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The Best Songs: “Heartbreak Hotel” – Elvis Presley

Well, since my baby left me…

These opening words set the tone, this is not a happy-song…

I got this record from my aunt when I was about 7 or 8 years old (1973/1974), I couldn’t  comprehend the heartache and suffering in the lyrics. I just thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. I still got that record. It is worn and scratched and it’s still the coolest record in the world.

Heartbreak Hotel credits

Heartbreak Hotel is written by Thomas Durden and Mae Axton in 1955. It was written after Durden read about a suicide in the Miami Herald. A man, who had jumped out the window,  had destroyed his identity papers and left a note saying: “I walk a lonely street.”
It was written very quickly, varying sources states that it was done from a few hours down to 22 minutes.

From Wikipedia:

“Axton and Durden give different accounts of how the song was written. Durden’s account is that he had already written the song and performed it with his band the Swing Billys before he presented it to Axton. Axton’s account is that Durden had only penned a few lines of the song, and asked her to help him finish it.  She says that the report of the suicide “stunned” her, and she told Durden, “Everybody in the world has someone who cares. Let’s put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of this lonely street”. They were interrupted by the arrival of Glen Reeves, a local performer who had previously worked with Axton. The duo asked Reeves to help with the song, but after hearing the title he remarked that it was “the silliest thing I’ve ever heard”, and left them to finish it themselves.The song was written within an hour, and Durden recorded it onto Axton’s tape recorder.”

The song was offered to several artists before Elvis, many of them declined and described the song as strange and morbid . Durden and Axton offered Presley a third of the writers’ credits if he would make it a single, Elvis agreed. Presley recorded the song Jan. 10, 1956. It was his second song recorded on his new label RCA, following “I Got A Woman”. It was released 27th of January 1956.

From the british newspaper The Independent:

“Heartbreak Hotel” started with Elvis, accompanied by a walking bass from Bill Black, reminiscent of Willie Dixon’s work with Muddy Waters. Scotty Moore played assertively and Cramer’s piano pattered like rain. Elvis broke down in each verse, effectively method acting like James Dean. The song was nailed on take seven, but sadly, most of the tapes were wiped. The influence of Johnnie Ray’s “Cry” is self-evident and the song could be a parody. Presley’s dirt-seeking bio-grapher, Albert Goldman, opined, “‘Heartbreak Hotel’, which is an extravagant and highly-exaggerated account of the blues, was more a psychodrama than a musical performance. As such, however, it was an extraordinary novelty and it moved rock music into another imaginative space.”

“Heartbreak Hotel” became Elvis’ first gold record, staying the top of the pop charts for seven weeks in the spring of 1956.

Keith Richards on Heartbreak Hotel

In his book “Life” Keith Richard says:

Good records just get better with age. But the one that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. That was the stunner. I’d never heard it before, or anything like it. I’d never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I’d been waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy.

He has also said that after hearing Elvis for the first time it was as if the world went from black and white to vivid techincolor.

Heartbreak Hotel, it it rock’n roll?

“Heartbreak Hotel” is not like the songs Elvis had recorded before, it has a twangy almost jazzy feel. It is a blues record, not a rockabilly song. It’s blues in melody as well as lyrically. It is sung in a special style. Elvis shouts out the verse and whispers the chorus through the whole song. And, it sounds like he means what he’s singing, it’s a truly empathic performance. It is a magnificent tragedy and he never recorded anything else remotely like it: nothing so spooky, moody or weird.

Billboard Magazine described it as “a strong blues item wrapped up in his usual powerful style and a great beat”.

 

Heartbreak Hotel lyrics:

Well, since my baby left me
Well, I found a new place to dwell
Well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street
At Heartbreak Hotel

Where I’ll be
I’ll be there so lonely baby
Well, I’m so lonely
I’ll be there so lonely, I could die

Although it’s always crowded
You still can find some room
For broken hearted lovers
To crowd their little room

Be so
I’ll be there so lonely, baby
I’ll be there so lonely
They’re so lonely, they could die

Now, the bell hop’s tears keep flowin’
And the desk clerk’s dressed in black
Well, they been so long on Lonely Street
They’ll never never look back

And think their so
They’ll think their so lonely baby
Well, they’re so lonely
Well, they’re so lonely, they could die

Well now if your baby leaves you
And you’ve got a tale to tell
Well, just take a walk down Lonely Street
To Heartbreak Hotel

Where you will be
It could make you so lonely, baby
Well you will be lonely
You’ll be so lonely you could die

Although it’s always crowded
You still can find some room
For broken hearted lovers
To crowd their little room

And think their so
And think their so lonely, baby
Well, they’re so lonely
They’ll be so lonely, they could die

– Hallgeir

Heartbreak Hotel on Spotify

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