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"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.


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