Heartbreak Hotel: Wikis


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"Heartbreak Hotel"
Single by Elvis Presley
B-side "I Was the One"
Released January 27, 1956
Format single
Recorded January 10, 1956
Genre Rock and roll, Blues
Length 2:08
Label RCA Records, RCA 47-6420
Writer(s) Mae Boren Axton, Thomas Durden, and Elvis Presley
Producer Steve Sholes
Certification Gold
Elvis Presley singles chronology
"Baby Let's Play House"
"Heartbreak Hotel"
"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You"
Music sample
"Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel"

"Heartbreak Hotel" is a rock and roll song recorded and performed by Elvis Presley. Recorded in January 1956 in Nashville, the song was Presley's first single for RCA Records and introduced him to the American national music consciousness. It was released with the B-side "I Was the One" on January 27, 1956, becoming the first #1 pop record by Presley and the best selling single of 1956.[1]


Song's history

Inspired by the suicide of a young man who left a note with the line, "I walk a lonely street", songwriters Tommy Durden, then a steel-guitarist in Smiling Jack Herring and his Swing Billies,[2] and Mae Boren Axton, a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote Heartbreak Hotel in thirty minutes in 1955.[3] She was a publicist for Hank Snow whose manager, Colonel Tom Parker, would later also manage Presley.

So sure that the song would be a hit, Axton presented it to Presley's then manager, Bob Neal, and insisted it would be his first million-seller.[3] On November 10, 1955, upon hearing the demo for the first time,[4] Presley agreed and promised to record the song.[3] Axton offered Presley a third of the royalties if he made the song his first single release from his new label, RCA.[3] Presley first performed the song in Swifton, Arkansas on December 9, 1955[5] and declared it his "first hit".[5]


Presley during the recording sessions of January 10–11, 1956

The song was the second recorded by Presley at RCA Victor on January 10, 1956 during his debut session at 1525 McGavock Street in Nashville, at that time owned by the United Methodist Television, Radio and Film Commission .[6] He arrived at the studio with the song ready to record without seeking approval from RCA and, although producer Steve Sholes was worried, he recorded the song taking it on faith that Presley knew what he was doing.[3] Most others at RCA Victor believed that it was a mistake, especially after hearing that the finished recording sounded nothing like Presley's previous recordings at Sun Records.[3] As well as being accompanied by his regular band of Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana, Presley was joined by established RCA musicians Chet Atkins on guitar, and Floyd Cramer on piano.[7]

Steve Sholes used a hallway at the studio to get a noticeably unusual echo for the single.[3] Sholes was attempting to recapture the Sun Records sound, but he was unaware that Sam Phillips had used two tape recorders and a slight time delay to create the echo on previous Presley recordings.[3][8] When Phillips first heard Heartbreak Hotel, he remarked that it was a "morbid mess".[3]

The song is an example of simple verse form based on the eight-bar blues progression. In an interview, Durden conceded that he did not recognize the song after Presley had made the changes to it in the studio, including changes to the tempo, phrasing, lyrics, and overall sound. In subsequent recordings, these major changes to existing material became a normal proceedure for Presley who took over the role of producer (although Steve Sholes was still credited) justifying Presley regularly being added to the writing credits of his recordings.


Presley during his National television debut on Stage Show

The single was released on January 27, 1956 with "I Was The One" as the B-side, a song that was also recorded during Presley's RCA debut sessions.[3] Billboard described the single as "a strong blues item wrapped up in his usual powerful style and a great beat."[3]

Presley made his national television debut on January 28, appearing on the CBS television variety program, Stage Show, starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.[9] However, despite the single having been released only a day before, CBS would not allow Presley to perform it on their show.[9] Instead he performed Shake, Rattle and Roll mixed with Flip, Flop and Fly, and I Got A Woman.[9] For his second appearance, on February 4, Presley was again told he would not be allowed to perform the single.[9] For his third appearance a week later, after some strong pressure from Steve Sholes, CBS finally allowed Presley to perform "Heartbreak Hotel".[10] This also coincided with the official release of "Heartbreak Hotel" as a single in its own right.[11]

Because the vocals on the original record featured such a heavy use of reverb, the song was immediately lampooned in radio humorist Stan Freberg's parody of the song, where the lead singer repeatedly asks for "more echo on [his] voice." When Presley recorded "Hound Dog" a few months later, he had completely taken over the role of producer, using what he learned at Sun Records (although Steve Sholes was still credited) and decided not to use echo.

Chart performance

Presley receives his first Gold record for Heartbreak Hotel

"Heartbreak Hotel" charted on March 3, 1956, entering the Pop chart at #68 and the Country and Western chart at number #9.[3] In less than two months it had reached #1 on both charts; for eight weeks and seventeen weeks respectively.[3] It also peaked at #5 on the R 'n' B chart.[3]

Touring, television appearances, and regular airplay helped make the single a million-seller by April, resulting in Presley's first Gold record which he was awarded in Nashville during the recording of his follow-up single, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, the same month.[3] The song would eventually go on to be the biggest selling single of 1956.[3]

In the UK, the single reached #2 on the Pop singles charts.[12]

Song's legacy

"Heartbreak Hotel" became an instantly recognizable part of Presley's live set.[3] He would perform it during most of his live shows between 1956 and 1977,[3] and it was re-released in 1971 for the UK market where it charted at #10.[12] In 1995, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame,[3] and was re-released in 1996 to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of its recording.[3]

It was ranked #45 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004, and in 2005, Uncut Magazine ranked the first performance of "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956 by Presley as the second greatest and most important cultural event of the rock and roll era. In 2006, again to celebrate the anniversary of its recording, "Heartbreak Hotel" was re-released as a 3-track CD single that returned to #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart.[3] , and in 2007 Serbian rock musician, journalist and writer Dejan Cukić wrote about "Heartbreak Hotel" as one of the forty-six songs that changed history of popular music, in his book 45 obrtaja: Priče o pesmama.

There is now a real hotel named after the song[3] located across the street from Presley's home, Graceland,[3] in Memphis, Tennessee. It features 128 rooms and offers 24-hour Presley videos for its guests.[3]

A movie with the same title, based on a mythical incident involving the kidnapping of Presley, was released theatrically in 1988. It starred David Keith as Elvis Presley, and was directed by Chris Columbus.

Cover versions of the song

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell had a no. 1 cover version in 1979 on the country charts. The song was Russell's only #1 hit on the charts.


  1. ^ Jim Dawson, & Steve Propes (1992). What Was the First Country Record. Boston & London: Faber & Faber. pp. 194–197. ISBN 0-571-12939-0. 
  2. ^ Thomas Durden | News | The Guardian
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Victor (2008), The Elvis Encyclopedia, p.227
  4. ^ Guralnick/Jorgensen, p.53
  5. ^ a b Guralnick/Jorgensen, p.56
  6. ^ http://www.scottymoore.net/studio_mcgavock.html
  7. ^ Marsh, p.86
  8. ^ Raymond, Susan (Director) (1987, Re-released 2000). Elvis '56 - In the Beginning (DVD). Warner Vision.
  9. ^ a b c d Guralnick/Jorgensen, p.61
  10. ^ Guralnick/Jorgensen, p.62
  11. ^ Stanley/Coffey, p.31
  12. ^ a b UK Chart Search Engine
Preceded by
"The Poor People of Paris"
by Les Baxter
Billboard Top 100 number one single
(Elvis Presley version)

May 5, 1956 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"The Wayward Wind"
by Gogi Grant
Preceded by
"I Forgot to Remember to Forget" by Elvis Presley
C&W Best Sellers in Stores
number one single (Elvis Presley version)

March 17, 1956 (seventeen weeks)
Succeeded by
"Crazy Arms" by Ray Price
Preceded by
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"
by The Charlie Daniels Band
Billboard Hot Country Singles number one single
(Willie Nelson and Leon Russell version)

September 1, 1979
Succeeded by
"I May Never Get To Heaven"
by Conway Twitty
Preceded by
"'Til I Can Make it On My Own"
by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West
RPM Country Tracks number one single
(Willie Nelson and Leon Russell version)

September 29, 1979
Succeeded by
"You're My Jamaica"
by Charley Pride
Preceded by
"Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado
Billboard Top 100 Number one single of the year
(Elvis Presley version)

Succeeded by
"All Shook Up" by Elvis Presley


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