About the song
If you are a fan of Elvis Presley, you probably know his classic song “Heartbreak Hotel”. But do you know the story behind this iconic hit? In this blog post, we will explore the history and inspiration of “Heartbreak Hotel”, which was released as a single on January 27, 1956, and became Presley’s first number one on his new record label RCA Victor.
The song was written by Mae Boren Axton, a high school teacher and musical promoter, and Tommy Durden, a singer-songwriter from Nashville. They were inspired by a newspaper article about a man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window, leaving behind a note that said “I walk a lonely street”. Axton and Durden decided to write a song based on that line, and added Presley as a co-writer to secure his interest in recording it.
Presley recorded the song on January 10, 1956, at the RCA Victor studios in Nashville, with his band the Blue Moon Boys, guitarist Chet Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer. The song has an eight-bar blues progression, with heavy reverberation to create a haunting sound. Presley’s vocals are full of emotion and intensity, conveying the loneliness and despair of the narrator who checks into the Heartbreak Hotel after losing his love.
The song was an instant success, topping the Billboard Top 100 for seven weeks, Cashbox’s Pop singles chart for six weeks, and the Country and Western chart for seventeen weeks. It also reached number three on the R&B chart, making it one of the first crossover hits in music history. It sold over one million copies, earning Presley his first gold record. The song also established Presley as a rock and roll star, and influenced many other artists who covered it over the years.
Presley performed “Heartbreak Hotel” live for the first time in December 1955, during a tour of the Louisiana Hayride. He later performed it on several TV shows, such as Stage Show, The Milton Berle Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. He made it a staple of his live repertoire until his last concert on May 29, 1977, at the Civic Center in Baltimore.
“Heartbreak Hotel” is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time. In 1995, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 45 on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It was also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”.