Elvis Presley

Heartbreak Hotel

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 RCA / BMG 2:09
Elvis' Golden Records 1958 RCA 2:10
Elvis' 50 Worldwide Gold Award Hits, Vol. 1 1970 RCA 2:01
Collector's Gold 1971 RCA 1:58
No Image 1972 RCA
Elvis: A Legendary Performer, Vol. 1 1974 Pair 2:08
Elvis Forever [1974] 1974 RCA
No Image 1975 Arcade Music
50 Years-50 Hits 1976 BMG 2:09
No Image 1978 RCA
The '56 Sessions 1978 RCA
This Is Elvis 1981 RCA
20 Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 1981 RCA
No Image 1981 Video Yesteryear
No Image 1981 Lata
No Image 1981 Warner Home Video
No Image 1982
Various Artists
RCA
No Image 1984 RCA
Collection, Vol. 1 1984 RCA
No Image 1984 RCA
No Image 1984 Camden
All Time Greatest Hits 1986 BMG International 2:10
The Number One Hits 1987 RCA 2:06
The Top Ten Hits 1987 RCA 2:06
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: Elvis Presley - 1954-1961 1988 2:10
The Definitive Rock & Roll Album 1990 RCA
Nipper's Greatest Hits: The 50's, Vol. 1 1990
Various Artists
RCA 2:06
Great Performances [RCA] 1990 RCA 2:12
Heartbreak Hotel & Other Hits 1990 RCA 2:06
The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50s Masters 1992 RCA 2:53
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
WODS Oldies 103 Boston, Vol. 1: The 50's - Tenth Anniversary Edition 1997
Various Artists
Collectables 2:07
Rock N' Roll Legends 1997
Various Artists
Mega Stars 2:29
The Elvis Presley Collection: Rock 'N' Roll [Time-Life] 1997 Time / Life Music
All the Best, Vol. 1-2 1999 BMG International 2:04
Artist of the Century 1999 RCA 2:08
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:10
Rock & Roll 1999 BMG 2:09
Classic Country: 1950-1964 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:11
Classic Country: Golden 50's [1999] [1 CD] 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:11
Great Voices of the Millennium 1999
Various Artists
Double Gold 2:07
Classic Country: 1950-1959 [2 CD] 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:11
The Essential Elvis Presley [Red X] 1999 Red X 2:20
Heartbreak Hotel/Sinners Prayer 2000 RCA 2:14
The 50 Greatest Hits 2000 RCA 2:11
Meer Dan Het Beste Van Elvis Presley 2001 BMG International 2:09
Swedish Hit Collection 2001 BMG International 2:09
The Best of Elvis Presley [RCA] 2001 RCA 2:08
No Image 2001 Collectables
No Image 2002 Pioneer
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
Lilo & Stitch [Original Soundtrack] 2002
Original Soundtrack
Walt Disney / Disney 2:13
Maybellene 2002 Time Music 1:59
Today, Tomorrow & Forever 2002 RCA 2:33
Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits 2002 RCA 2:09
King of Rock 'n' Roll [Platinum] 2002 Platinum Collection 2:11
I Was the One [SS] 2003 SS Music 2:11
Elvis: Close Up 2003 BMG Heritage / RCA 1:44
Rock and Roll at Fifty: A Galaxy of Hits from Rock's First Decade 2003
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:08
Elvis by the Presleys 2005 BMG / BMG Heritage 2:09
Hitstory 2005 Sony Music Distribution 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
Elvis Rock 2006 Sony BMG / RCA 2:09
The Essential Elvis Presley [RCA/Sony BMG] 2007 RCA 2:09
1956 British Hit Parade, Pt. 1: January-July 2007
Various Artists
Acrobat Music / Future Noise 2:09
Collections, Vol. 1 2007 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 2:11
Introducing Elvis 2007 Sony BMG 2:10
No Image 2007 RCA 2:08
The Complete '56 Sessions 2008 Chrome Dreams 2:39
Elvis 75 2009 Legacy / RCA / Sony Legacy 2:09
Bob Dylan Cover to Cover: The Originals 2010
Various Artists
Mischief / Music Melon 2:09
Viva Elvis: The Album 2010 Legacy / RCA 4:54
Then: 1956 2010
Various Artists
Fantastic Voyage 2:13
The Ultimate Oldies But Goodies Collection 2010
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:11
Young Man with the Big Beat: The Complete 1956 Masters 2011 Legacy / RCA / RCA Victor 3:01
I Am an Elvis Fan 2012 Legacy / RCA 2:09
Britain's Greatest Hits 1956 2013
Various Artists
Fabulous 2:10
The 1950s 2014 Sony Legacy 2:10
Elvis Presley: The Searcher [Original Soundtrack] 2018 Legacy / RCA / Sony CMG / Sony Music 2:08
No Image 2019 SME / RCA / Legacy 1:03
America's Greatest Hits, Vol. 7: 1956
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:10
Beatles Beginnings, Vol. 8: The Quarrymen Repertoire
Various Artists
Rhythm & Blues 2:11
Country Number Ones of the 50s
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:09
No Image Tandem.Mu 2:10
Elvis by Request: The Australian Fan Edition Sony Music Distribution 2:06
Heartbreak Hotel Top 100 Artists
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:10
Rock 'n' Roll Forever: Best of the 50's
Various Artists
Dynamic 2:07
Rock 'n' Roll USA, Vol. 1: 1954-1959
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:10
No Image HMV
The British Hit Parade: 1956-58
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 2:09