Don't Be Cruel

This article is about the song by Elvis Presley. For the song and album by Bobby Brown, see Don't Be Cruel (Bobby Brown song) and Don't Be Cruel (album).
"Don't Be Cruel"
Single by Elvis Presley
B-side "Hound Dog"
Released July 13, 1956
Recorded July 2, 1956, RCA Victor Studios, New York City, New York
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:04
Label RCA Victor
Writer(s) Otis Blackwell
Certification X4 Platinum (RIAA)
Elvis Presley singles chronology
"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You"
"Don't Be Cruel"
"Shake, Rattle and Roll"

"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 173rd greatest song of all time, as well as the sixth best song of 1956, by Acclaimed Music.[2]

Elvis Presley


"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 Stephen H. 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]


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] Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1956.[6]

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
Producer(s) Richie Zito
Cheap Trick singles chronology
"The Flame"
"Don't Be Cruel"
"Ghost Town"


"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 "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" during performances from 1969.[1]

Beatles cover versions

According to author Mark Lewisohn in "The Complete Beatles Chronicles" (p. 362) The Beatles performed it live from at least 1959 till 1961 if not later. No recording from then is known to survive. They finally recorded a laid-back version during the massive 1969 Get Back sessions which has never been released. However ex-Beatles John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Pete Best, and Lennon's former bandmembers The Quarrymen as well as Tony Sheridan (who was asked to join the Beatles) all recorded versions of it.

Other cover versions

Many other artists including Connie Francis (1959, Rock 'n' Roll Million Sellers), Annette Peacock, Barbara Lynn (1963, Jamie #1244 45 RPM, #93 on the Hot 100),[7] Bill Black's Combo, Billy Swan, Devo, Cheap Trick, Daffy Duck,[8] Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil 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.[9] A cover by American country music duo The Judds peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1987.[10] Cheap Trick's version of this song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988.

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

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.[11]:1–3[12] 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!")[13]:26[14]

Chart positions

Bill Black's Combo

Chart (1960) Peak
US Billboard Top 100 Singles 11
US R&B Singles 9
U.K. Singles Chart 32

Billy Swan

Chart (1975) Peak
Austrian Top 40 16[15]
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

Chart (1975) Peak
Swiss Music Charts 19

The Judds

Chart (1987) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[16] 10
Canada RPM Top Country Tracks 4

Cheap Trick

Chart (1988) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[17] 4
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Singles 8
Australian Singles Charts 4
New Zealand Singles Charts 6
UK Singles Charts 77
Preceded by
I Want You, I Need You, I Love You
Cashbox magazine best selling record chart
#1 record

September 15, 1956October 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


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Victor (2008), The Elvis Encyclopedia, p.115-116
  2. "Acclaimed Music Top 3000 songs". Acclaimed Music. 27 May 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Guralnick/Jorgensen, Elvis: Day by Day, p.77-78
  4. First pressing of the single Hound Dog b/w Don't Be Cruel
  5. Interview with Freddy Bienstock
  6. Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1956
  7. Barbara Lynn's "Don't Be Cruel" Chart Position Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  8. Donkers, Chuck. "Bugs & Friends Sing Elvis - Looney Tunes : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". Ann Arbor, USA: Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  9. Che, Cathy (1999), 'Deborah Harry: Platinum Blonde', MPG Books Ltd, Cornwall, p.238
  10. Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8.
  11. Auslander, Philip (January 28, 2004). "I Wanna Be Your Man: Suzi Quatro's musical androgyny" (PDF). Popular Music. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 23 (1). doi:10.1017/S0261143004000030. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  12. "BBC Queens of British Pop, Suzi Quatro - David Jensen film clip 2009". London, UK: BBC. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  13. Quatro, Suzi (2008) [First published 2007]. Unzipped (Paperback). London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-93751-8.
  14. Callwood, Brett. "Glycerine queen, forever! - Music - Detroit Metro Times, page 3". Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States: Metro Times. Retrieved July 28, 2012.
  15. Steffen Hung. "Billy Swan - Don't Be Cruel". Retrieved 2016-08-22.
  16. "The Judds – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for The Judds.
  17. "Cheap Trick – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Cheap Trick.

External links

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