The song Heartbreak Hotel was released in 1956 as a single by Elvis Presley, his first recording with his new record label, RCAVictor. The song topped the charts, became Presley's first million-seller and was the best selling single of the year. In 2004, Heartbreak Hotel was ranked number forty-five in the Rolling Stone's list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
I think the first record I bought was Little Richard's 'Long Tall Sally.' Fantastic record, even to this day. Good records just get better with age. But the one that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was 'Heartbreak Hotel.' That was the stunner. I'd never heard it before, or anything like it. I'd never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I was waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy.
Before I actually heard an Elvis record, I was aware of him as an image because I'd seen him in an ad for 'Heartbreak Hotel' on the back page of NME. They weren't playing much of Elvis' stuff on the radio in those days. To hear 'Heartbreak Hotel' I had to go into a record shop in Liverpool and listen to it through headphones in one of those booths. It was a magical moment, the beginning of an era. Listening to it that first time was the start of my Elvis experience. Of course it's an amazing song. Lyrically, for starters, it was a real shock. You have to remember that, in the mid-1950's, pop lyrics were mostly fodder. It was 'St Therese of the Roses' and 'How Much is That Doggie in the Window?' Then you heard Elvis singing, '...Where broken-hearted lovers do cry away their gloom.' I remember thinking how odd it was to hear the word 'dwell' in a song. It wasn't the kind of detail you'd expect. It was those little touches that made it different from anything I'd heard before.
It completely changed the way I listened to music forever. It was just so primal. Everything before was beautiful arrangements and bands and singers and this was like...I'd never been around music like that, music that was so powerful. I'd certainly never heard an electric guitar played like that. I'd heard Les Paul and Mary Ford, but never heard anyone play like that. The echo on the record! Wow! I hadn't been around stuff like that. There wasn't anything else around like that, at least not in my family. There were no obscure blues singers or anything of that kind. The weird thing was, that week I'd been in the hairdresser's in Pinner Green looking at Life magazine and I'd seen a picture of this man I assumed must have come from outer space, but that was Elvis Presley. When I put the two together it was astonishing. He looked amazing and sounded amazing and it changed everything for me. It was rock n' roll! That was what I wanted to be.