On This Day: Elvis Presley Becomes International Sensation, Lands First Entry on UK Charts with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ in 1956

by Katie Maloney
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Sixty-five years ago today, rock n’ roll legend Elvis Presley brought his music across the world.

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Elvis Presley wasn’t known around the world. But, everyone starts somewhere! And The King began as a rock n’ roll icon in the United States before soaring to fame with the rest of the world. In fact, it wasn’t until 1956 that he landed his first hit song in the UK. Elvis broke onto the European charts with his song, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Heartbreak Hotel” was the first single from Elvis’s recordings with RCA Records in Nashville. The studio even used a hallway in the building to create a unique echo sound for the song. Presley first performed “Heartbreak Hotel” during a live show in December 1955 during a tour of the Louisiana Hayride. However, the song didn’t really catch fire until 1956. “Heartbreak Hotel” soon became a staple of Presley’s line-up during live performances.

Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel”

What’s the Story Behind Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

Songwriters Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton penned “Heartbreak Hotel.” The song became Elvis’s first number one pop song, topping Billboard’s Top 100 chart. Additionally, the song became his first million-seller and was the best-selling single of 1956.

Durden and Axton started writing the song after reading a newspaper story about a man who cut the labels off his clothing and destroyed all documents that could identify him. Then he left a one-line suicide note. Axton said that she thought about how everyone has someone who loves them. And when those people learn of their loved one’s death, they’re broken-hearted. So, she thought of the idea of a “Heartbreak Hotel” at the end of a lonely street.

A few months after the song was complete, Mae Axton attended a disc jockey convention in Nashville. She had a demo of “Heartbreak Hotel” with her when she bumped into Elvis and his manager at the time in the hotel lobby. She played the song for the pair and Elvis loved the song. He immediately made plans to record “Heartbreak Hotel” for his new album.

Who Is Mae Axton?

So, if you haven’t familiarized yourself with songwriter Mae Axton, you’re going to want to. Firstly, she wrote one of Elvis Presley’s most iconic songs. Secondly, she became known as the Queen Mother of Nashville – which is the coolest title ever. She wrote over 200 songs, 14 of which made the US charts. She also claimed that she introduced Elvis to his future manager Colonel Tom Parker.