She'll Grow Back: Multiple Mondays: Heartbreak Hotel

Monday, April 13, 2009

Multiple Mondays: Heartbreak Hotel

In 1955, rock was young and unformed. It had been born of hillbilly and rhythm and blues and jazz, but it hadn't been encapsulated in any one person yet. Elvis Presley (you don't need the links today, I think) changed all that.

In 1955 (click here to read the full history of the song and the recording session -- highly recommended) a man named Glen Reeves (via) recorded a demo of a new song intended for Elvis, and so he mimicked Elvis's style. Elvis Presley made that song into a classic. That same year, my favorite musical satirist, Stan Freberg, was in his most productive phase. And, like Spike Jones before him and Weird Al Yankovic after him, he took the most memorable aspects of the original song and skewered them. Elvis had popularized organized musical chaos, and that's just what Freberg plays back for us, though he does it for laughs (even if it does come off as maybe a little superior in hindsight). For sheer chaos though, we have to move forward in time two decades to John Cale's deconstruction and reconstruction of the rhythm and the melody. He takes the desperation hinted at in the suicidal lyrics and brings it into the forefront of the song with his anguished screaming. Of course, the song still works well in its classic form too, as Willie Nelson and Leon Russell will gladly prove to you.

I'm kind of torn about all the remixing of classic songs that started a few years ago -- Elvis's most recent hit is a remix of "A Little Less Conversation," which of course made some money for the record company and poor little Lisa Marie, but it's also a fun dance number. So here we have two remixed takes on the song. First, we see that some of the impersonators are even getting into the remix action, as King Junior submits his own remixed take on the song. Then, we hear SpankOx's friendly remix of Elvis's original take.

Now let's hear from the ladies. The song has been recorded by some more famous females than these two, but I love these two versions. First, Possum Holler's (warning: autoplaying music!) lead singer Tori Anderson shouts the blues and Jan Shapiro follows that with a torchy jazz version.

Remember John Cale's terrifying version? Well, as he matured and quieted down (I originally used the word "mellowed" here, but I'm pretty sure it's inaccurate), his live performances of "Heartbreak Hotel" became less about anguished screaming and more about quiet desperation. We're going to close out this set with his 1992 version off Fragments of a Rainy Season, which I may possibly have listened to more than any other live album by anyone ever.

I've added a bonus track here, which isn't in the zip file: The Topsiders (via) perform the song in a Kingston Trio/Weavers early 60's folk style, which is... interesting. I've uploaded individual files, but I recommend just getting the zip file instead, plus The Topsiders individually. Don't forget to swing back by here Saturday, when I'll tie Stagger Lee into this whole mess.

Glen Reeves (1 2)
Elvis Presley (1 2)
Stan Freberg (1 2)
John Cale (1 2)
Willie Nelson and Leon Russell (1 2)
King Junior (Rogue Valley Remix) (1 2)
Elvis Presley (Spankox Remix) (1 2)
Possum Holler (1 2)
Jan Shapiro (1 2)
John Cale (live) (1 2)
The Topsiders (1 2)


drfeelgoed said...

Interesting collection of covers, quite a few I wasn't familiar with, thanks.

CD said...

Man alive, you're never going to believe this (or maybe you will), but i haven't heard that live Cale take in so long i had forgotten it existed. Somebody put it on a mix-tape for me in college which i had long since lost and forgotten. This was a brilliant trip down memory lane.

Kudos to you, sir.

Mark H. Besotted said...

I believe it.

But, you know, always happy to help. John Cale is excellent -- if this blog didn't already have a patron saint, he'd be it.

Mr.Cybrarian said...

You really need to include Roger Miller's manic version of the song.

Mark H. Besotted said...

Hey, that's peppy! I like it.