The official rockabilly hall of fame

It is only one word that can make everyone in the entire world swivel their hips, curl their lips, and say "Thank you, thank you, thank you very much". Elvis. Or commonly known as the "King of Rock and Roll", Elvis Presley melted the hearts of women of all ages over world with his smooth, rock lyrics. Thanks to his "...sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time," it is Elvis who revolutionized rock and roll, gyrating his way to becoming a one-word, international sensation in popular culture (

On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and shortly after his birth, in 1948, the Presley family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Only a year after graduating high school, Elvis started recording with Sun Record Label in Memphis in 1954. He was known for his fusion of "...pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street..." ( After being sold to RCA Victor in 1955, and with help from his undeniable charm, Elvis became an international super-star in 1956. It was in his year of break-out stardom, that Elvis released his album, Elvis Presley in 1956, which made history by becoming the first rock and roll album to hit number one on the music charts, making it RCA Victor's first million dollar pop album.

On the album were the ground-breaking hits, Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes. Later in his career, Elvis' released a track in 1957 titled, Jailhouse Rock. All three of these songs had a significant part in Elvis' rise to fame, and helped make his mark in rock and roll. Below, I will analyze the song's musical characteristics based on why it had become such a hit, the history and song meaning behind the lyric, and how the song performed on the charts past and presently. Elvis was a leader of his times, and by analyzing the songs Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, and Jailhouse Rock, it is very easy to tell how he became such a superstar and musical legend.

Heartbreak Hotel was Elvis' first hit from the album, paving his way to such a successful future. The writer of the song, Tommy Durden, wanted to write a song based by a phrase a man left in a suicide note. According to All, the note stated, "I walk a lonely street, and [Durden] was inspired to write a song about a hotel that people who have had their hearts broken can check into...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" (All Music). Heartbreak Hotel is a blues song that is "an example of simple verse form based on an eight bar progression" (Song Facts). The song, with the alternation of sharp, low notes to high, smooth, piano notes that hit on verbatim to the bitter lyrics, made this song an instant success. Elvis opened the song with a deep voice, making the first line of the song, "Since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell..." very dramatic, catching the listener's attention instantly. The piano and guitars were silent all while Elvis was singing, but in between the breaks of the phrases, the instruments hit two hard and heavy beats all through the verses, and started to play during the chorus. Elvis' vocals use a heavy reverb on the song, creating a deep, long lasting echo. The reverb is especially noticeable on the opening and chorus of the song, where Elvis' voice sounds unusually intense. The lyric is about feeling lonely after heartbreak, and sharing that feeling with other people who feel lonely due to heartbreak too. The website, Song Meanings, stated that Heartbreak Hotel was the epitome of "misery loves company" (Song Meanings). The song related to so many people, especially his biggest fans, teenagers who have the ability to fall in love with their significant other in a day and break up the next. Due to all of the unique sound techniques used on the record, the song had huge success on the pop charts. Heartbreak Hotel hit number one on the US charts and number two on the UK charts, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995. The hit song is still a fan favorite, and was ranked #45 on the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in both 2004 and 2005. As you may know, Elvis did not stop with just one hit, as he continued to keep breaking boundaries in popular culture.

Blue Suede Shoes was the next single to be released off of the album, Elvis Presley, which is known as the first rock and roll hit. Blue Suede Shoes was the first song to fuse together blues, country, and pop, making it also the first song to be a hit on all three charts (The Rockabilly Hall of Fame). The song was written and originally recorded by Carl Perkins, who wrote the song based on a couple he saw dancing at a party. As the couple danced, Perkins heard the man caution his date to be careful to not step on his shoes, which just happened to be suede and blue. By writing Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins was launched into rock and roll history. Although the song did become very popular, it never had the success of what it could have. While traveling to one of his many appearances, Carl was in a horrible car accident, which prevented him from continuing with his music career. The already popular song came to the hit master himself, Elvis. Although Elvis did want to cover the song, he wanted to do so after it was no longer on the charts, in hopes of honoring Carl Perkin's work on the song. When the time came for Elvis to cover the song, he wanted to make it his own, so he decided to speed up the rhythm, giving the tune more of a boogie feel. Just as he did with Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis began the song a cappella, with the instruments adding beats that emphasized the breaks, creating more drama, to once again, catch the listeners' ear. There are two musical breaks in the song, where Elvis and his band mates get to show off their musical talents by performing solos. It also served as a time for Elvis to dance during performances. Perkins opened the song based off a nursery rhyme, by writing the phrase "One for the money," basing Blue Suede Shoes off a 12-bar blues. Unlike Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes is a more up-tempo, dance song, which definitely caters to Elvis' teenage fans. Blue Suede Shoes reached number 24 on the Top 100 chart, and still continues to be known as one of Elvis' major hits (All Music). After his breakout album in 1956, Elvis started his acting career in 1958, which led to one of his largest hits of all time.

Jailhouse Rock was released in 1957 as a "title track" from a third movie featuring Elvis, where he "plays a wrongly-accused convict who becomes a star when he gets out" (Song Facts). In describing the musical characteristics of the song, All analyzes the hit best saying, "...the song sports one of rock & roll's most simplistic riffs...with that chordal sliding riff, moving from the key of D to the tune's official key of E flat (although no one has recorded the tune in that tune since), punctuated by two raw slaps on a snare drum. Elvis' vocal entryindeed his entire vocal performance on this trackis an anguished howl, describing a party in the "old cellblock". All Music continues on saying, "...the tune is a 12-bar rock & roll at its best, its lyrics virtually timeless" (All Music). Just like he did on the songs Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes, while singing a cappella, Elvis Presley uses the extra instruments to add drama during the breaks in the lyrics. As All Music, had stated, Elvis used a scratchy quality to his voice throughout to symbolize the echo within a jail cell. He added this characteristic to the song to add drama to the scene, helping the song's success. Jailhouse Rock was yet again another dance tune from Elvis, capitalizing on the teenage market. In the famous dance scene from the movie, Elvis is seen dancing with a number of "inmates" on a jail-like set, equipped with a fireman's pole for added extra effect.

Presley danced throughout the entire video, doing his famous "gyrating" hip movements. This dance scene is famous from the moving, placing the film in one of his best movies of his acting career. The song reached #67 on the Rolling Stone's List of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was also inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Sons that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Although any artist would be more than happy to have the success of Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, and Jailhouse Rock songs did, they do not even begin to show Elvis' success in the entertainment industry. Elvis' success is hard to measure, yet it is anticipated that the King has the record for selling the most units worldwide, estimating to be about one billion. Not even counting outside the Unites States, it is recorded that Elvis had 150 albums and songs that have been awarded gold, platinum, or multi-platinum. Elvis has had over 149 songs on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Chart, just in the United States. There is no website better than to note his success. It states, " Of these, 114 were in the top forty, 40 were in the top ten, and 18 went to number one His number one singles spent a total of 80 weeks at number one. He has also had over 90 charted albums with ten of them reaching number one. These figures are only for the pop charts, and only America. He was also a leading artist in the American country, R&B, and gospel fields, and his chart success in other countries was substantial". Elvis can also add 14 Grammys, over 1,100 concerts, 3 tv network specials, and acted in 31 films to add to his resume (

As Elvis said once said himself, "I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend." He was the trend, he set it, and to this day, his name is associated with the phrase "The King", and not only in the United States, but the entire world. He has made an impact on the music industry that will be permanent, who paved the way for what music has transformed into today. Rock and Roll is not just about musicit's a culture: music, dancing, and fashion. Without Elvis' influence, popular culture would not be what it has become today.

Works Cited

  • "The Blue Suede Shoes Story." The Official Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. .
  • "Elvis Presley 1956 Overview." Allmusic. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. .
  • "Elvis Presley Biography: Life of Elvis Presley: Elvis Aaron Presley." Elvis Presley - Official Web Site for Elvis Presley. Web. 26 Feb. 2010. .
  • "Elvis Presley Quotes." Famous Quotes and Quotations at BrainyQuote. Web. 26 Mar. 2010. .
  • "Jailhouse Rock & Hearbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley Songfacts." Song Meanings at Songfacts. Web. 27 Feb. 2010. .

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