Elvis Presley recorded “Don’t Be Cruel,” in 1956 where it went to #1 and stayed there for 11 weeks. This super song was written by Otis Blackwell who also wrote several others for The King like “Hound Dog” that Presley turned into monster hits. In 2002, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In listening to learn the song, of course we go first to The King of Rock and Roll’s version. You can’t do better than that! At two minutes and two seconds it seems like you’ve finished before you even begin. That’s how rock music goes sometimes when you are playing something high octane like “Don’t Be Cruel.” If Elvis only needed two minutes to deliver on this one I feel the same way.
Although The Beatles performed it live many times from 1959 to 1961 there is no known recording at this time. It would sure be great if somebody out there could find a recording of it and let us know. Later in their solo careers, both John Lennon and Ringo Starr did record it so that will have to suffice for now. There are also versions of “Don’t Be Cruel” by Merle Haggard, Neil Diamond, and Jackie Wilson. The Jackie Wilson version is especially intriguing because according to The Elvis Encyclopedia (2008), Elvis greatly admired some of Wilson’s variations to the song so much that he incorporated several of them into his live performances (114-115).
When I play this song I become immediately uplifted! It really raises my spirits. The walking bass line is a great kick to play and I always find my head knocking to keep time with the metronome (M.M: 145). When I first learned “Don’t Be Cruel,” I could not believe how easily and naturally it adapted to accordion.
And nothing beats playing this song on the Roland FR-4x! I have a couple of sounds that were programmed into it by Dale Mathis of Crown Music down in Sun City, Arizona and one of them he calls “Twangy Guitar.” It is so much fun to play on the accordion and yet produce a nice guitar sound.