Rock and Roll
And then there’s the King of Rock and Roll, whose songs are perennials and always fresh more so than golden oldies. “Heartbreak Hotel” was Elvis Presley’s his first #1 hit on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Chart and his first hit for his new label RCA Victor. That is, his first big nationwide hit on his new label. Elvis had been with Sun Records out of Memphis previously, but the hope was that RCA Victor would launch him nationally. It did. The song was #1 on the Country and Western Chart and was within the top five on the R&B Chart. It subsequently has been certified as 2x Platinum by the RIAA in 1999.
The song was written by Mae Boren Axton and Tommy Durden. They had come across a report in The Miami Herald about a man who committed suicide by jumping out of a hotel window and left a note that only said, “I walk a lonely street.” Axton allegedly told Durden, “Everybody in the world has someone who cares. Let’s put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of this lonely street.” Despite the sad content – or maybe because of it – Elvis took to the song and made it his own. The record has Elvis’ backup group at the time, which consisted of Scotty Moore on electric guitar, Bill Black on double bass, and D.J. Fontana on drums. Also playing are Chet Atkins on acoustic guitar and Floyd Cramer on piano.
They had recorded the song in January, 1956. Two months later, by the time they performed it at the Louisiana Hayride and the reception was beyond enthusiastic. Scotty Moore said that the “auditorium down there almost exploded…That’s the earliest I can remember saying, ‘What is going on?’”