Elvis Presley

Heartbreak Hotel

Composed by Elvis Presley / Mae Boren Axton / Tommy Durden

Song Review by

"Heartbreak Hotel" was Elvis Presley's first national hit; it became a signature song for him and a rock & roll standard. It was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton. Durden had seen a newspaper article about a person who had committed suicide, leaving a note that read, "I walk a lonely street," and was inspired to write a song about a hotel that people who have had their hearts broken can check into. Not quite a blues, but certainly mournful, the song described a place where "the bellhop's tears keep flowing, the desk clerk's dressed in black" and everyone is "so lonely they could die," which is actually the tag line of the chorus. Axton and Durden had a demo recording of the song made, and Axton took it to the convention of the Country and Western Disc Jockey Association in Nashville, TN, on November 10, 1955, where she managed to play it for Elvis Presley; he liked it and promised to record it. Ten days later, Presley's Sun Records contract was purchased by RCA Victor Records, one of the country's major record labels. Having begun to perform "Heartbreak Hotel" at his concerts, he was able to get an acceptable take of the song early in his recording session of January 10, 1956, with Scotty Moore taking a slashing electric guitar solo and Floyd Cramer playing some bluesy piano. The spare arrangement, which frequently came to a full stop, was dominated by Presley's melodramatic vocal; it was an excellent showcase for the young singer. Elvis Presley's recording of "Heartbreak Hotel" was released as a single on January 17, 1956, his first RCA record. On the disc, the song was co-credited to Presley, a "cut-in" that gave him a piece of the publishing. He performed the song on the television program Stage Show, hosted by Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, on February 11, his third appearance on the show. (This performance and subsequent ones on March 17 and 24 were released on the box set A Golden Celebration in 1984, along with an April 3 performance from The Milton Berle Show). "Heartbreak Hotel" entered the national charts at the beginning of March, rising to number one on the pop and country lists and the Top Five of the R&B charts. It sold over two million copies. Although "Heartbreak Hotel" was closely associated with Elvis Presley (it was featured on 12 chart albums by the singer between 1958 and 1992), it has also been successfully recorded by others. Comedian Stan Freberg charted with a parody version in July 1956; Roger Miller reached the pop and country charts with his recording in November 1966; Frijid Pink charted with a hard rock version in December 1970; and Willie Nelson and Leon Russell topped the country charts with their cover in September 1979. The list of artists who have had recordings on chart albums is varied, including Lawrence Welk, the James Gang, Merle Haggard, Tanya Tucker, Billy Joel, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And among the dozens of other recordings are renditions by Lynn Anderson, John Cale, the Cramps, Donna Fargo, Albert King, Roger McGuinn, the Residents, Conway Twitty, Doc Watson, and Link Wray. You might think that no one would try to top a song as distinctive and successful as "Heartbreak Hotel," but song titles cannot be copyrighted and nothing is sacred in pop music. In 1980, the Jacksons recorded a song called "Heartbreak Hotel" written by Michael Jackson. It reached the pop Top 40 and the Top Five of the R&B charts. In 1998, another "Heartbreak Hotel," this one credited to C. Schack, K. Karlin, and T. Savage, was recorded by Whitney Houston featuring Faith Evans and Kelly Price. It topped the R&B charts and just missed hitting number one on the pop charts.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Elvis Presley [1956] 1956 Not Now Music
Elvis' Golden Records 1958 RCA 2:07
No Image 1968 SMG
The '68 Comeback Special [DVD/Video] 1968 Lightyear
Elvis' 50 Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Vol. 1 1970 RCA Victor
That's the Way It Is 1970 RCA 1:45
Collector's Gold 1971 RCA
As Recorded at Madison Square Garden 1972 RCA 1:44
No Image 1972 RCA
Elvis Forever [1974] 1974 RCA
No Image 1975 Arcade Music
50 Years-50 Hits 1976 BMG 2:09
The '56 Sessions 1978 RCA
Elvis Aron Presley 1980 RCA 2:51
This Is Elvis 1981 RCA
No Image 1981 Ariola Express
No Image 1982
Various Artists
RCA
No Image 1983
No Image 1984 Camden
Don't Be Cruel 1986 RCA 2:13
The Top Ten Hits 1987 RCA 2:06
The Definitive Rock & Roll Album 1990 RCA
Nipper's Greatest Hits: The 50's, Vol. 1 1990
Various Artists
RCA 2:06
Heartbreak Hotel & Other Hits 1990 RCA 2:08
Elvis: The King - Die Hits der Deutschen Charts 1991 RCA / BMG International
The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50s Masters 1992 RCA 2:09
Gold: The Very Best of the King 1995 BMG International 2:10
Walk a Mile in My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters 1995 RCA 1:41
The Legend Begins [Essential Gold] 1995 Essential Gold 2:13
Elvis '56 1996 SMG 2:14
It's Now or Never [Zound] 1996 Zounds Music / Zound
Great Elvis Presley Live 1997 Goldies 1:48
An Afternoon in the Garden 1997 RCA 1:44
No Image 1997
Original Cast Recording
RCA 2:01
Platinum: A Life in Music 1997 RCA 2:15
24 Karat Hits! 1997 DCC Compact Classics
Greatest Jukebox Hits 1997 RCA 2:09
WODS Oldies 103 Boston, Vol. 1: The 50's - Tenth Anniversary Edition 1997
Various Artists
Collectables 2:11
The Elvis Presley Collection: Rock 'N' Roll [Time-Life] 1997 Time/Life Music
A Golden Celebration 1998 RCA 2:58
Blue Suede Shoes: The Ultimate Rock 'n' Roll Collection [BMG] 1998 BMG 2:09
A Touch of Platinum 1998 RCA 2:15
Tiger Man 1998 RCA 4:42
Memories: The '68 Comeback Special 1998 RCA 2:53
Concert 1999 World Tour 1999 BMG 1:42
Artist of the Century 1999 RCA 2:08
No Image 1999 RCA 1:46
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:10
Rock & Roll 1999 BMG 2:09
Great Voices of the Millennium 1999
Various Artists
Double Gold 2:07
The Essential Elvis Presley [Red X] 1999 Red X 2:20
Elvis 2000 2000 BMG International 2:10
Best of Artist of the Century 2000 BMG
No Image 2000 Music Mill
The 50 Greatest Hits 2000 BMG
50s Party Pack 2001
Various Artists
Legacy 2:08
Swedish Hit Collection 2001 BMG International 2:09
The Best of Elvis Presley [RCA] 2001 RCA 2:08
Greatest Hits: Live 2001 BMG International 1:56
No Image 2001 Collectables
Glory Days of Rock 'n' Roll: No. 1 Hits 2001
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
Jukebox Hits of the '50s [Collectables] 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 2:11
40 Years of Jukebox Hits: The 50's, 60's, 70's & 80's 2002
Various Artists
Collectables 2:11
Everything About Elvis [CD & Book] 2002 Griffin / Lakeshore Records 1:59
Maybellene 2002 Time Music 1:59
Today, Tomorrow & Forever 2002 BMG Heritage 2:33
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits 2002 BMG / RCA
The Early Recordings 2002 Red X Entertainment Pty Ltd
Special Collectors Edition 2003 Prism Entertainment 2:14
Elvis at the International 2003 BMG International 5:12
You Heard It at the Movies 2003
Various Artists
Golden Stars 2:13
I Was the One [SS] 2003 SS Music 2:11
Elvis: Close Up 2003 BMG Heritage / RCA 1:44
Capital Gold: Rock & Roll Legends 2003
Various Artists
Phantom Import Distribution
Rock and Roll at Fifty: A Galaxy of Hits from Rock's First Decade 2003
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:08
The Louisiana Hayride Shows 2004 Goldies
The Only Elvis Presley Album You'll Ever Need 2004 BMG 2:09
Elvis Forever [2004] 2004 RCA
The Legend Live 2004 Phantom Import Distribution
All Shook Up 2005 BMG / RCA
Good Days: Rock N' Roll 50 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Rockin' Across Texas 2005 Follow That Dream Records 2:49
No Image 2005
Various Artists
Legacy 2:30
Elvis by the Presleys 2005 BMG / BMG Heritage 2:09
All Shook Up 2005 BMG
No Image 2005 Pop Legends
Blue Suede Shoes [Live] 2005 Phantom Import Distribution / Rock and Roll Legends 2:32
No Image 2005 Disky
Summer Festival 72 [Bonus Tracks] 2005 Follow That Dream Records
Hitstory 2005 Sony BMG 2:09
Let the Good Times Roll: 1955-1959 2005
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:09
Elvis #1 Singles 2006 RCA / Sony BMG 2:10
Best of Classic Country: '50s 2006
Various Artists
Time/Life Music / Warner Bros. 2:11
Dove Collection [Prism Platinum] 2006 Prism Leisure Corporation (UK)
The Collection: Elvis Presley/Elvis/Loving You 2006 Legacy / RCA 2:09
Elvis Presley [Follow That Dream] 2006 Follow That Dream Records 2:17
Songs for the Broken Hearted [Sony BMG] 2006
Various Artists
Sony BMG
The Early Years [DVD/CD] 2006 Braun/Whe
Hits of '56 2007
Various Artists
ASV / Living Era
The Essential Elvis Presley [RCA/Sony BMG] 2007 RCA 2:09
Hit Parade 1956 2007
Various Artists
Dynamic Nostalgia / Dynamic 2:05
The Greatest Country Hits of 1956 2007
Various Artists
Acrobat 2:10
Love Me [Goldies] 2007 Goldies
Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Hallmark / Hallmark Recordings 2:05
That's Alright 2007 Snapper 2:10
Radio Birikina Gold, Vol. 7 2007
Various Artists
Luna Music Corporation 2:08
Collections, Vol. 1 2007 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 2:11
Early Elvis 2007 RCA / Sony BMG / Sony Music Distribution 2:09
The Rock 'N' Roll Explosion: 120 Hits That Rocked the World 2007
Various Artists
Acrobat 2:10
Elvis: Viva Las Vegas 2007 BMG 2:20
King 2007 Sony BMG 2:09
No Image 2007 RCA 2:08
Dutch Collection 2007 BMG/RCA 2:10
Elvis #1 Hit Performances 2007 RCA
America's Greatest Hits [Acrobat] 2007
Various Artists
Acrobat 2:10
The Birth of the King 1954-1956 2007 Saga All Stars 2:09
No Image 2007 Sony Music Distribution 2:09
Rock & Roll Legend 2007 Hallmark Recordings 2:09
Forever 2008 BMG / Sony BMG
Elvis Presley/Elvis' Gold Records, Vol. 4 2008 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 2:09
The Sound of the 50s: America 2008
Various Artists
Primo Records 2:11
Rock 'N' Roll: The Essential Collection 2008
Various Artists
Avid Jazz / West End Records 2:09
Elvis: The Early Recordings 2008 ZYX Music 2:09
The Complete '56 Sessions 2008 Chrome Dreams 2:39
Elvis Presley/Elvis 2008 Legacy 2:11
The Complete '68 Comeback Special: 40th Anniversary Edition 2008 RCA 1:28
Rock Around the Clock [Gift of Music] 2008
Various Artists
Classical Records / The Gift of Music 2:07
Number One Hits: 66 US Hits of the 50's 2008
Various Artists
Hallmark Recordings 2:05
No Image 2008 Golden Stars
Elvis: Timeless Favorites 2008
Various Artists
Somerset Entertainment 2:10
Kings of Rock 'n' Roll [Not Now] 2009
Various Artists
Not Now Music 2:10
The Roots of the Doors 2009
Various Artists
Snapper 2:09
The Roots of the Beatles 2009
Various Artists
Complete Roots / Snapper 2:09
The Ed Sullivan Show: The Classic Performances 2009 Image Entertainment
No Image 2009 Legacy / RCA / RCA/Legacy 2:10
Elvis Presley [Music Digital] 2009 Music Digital / Delta Distribution
Best BMG
Christmas with Elvis Presley [Delta #2] Delta Distribution / Xtra 2:08
No Image Tandem.Mu 2:10
Flashback [Bonus Book] Follow That Dream Records 2:11
French Discography Phantom Records (England)
Legends of Rock 'N' Roll [Emm]
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution / EMM
Rock Hits Success 2:06
No Image HMV
blue highlight denotes editor's pick