August 21, 2015

Boomer Ballads: "Heartbreak Hotel"

Well, the bellhop's tears keep flowin'
And the desk clerk's dressed in black
Well, they've been so long on Lonely Street
Well, they'll never, they'll never get back
And they'll be so, where they'll be so lonely, baby
Well, they're so lonely
They'll be so lonely, they could die

Well now, if your baby leaves you
And you have a sad tale to tell
Just take a walk down Lonely Street
To Heartbreak Hotel....

"It was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton.

The lyrics were based on a report in The Miami Herald about a man who had destroyed all his identity papers and jumped to his death from a hotel window, leaving a suicide note with the single line, "I walk a lonely street". Axton and Durden give different accounts of how the song was written. Durden's account is that he had already written the song and performed it with his band the Swing Billys before he presented it to Axton. Axton's account is that Durden had only penned a few lines of the song, and asked her to help him finish it. She says that the report of the suicide "stunned" her, and she told Durden, "Everybody in the world has someone who cares. Let's put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of this lonely street." They were interrupted by the arrival of Glen Reeves, a local performer who had previously worked with Axton. The duo asked Reeves to help with the song, but after hearing the title he remarked that it was "the silliest thing I've ever heard", and left them to finish it themselves.
Rumors had been circulating in the press for several weeks that Presley, who had begun his career at Sun Records, was ready to move to RCA Victor to help launch him nationally. Axton played the demo to him in his room at the Andrew Jackson Hotel on November 10, 1955. Upon hearing the demo, Presley exclaimed "Hot dog, Mae, play that again!", and listened to it ten times, memorizing the song.
The Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography that "Heartbreak Hotel" had had a huge effect on him. Beyond Presley's singing itself, it was the total effect of his sound and his silence that so totally affected Richards: "Since my baby left me"—it was just the sound...That was the first rock and roll I heard. It was a totally different way of delivering a song, a totally different sound, stripped down, no bullshit, no violins and ladies' choruses and schmaltz, totally different. It was bare right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn't yet heard. I've got to take my hat off to Elvis. The silence is your canvas, that's your frame, that's what you work on; don't try and deafen it out. That's what "Heartbreak Hotel" did to me. It was the first time I'd heard something so stark. -- La Wik

Posted by gerardvanderleun at August 21, 2015 2:05 AM
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Elvis was born in '35 and Heartbreak Hotel was #1 in '56. Pre-Boomer for both singer and song.

Posted by: Speller at August 21, 2015 4:10 AM

Good point - although his fan base, like the Beatles, was largely those 10-year-old girls you can hear screaming in the background.

Boomer girls, now 65 and still hysterical.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at August 21, 2015 6:47 AM

I heard it in my car one night about ten years ago,on a blues show. The piano work really impressed me, and I got a better opinion of Wlvis then.

Posted by: Sam L. at August 21, 2015 1:21 PM

The first "rock & roll" I think I ever heard was Chubby Checkers doing the Twist, must have been 1959 (?)

Posted by: tonynoboloney at August 21, 2015 7:48 PM

Boy oh boy. Back in the day when Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show the cameramen were instructed to keep the shots above the waist.

"Blue Suede Shoes" is a rock and roll standard written and first recorded by Carl Perkins in 1955
and is considered one of the first rockabilly (rock and roll) records and incorporated elements of blues, country and pop music of the time.
Perkins' original version of the song was on the Cashbox Best Selling Singles list for 16 weeks, and spent 2 weeks in the No. 2 position.
Elvis Presley performed his version of the song three different times on national television.
It was also recorded by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran among many others."

"Hound Dog" is a twelve-bar blues song by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
It was recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton on August 13, 1952 in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in March 1953.
"Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at #1.
Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll",
and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013."
— Wiki:

Posted by: chasmatic at August 22, 2015 8:11 AM

And, she wasn't called Big Mama for nuthin. I remember some columnist back then saying she was formidable. Only time I've ever heard that word used to describe a woman.

Posted by: BillH at August 23, 2015 1:48 PM