Written by Tommy Durden and Mae Axton. The inspiration came in 1955 when Durden spotted a Miami Herald article about a man who had committed suicide and didn't have any identification on him except a note reading, "I walk a lonely street". After having a demo made by Glen Reeves, Axton took it to the DJ convention in Nashville where she played it for Elvis. According to Axton, she offered Elvis a share of the writers' publishing ownership if the song would be his first new single release for RCA, which had bought his recording contract from Sun Records. Elvis recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" on the afternoon of January 10, 1956 at RCA Studio B in Nashville in his first recording session for RCA.
On guitar were Elvis, Scotty Moore and Chet Atkins. On bass was Bill Black. Drums were played by D.J. Fontana. Floyd Cramer played piano. Backup vocals were performed by Gordon Stoker of The Jordanaires, along with Ben and Brock Speer. The engineer was Bob Ferris.
There was a slight change in the lyrics from "they pray to die" to "they could die". It was take number 7 that was chosen to be released. It was shipped out on January 27, 1956 and by April sold a million copies. It was Elvis' first new single for RCA, which had already re-released his existing Sun singles on their label. It
became Elvis' first #1 hit on Billboard's pop singles chart and his first gold record award winner. It was on the Billboard pop singles chart for 27 weeks, 8 weeks at #1. It had a 27-week run on the country singles chart, with 17 weeks at #1. It reached #5 on the R&B chart. On the British pop singles chart it stayed for 21 weeks, peaking at #2. In 1995, this recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
"Heartbreak Hotel" has also been recorded by Ann-Margret, Chet Atkins, Hoyt Axton, Eric Burdon and the Animals, John Cale, Connie Francis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Jones, Billy Joel, Tanya Tucker, Willie Nelson and Leon Russell (duet) and Conway Twitty.