Song 72 – Heartbreak Hotel

SONG: Heartbreak Hotel

ARTIST: Elvis Presley

YEAR: 1956

Listen to it here: 


“Heartbreak Hotel” was written in 1955 by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton.  There are two conflicting stories of how the song started out, but the most agreed-upon version is from a newspaper article about the suicide of a lonely man who jumped from a hotel window.  Axton showed the song to Elvis Presley in November 1955 at a convention in Nashville. Elvis decided to record it on January 10, 1956 with his band the Blue Moon Boys. The single was released on January 27, 1956 on Elvis‘s new record label RCA Victor. 

The single topped Billboard’s Top 100 chart for seven weeks, becoming Presley’s first million-seller, and one of the best-selling singles of 1956. “Heartbreak Hotel” achieved unheard feats as it reached the top 5 of Country and Western, pop, and Rhythm ‘n’ Blues charts simultaneously.  Presley had first performed “Heartbreak Hotel” during a live show in December 1955 during a tour of the Louisiana Hayride, but the song gained strong popularity after his appearance on Stage Show in March 1956. It became a staple of Presley’s repertoire in live appearances, right until the end of his life.


For info about Elvis Presley, check out our Elvis Presley album review!


Elvis bought Graceland when he was 22 years old for a whopping $102,500.

Elvis never performed outside of North America.


Alas, another one that’s super tricky to Judge objectively. Again I have heard this song no less than 1 million times but it’s kind of fun to listen to it with fresh more critical ears. I can imagine if I were a white person in 1956 hearing this for the first time would have been pretty groundbreaking for me. But it actually does sound like a slightly more sanitized version of some of the previous blues artists we’ve already reviewed. For the actual song I think the beginning is pretty clever – down at the end of Lonely Street in Heartbreak Hotel.  I never really thought about how stripped down and sparse the instrumentation is – reverb-y guitar, tinkly piano, double bass and drums.  It’s almost like there are sonic bald spots in the song.  I didn’t even notice it until now, but after the intro, the first chorus (I guess?) is only Elvis and the bass – not even any drums yet!  I also like that the piano isn’t just chord-chord-chord, it’s playing little licks and melodies, like little compliments to what Elvis is doing.  I don’t love all of that heavy reverb on Elvis’ voice and I think it neuters the actual youthful rawness in his voice.  But I do like how Elvis-y he sounds here – there is now mistaking who it is!  I wonder what people of the time thought about his voice when they first heard it.  Anyway, I think it’s a good song and piece of rock history.


Man, when you listen chronologically like we are, you can definitely draw some straight lines from Buddy Holly to Gene Vincent to Elvis. This song is ubiquitous, but holds no special emotional place in my heart, so it’s a little bit easier to listen to objectively. So, the thing I dislike about this track is the weird reverb that Gene Vincent also liked. I just don’t love it because it sounds very fabricated and I’m not entirely sure what the point of it is. But otherwise, I love how chunky and present the bass is, I love the existence of the piano as an accompanying instrument and how bare the drumming is. There’s something so spacious as if all the musicians are giving the room to Elvis’ voice. The opening is still incredibly striking, and Elvis sounds great. His voice is warm, flexible, and energetic. Also, one thing that Elvis does that we don’t hear as much in other songs of this era (maybe because the band’s giving him so much space) is phrasing through the use of dynamics as well. This is overall not my favourite Elvis song, but a polished and energetic performance nonetheless!

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 8/10

Kelly: 8/10

Other notable versions of this song:

Billy Joel brings the reverb too!

Albert King bringing the blues!

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Published by Kelly

What I like: Music, travel, coffee, beer, makeup and photography! My gear: Canon EOS 60D and 18-200mm lens. Where call home: Vancouver, BC, Canada Photography Experience: Very amateurish.

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