How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?
I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)
Well since my baby left me…
Heartbreak Hotel, by Elvis Presley
reached #2 in June 1956
OK, OK, I know. Elvis doesn’t need any more number one singles. He’s had plenty. Back on my regular countdown, of actual #1s, we’re in 1964 and The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is on fourteen (14!)
But… His dominance of the charts in the early 1960s is why I wish that this disc could have made the top. He had some brilliant, classic #1s – don’t get me wrong – but he also dragged a lot of crap to the top just through the power of his name. If only we could swap ‘Good Luck Charm’, or ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, or ‘Wooden Heart’, for this burst of primal energy.
This was Elvis the hip-swiveller, Elvis as Moral Panic, Elvis the Pelvis edited from the waist down… And it’s a really clever song, too. A broken heart imagined as a real place – a hotel where broken-hearted lovers cry in the gloom, and the desk-clerks are all dressed in black. It was inspired by a real-life suicide, which is some heavy shit for a pop song in 1956 (for comparison, it was kept off the top-spot in Britain by the banal, saccharine stylings of Pat Boone, with ‘I’ll Be Home’.) And when that guitar solo kicks in… Oh boy. The King was most definitely in the building.