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"Heartbreak Hotel" is a rock and roll song performed by Elvis Presley with Bill Black (bass), Scotty Moore (guitar), D.J. Fontana (drums), Floyd Cramer (piano) and Elvis on rhythm guitar as the main supporting musicians. Recorded in January 1956 in Nashville, the song introduced Presley to the Americanmarker national music consciousness. It was released as a single with the b-side song "I Was the One" on January 27, 1956. "Heartbreak Hotel" became the first No.1 pop record by Elvis and was the best selling single of 1956.

Song's history

This was the second song recorded by Elvis at RCA Victor, during his debut session at the building at 1525 McGavock Street in Nashvillemarker, at that time owned by the United Methodist Television, Radio and Film Commission on January 10, 1956. Elvis selected the song. He had earlier promised co-writer Mae Boren Axton that he would want to record it. He arrived at the studio with the song ready to record it without input from RCA. Although producer Steve Sholes was worried, he recorded the song taking it on faith that Elvis knew what he was doing. Most others at RCA Victor believed that it was a mistake, especially after hearing that the finished recording sounded nothing like Elvis's previous recordings at Sun Records.

On February 11, 1956, Presley introduced the song live on the CBS television variety program, Stage Show, starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, on March 11 and March 24, and on his third (and final) appearance at The Ed Sullivan Show, also on CBS, on January 6, 1957. Cumulative viewers for these first television performances are estimated at over 65 million. In 1968, he also sang it on his celebrated Comeback TV Special, in a medley with "Hound Dog" and "All Shook Up".

The song is an example of simple verse form based on the eight-bar blues progression. It was written by Thomas Durden, then a steel-guitarist in Smiling Jack Herring and his Swing Billies, and Mae Boren Axton, a teacher at Dupont Jr.-Sr. High School in Jacksonvillemarker, Floridamarker, and the mother of singer/songwriter/actor Hoyt Axton. She was a publicist for Hank Snow, who was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, who also managed Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley received co-songwriting credit for his contributions to the final recorded release. In an interview, Durden conceded that he did not recognize the song after Elvis had made the changes to the song in the studio, including changes to the tempo, phrasing, lyrics, and overall sound.

"Heartbreak Hotel"'s lyrical matter deals with the singer's sadness, implicitly that following the end of a romantic relationship. It uses the metaphor of a hotel to represent this emotional state. Durden read about a suicide in the Miami Herald in 1955. A well-dressed man had removed all labels from his clothing, destroyed his identity papers and left a note saying: "I walk a lonely street."

Steve Sholes used a hallway at the studio to get a noticeably unusual echo for the single. Sholes was attempting to recapture the Sun Recordsmarker sound however, Sam Phillips had used two tape recorders and a slight time delay to create the echo on prior Elvis recordings, unbeknownst to the RCA personnel.

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 Elvis 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.

Song's status on the charts

"Heartbreak Hotel" was no. 1 for 8 weeks on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart when released in 1956 on RCA Records, reaching no. 1 on all four Billboard pop singles charts, Best Sellers, 8 weeks, Juke Box, 8 weeks, Top 100, 7 weeks, and Jockey, 3 weeks. The record was no. 1 for 17 weeks on the Billboard Country Chart and reached no. 3 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Chart . The record spent 17 weeks at no. 1 on the Billboard Country Best Seller chart, 13 weeks on the Country Juke Box chart, and 12 weeks on the Country Jockey chart. "Heartbreak Hotel" was also no. 1 on the Cashbox pop singles chart for 6 weeks in 1956. In the UK, the single reached no. 2 on the pop singles charts. In 2006, more than 50 years after its initial release, "Heartbreak Hotel" returned to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart when re-released. The B side, "I Was the One", reached no. 19 on the Billboard Jockey chart and no. 23 on the Top 100 chart, no. 8 on the Billboard country chart, and no. 35 on the Cashbox chart in 1956. In 1982, "I Was the One" was re-released and reached no. 92 on the Billboard country chart.

"Heartbreak Hotel" was later ranked #45 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Song's legacy

There is now a real hotel named after the song, and located across from Graceland, in Memphismarker, Tennesseemarker.

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

The song appears in the 2005 TV mini-series Elvis.

Cover versions of the song

During the late-1950s and early 1960s, Johnny Cash and his band (The Tennessee Three) performed a parody of Elvis' stage techniques as a comedy act during concerts. Johnny would have Marshall Grant (his bass player) hand him a comb, so he could re-style his hair in an exaggerated approximation of Elvis' hairstyle. He would then proceed to sing "Heartbreak Hotel" whilst shaking his hips and legs in the manner of Elvis. After his 'song', Johnny would take the comb back and put his hair back to normal, while saying "I walked past a barber shop earlier today, and the barber came out and said 'hey son, I'll give you an estimate'". He'd drop the comb (implying it had come alive from all the wax and such that was in his hair) and Marshall would shoot it with a blank pistol; Johnny and Luther Perkins (his lead guitarist) would jump off the stage in fright, and his drummer (W.S. Holland) would fall off his stool.

There are numerous cover versions of the song, including one by avant garde musician John Cale, although the mood of the song was significantly more unsettling than Elvis's version. This version first appeared in his concert on 1 June 1974 with Kevin Ayers, Brian Eno and Nico, and takes the depressing aspects of the song to its extremes.

Dread Zeppelin, a reggae band fronted by an Elvis impersonator, does a medley of "Heartbreak Hotel" and Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" entitled "Heartbreaker (At the End of Lonely Street)". This tune appears on Un-Led-Ed and De-jah Voodoo.

Three other songs, also entitled "Heartbreak Hotel" were released as singles, one by The Jacksons (later renamed "This Place Hotel"), a second by Whitney Houston, whose mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston performed in several Elvis recordings, both in the studio and live, as a member of the Sweet Inspirations. A third song called "Heartbreak Hotel" was performed by C. C. Catch. None of these songs are connected to Elvis's song.

Paul McCartney recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" using Bill Black's bass at Abbey Road Studiosmarker. McCartney said: "It was Elvis who really got me hooked on beat music. When I heard 'Heartbreak Hotel' I thought, this is it... Musically it's perfect."

Merle Haggard included "Heartbreak Hotel" on his 1977 album My Farewell To Elvis.

Kazuya Kosaka recorded a bilingual English/Japanese version in 1956, one of the year's big hits in Japan.

The Cadets recorded the song in 1957.

Connie Francis recorded a version in 1959.

The Animals released there version of this song in 1967.

Ace Cannon recorded the song in 1962.

Chuck Jackson recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1962.

Adam Faith recorded the song in 1965.

Jimi Hendrix recorded the song as part of an Elvis Presley medley along with "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Trouble".

Guns N' Roses's original line-up of Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler have performed this song live on various shows in the Los Angeles area (mainly on Sunset Strip clubs) in 1986. Around the same time they have also recorded many studio versions of this song, including some demo takes that are available on many bootleg CDs. The band also recorded a final take of the song to be on the EP "Live! Like a Suicide" but this version was never released. Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin also performed this song with Tom Petty on the 1989 MTV's Video Music Awards. In July 2008, an unheard demo version of the song recorded by Guns n' Roses was released unnoficially by Cleopatra Records on a special LP edition of "Hollywood Rocks".

Guitarist Chet Atkins covered the song in 1963.

George Harrison of The Beatles remembered in an interview that "Heartbreak Hotel" was the first rock and roll record he ever heard.

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell had a no. 1 cover version in 1979 on the country charts.

Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones said: "When I heard 'Heartbreak Hotel', I knew what I wanted to do in life."

Oldies group Sha Na Na has recorded "Heartbreak Hotel".

Fats Domino recorded his version of "Heartbreak Hotel".

An instrumental version of "Heartbreak Hotel" was recorded by early Texan rock group Tommy & The Tom Toms in 1960. It was produced by Major Bill Smith (Hey Baby, Hey Paula, Last Kiss) and released on Chess Records (#1773) under the pseudonym of the Bill Smith Combo.

Legendary southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the song.

At The VH1 Divas Live 2002 concert pop icon Cher sang "Heartbreak Hotel" as part of an Elvis Presley tribute medley. She also was dressed up as Elvis whilst performing.

Country legend Roger Miller covered "Heartbreak Hotel" on his 1966 album Words and Music.

Tanya Tucker recorded the song in the 1970s.

US President Bill Clinton performed a cover of "Heartbreak Hotel" on sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in the 1990s during his campaign.

Tom Jones covered "Heartbreak Hotel". Jones said Elvis inspired him to become a singer: "It was the first time I heard 'Heartbreak Hotel'. It gave me hope that I could become a famous performer, too. I knew I had the voice and the flair for it. Of course, Elvis and I became great friends."

Roger McGuinn of the Byrds recorded a version of "Heartbreak Hotel". He stated that "Heartbreak Hotel" was the first rock record he heard in 1956. Afterwards, he got his parents to buy him a guitar. McGuinn wrote: "Elvis Presley inspired me with his single 'Heartbreak Hotel' to the point that I wanted to get a guitar and do what he was doing."

The song was also covered by Ann-Margret in 1965, Frijid Pink in 1970, Homer and Jethro, Conway Twitty, Delaney and Bonnie, Katie Melua, Pat Boone in 1963, Suzi Quatro in 1977, Bert Jansch in 1982, Link Wray, Hoyt Axton, Martin Carthy, Lynn Anderson, Buddy Love, James Gang, Nancy King, The Cramps, The Residents, Scooter Lee, Ronnie McDowell, Donna Fargo, The Jordanaires, Albert King, Doc Watson, The Soft Boys, Lawrence Welk, The Flamin' Groovies, The Underdogs, Stan Freberg, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kevin Ayers, Eno and Mike Oldfield, Joe Tex, Spinal Tap, and Helmut Lotti.

In early 2004 Stephanie Butland covered this song, as a new version of the song.

The Vandals covered this song, changing it radically and incorporating comically over-explicit lyrics. It appears on their album Peace Thru Vandalism under the title "H.B. Hotel".

Kanye West used lyrics from this song in his album 808s & Heartbreak, in the song "Paranoid [Ft. Mr. Hudson]". It says "you want to check in to the heartbreak hotel, but sorry we're closed."

Song mentioned in other songs

  • Patty Loveless's single "Blue Side of Town" from her Honky Tonk Angel album in 1988 had a line in the song's chorus with "And it's Heartbrak Hotel. Yes I know it well. I hang around. The Blue Side of Town."
  • U2 wrote a song called "A Room At The Heartbreak Hotel." It is a b-side to their "Angel of Harlem" single, released in 1988.
  • "Heartbreak Hotel" is referenced in "Short Fat Fannie" by Larry Williams: "One day while I was visiting the Heartbreak Hotel."
  • Dire Straits' song "Calling Elvis" mentions it in the chorus.
  • Meryl Streep sings Shel Silverstein's "I'm Checking Out of This Heartbreak Hotel" in the final scene of "Postcards from the Edge."
  • Kanye West uses the Heartbreak Hotel in his song, "Paranoid", in the line, "You wanna check into the Heartbreak Hotel, but sorry we're closed."
  • The song is featured in Lilo and Stitch with Lilo herself singing "Heartbreak Hotel".


Cultural references



References

  1. http://www.scottymoore.net/studio_mcgavock.html
  2. Thomas Durden | News | The Guardian
  3. Elvis Presley: RCA Victor 6420
  4. Raymond, Susan (Director) (1987, Re-released 2000). Elvis '56 - In the Beginning (DVD). Warner Vision.



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