mae boren axton’s handwritten lyrics to “heartbreak hotel”

Estimated reading time is 7 minutes.

THE HANDWRITTEN LYRICS to Heartbreak Hotel by Mae Boren Axton from October 1955 were up for sale recently. There are few songs in the history of rock & roll that are more important to the genre’s development as the world’s most popular music during the post-war 20th century and none have a better origin story.

While doing the research on the first records that RCA Victor released to promote Elvis to radio stations in 1955-1956, I came across a most interesting page. “Elvis Presley (Mae Boren Axton) ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ Lyrics” offered the handwritten lyrics to Elvis Presley’s first big pop hit.

Well, since my baby left me, I’ve found a new place to dwell. It’s down at the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel.

These lyrics along with a few notes and corrections were penciled on a single sheet of unlined paper with three holes in the left side. On this sheet of paper, Boren Axton wrote the original lyrics for the song that would help define the early Elvis Presley.

This piece of history recently surfaced and apparently has been offered for sale via auction (perhaps several times). This brief article by me is not about its monetary value—one site listed a minimum bid of $200,000—but just an opportunity for me to post a copy of Axton’s lyrics for readers of A Touch Of Gold to see.


Mae Boren Axton: copy of 45 rpm single "Heartbreak Hotel" (RCA Victor 47-6420) by Elvis Presley from 1956.

Despite the five reissues of his earlier Sun records being among RCA Victor’s best-selling singles, the record company did not spring for the added expense of including a custom picture sleeve with Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One.

Mae Boren Axton’s lyrics

Here is the Item Overview/Description as published in the Invaluable auction (with one lengthy paragraph broken up into three below):

“Elvis Presley. Heartbreak Hotel. Original Working Lyrics Handwritten by Mae Boren Axton. This wonderful piece of music history is a sheet of handwritten original working lyrics for what would be the classic Elvis Presley hit song, Heartbreak Hotel.

These lyrics were written by Mae Boren Axton, a high school teacher with a background in musical promotion, and Tommy Durden, a Jacksonville singer-songwriter. It is said by historians that Mae played a crucial part in the game plan that launched the career of Elvis Presley.

Although it’s always crowded, you still can find some room for broken-hearted lovers to cry there in the gloom.

Mae first met Elvis in 1955 around the time he was getting his start with Sun Records (sic), and she was doing some PR for Colonel Parker via her TV and radio shows promoting his package shows when they would be in Florida. She was asked by Elvis’ manager at the time, Bob Neal, for her help in getting Elvis on a Parker tour to convince Elvis that Neal had the connections to represent him well.

Mae Axton taped a radio interview with Elvis in July 1955 in Jacksonville and got Elvis onto the show which Hank Snow was headlining. Heartbreak Hotel was written in October 1955 and presented by Axton to Elvis Presley, who loved the song and eventually recorded it in January 1956 for his new label, RCA Victor.

This was a pivotal point in Elvis’ career as he had just moved to RCA and this would be his first single. The lyrics are handwritten in pencil and signed by Mae Boren Axton and Tommy Durden, and also have various edits and corrections.”

To see the Invaluable auction, click here. When you get to the Invaluable page, the estimated value reads “Passed.” I inquired as to its meaning and the Invaluable people responded:

“During a live auction, the auction house has sole discretion to accept bids from a variety of sources (floor, internet, phone) as well as the option to pass a lot during a sale. The house may do this for a number of reasons, such as the bidding not meeting a reserve or the item being removed from the auction.”


Copy of handwritten lyrics and notes for "Heartbreak Hotel" by Mae Boren Axton from 1955.

Mae Boren Axton wrote the lyrics in pencil on a piece of unlined, three-hole paper so it looks like a school project.

Down at the end of Lonely Street

Above are the lyrics as Mae wrote them; below are the lyrics as Elvis sang them on RCA Victor 6540:

Well, since my baby left me,
well, I’ve found a new place to dwell.
Well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street
at Heartbreak Hotel.
Where I’ll be—I’ll be so lonely, baby.
Well, I’m so lonely.
I’ll be so lonely, I could die.

Although it’s always crowded,
well, you still can find some room
for broken-hearted lovers to cry there in the gloom.
And be so—they’ll be so lonely, baby.
They’ll be so lonely.
They’re so lonely, they could die.

Now, the bellhop’s tears keep flowing
and the desk clerk’s dressed in black.
Well, they’ve been so long on Lonely Street,
they’ll never—they’ll never look back.
And they get so, they’ll be so lonely, baby
Well, they’re so lonely
Well, they’re so lonely, they could die.

Well, now, if your baby leaves you
and you got a tale to tell,
well, just take a walk down Lonely Street
to Heartbreak Hotel.
Where you will be—you will be so lonely, baby.
Well, you will be lonely.
You’ll be so lonely, you could die.

Although it’s always crowded
and you still can find some room
for broken-hearted lovers to cry there in the gloom.
And be so—they’ll be so lonely, baby.
Well, they’re so lonely.
They’ll be so lonely, they could die.


Mae Boren Axton: photo of Elvis Preslety holding his first gold record award for "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956.

On April 14, 1956, Elvis received his first gold record award from RCA Victor for sales of a million copies of Heartbreak Hotel.

I walk a lonely street

Elvis and the guys had been performing Heartbreak Hotel as part of their live show since Axton had given them the song in October. When they entered RCA’s studio in Nashville on January 10, they knew what they wanted. It took only a few tries and take 7 was dubbed the master.

The song was nothing like any of the tunes Presley had cut for Sam Phillips at Sun. Legendarily, what caused a whole heap of anxiety for Steve Sholes was the fact that the finished recording not only didn’t sound like an Elvey Presley Sun record, it didn’t sound like any record anyone had heard before.

In hindsight, we know he need not have worried: Although it took the record longer to take off than hoped for, take off it did: Heartbreak Hotel topped the Billboard and Cash Box pop charts plus the individual surveys for best sellers, jukebox play, and radio play along with topping several of the same charts in the country & western genre. 

While Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & the Comets had been #1 on both the Billboard and Cash Box pop charts for most of July and August 1955, it was a harbinger of things to come. The next record associated with rock & roll; to top the pop charts was the Platters’ The Great Pretender in February 1956.

Then came Heartbreak Hotel, with which Elvis effectively opened the floodgates to the top of the charts for more rock & roll (and teen-related pop) in 1956: I Almost Lost My Mind by Pat Boone and My Prayer by the Platters followed by Hound Dog and Don’t Be Cruel. The next year, rock & roll dominated the #1 position on the national pop charts.


Mae Boren Axton: photo of Al Krolick, the apparent inspiration for the lyrics to "Heartbreak Hotel."

Who is this good-looking gent and what does he have to do with Mae Boren Axton or Heartbreak Hotel or Elvis Presley? See “Solving the mystery” below.

Solving the mystery

In the bottom left corner of the lyric sheet for Heartbreak Hotel is a note from Axton to herself: “Idea – suicide note Tommy saw: ‘I walk a lonely street’.” This was part of the foundation for the origin story of the song—that some poor, lost soul had taken his own life and left behind a note with those words. But what if this story was apocryphal?

The good-looking gent in the photograph above is Al Krolik. If you want to know who he is and what he has to do with Heartbreak Hotel and the legendary suicide note, read “Solving the Mystery of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.” Subtitled “The man who inspired Elvis’ breakout hit has finally been unmasked and the story is stranger than anyone could have imagined,” it was written by Randy Boswell for Rolling Stone (July 15, 2016). 

The article tells a very different story about the man who found himself on Lonely Street than the one we have long accepted as part of the Elvis Story. It led Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick to state, “There’s no question in my mind that this is the real thing.” To read the Rolling Stone story, click here.


Mae Boren Axton: photo of Elvis Presley in his gold suit in 1957.

POSTSCRIPTUALLY, RCA Victor and the Elvis Presley Estate finally paid the necessary fees and Heartbreak Hotel / I Was The One was certified as a double-sided hit by the RIAA for both a Gold Record Award and a Platinum Record Award on March 27, 1992. It was certified for a 2xMulti-Platinum Record Award on July 15, 1999.



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