FLASHBACK: Elvis Presley Records 'Heartbreak Hotel'
Thursday, January 10, 2013
FLASHBACK: Elvis Presley Records 'Heartbreak Hotel'
It was 57 years ago (January 10th, 1956), that Elvis Presley recorded his first Number One hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." The song, its B-side "I Was The One," and several other tunes were recorded in Nashville at Presley's first RCA recording session, just two days after his 21st birthday. The previous November, RCA Records had bought Presley's existing Sun Records contract for a whopping $40,000 -- $5,000 of which went straight to Presley as a signing bonus.
The music to "Heartbreak Hotel" was written by Mae Boren Axton -- mother of country songwriter Hoyt Axton -- with lyrics by Tommy Durden. Durden was inspired to write the lyrics after reading a newspaper account of a man who left behind a suicide note containing the phrase: "I walk a lonely street." As was the case with many hits of the '50s, Presley's name was added as both a courtesy and incentive for recording the song -- which also ensured that he received a third of the song's royalties.
"Heartbreak Hotel" featured Presley's usual band at the time, with Bill Black on double bass, Scotty Moore on lead guitar, and D.J. Fontana on drums, along with country legends Floyd Cramer on piano and Chet Atkins on guitar. The single was rush-released on January 27th, 1956 and went on to become Presley's first million-seller.
During his keynote address last year's at Austin's South By Southwest music festival, Bruce Springsteen recalled seeing Elvis debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9th, 1956: "It was the evening that I realized that a white man could create magic. That you did not have to be constrained by your upbringing, by the way you looked, or by the social context that oppressed you. You could call upon your own powers of imagination, and you could create a transformative self. A certain type of transformative self that perhaps at any other moment in American history might've seemed difficult, if not impossible."
When Elvis returned to live performances in 1969, "Heartbreak Hotel" was one of the few '50s numbers included in his act. He continued performing the song sporadically through 1974.

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