "Teddy Bear" during performances from 1969.[1]

Many artists including Connie Francis (1959, Rock 'n' Roll Million Sellers), Annette PeacockBarbara Lynn (1963, Jamie #1244 45 RPM, #93 on the Hot 100),[6] Bill Black ComboBilly Swan,Cheap TrickThe JuddsDaffy Duck,[7] Merle HaggardJohn LennonJerry Lee LewisNeil Diamond, and Jackie Wilson have recorded the song. Presley was said to be so impressed with Wilson's version that he would later incorporate many of Wilson's mannerisms into future performances.[1] Debbie Harry recorded the song for the Otis Blackwell tribute album "Brace Yourself! A Tribute to Otis Blackwell".[8] Cheap Trick's version of this song became a hit when it reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988.

The main bass riff of the song is also used as the background music in the Nintendo video game Donkey Kong.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers lip-synched the original version of the song in a scene from Elvis, where it shows him performing at the Jacksonville Theatre.

Suzi Quatro was inspired by Presley singing "Don't Be Cruel". She is the first female bass player to become a major rock star. This broke a barrier to women's participation in rock music.[9]:1–3[10] Quatro had her "Elvis moment" on January 6, 1957, when she was six years old. With her older sister Arlene, she was watching Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show. Arlene was screaming as Elvis sang "Don't Be Cruel". When he sang "Mmmmmm", Quatro had her first sexual thrill (but did not know what it was). Then their father (Art) entered the room, said "That's disgusting", and switched off the television. At this point Quatro decided that she wanted to be Elvis. (Art later brought home a copy of Elvis singing "Love Me Tender" and conceded "OK, dammit — so the kid can sing!")[11]:26[12]

Chart positions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Billy Swan[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1975) Peak


Austrian Top 40 16[13]
French Singles Chart 18
German Singles Chart 26
South African Singles Chart 12
Swiss Music Charts 4
U.K. Singles Chart 42

Year-End Chart[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Chart (1975) Peak


Swiss Music Charts 19
Preceded by

I Want You, I Need You, I Love You

Cash Box magazine best selling record chart
  1. 1 record

September 15, 1956–October 20, 1956

Succeeded by

Love Me Tender

Preceded by

"My Prayer" by The Platters

Billboard Top 100 number-one single

(Elvis Presley version) September 15, 1956

Succeeded by

"Green Door" by Jim Lowe

Preceded by

"Honky Tonk" (Part 1 & 2) by Bill Doggett

Billboard R&B Best Sellers in Stores number-one single

September 15, 1956

Succeeded by

"Honky Tonk" (Part 1 & 2) by Bill Doggett

Preceded by

"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" by Elvis Presley

C&W Best Sellers in Stores

number one single by Elvis Presley with "Hound Dog" September 15, 1956

Succeeded by

"Singing the Blues" by Marty Robbins

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