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Song Stories

“Heartbreak Hotel”

Elvis Presley | 1956

Elvis Presley’s moody first single for RCA was not cut from the same rockabilly cloth as his Sun Records material: Sun founder Sam Phillips called “Heartbreak Hotel” “a morbid mess.” Written by Mae Boren Axton (who was Elvis’ former publicist) and Tommy Durden, Presley’s first of many Number Ones and the biggest-selling song of 1956 was based on a true-life tale. A news story in the Miami Herald reported a man’s suicide in a hotel: He left a note consisting solely of the line, “I walk a lonely street."

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Song Stories

“San Francisco Mabel Joy”

Mickey Newbury | 1969

A country-folk song of epic proportions, "San Francisco Mabel Joy" tells the tale of a poor Georgia farmboy who wound up in prison after a move to the Bay Area found love turning into tragedy. First released by Mickey Newbury in 1969, it might be more familiar through covers by Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez and Kenny Rogers. "It was a five-minute song written in a two-minute world," Newbury said. "I was told it would never be cut by any artist ... I was told you could not use the term 'redneck' in a song and get it recorded."

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