Sixty years ago today came Elvis Presley’s first No. 1 hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” and music was never quite the same.
A jagged lament by a jilted lover, it blended Elvis’ distinctive vocal, a thumping bass line and a stinging guitar riff to land like a firecracker in a radio landscape filled with bland crooners such as Pat Boone and Doris Day.
“You make me so lonely, bay-bee …” sang Presley in his deep, seductive baritone. “… I get so lonely I could die.”
Released January 27, 1956, “Heartbreak Hotel” became an almost unprecedented hit on the pop, country and rhythm and blues charts, demonstrating Elvis’ appeal to a wide range of audiences. It also became the top-selling single of all of 1956, just ahead of his own “Don’t Be Cruel.”
The mournful song was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton and was reportedly inspired by a news story about a lonely man who jumped to his death from a hotel window.
Rock stars such as John Lennon, Keith Richards and Robert Plant first heard “Heartbreak Hotel” as youngsters and have cited it as a huge influence.
“That was the first rock and roll I heard,” Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography. “It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound.”
“Heartbreak Hotel” has been covered by other musical legends from Jimi Hendrix to Bruce Springsteen. In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 45 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Elvis has been gone for almost 40 years, but his best songs live on. So why not give it a listen today in his honor?