Are You Lonesome Tonight

Album: The Top Ten Hits (1960)
Charted: 1 1

Songfacts®:

  • One of the more woebegone songs ever written, "Are You Lonesome Tonight" finds Elvis asking his ex if she's alone and miserable, thinking about the good times they had and waiting for his return. We never get her side of the story, but can surmise that he's the one left cold and lonely.
  • This song was written in 1926 by the Tin Pan Alley songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman. It was a hit in 1927 for a number of artists, including Vaughan Deleath (a female despite the name), Henry Burr, and Gene Austin. In 1950 it was revived by Al Jolson, and by the bandleader Blue Barron with his vocalist Bobby Beers. Jaye P. Morgan (also a female singer) had a minor hit with the song in 1959, reaching #65. Her version is likely the one Elvis was most familiar with.

    Elvis recorded it when his manager, Colonel Parker, asked him to try the song because it was a favorite of Parker's wife, Marie. It was a huge hit, spending six weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 between November 1960 and January 1961. Turk and Handman would have earned enormous royalties, but they were both dead by the time Elvis recorded the song.
  • Most of Elvis' version is a spoken section where he describes the relationship in terms of a play, with the couple falling in love in Act 1. In Act 2, something goes wrong and her love for him dries up. He's left on the empty stage, wondering when the curtain will fall.

    The spoken section isn't in every version of the song, but Blue Barron and Al Jolson included variations of it in theirs.
  • Elvis recorded this song at the end of an all-night session at RCA Studio B in Nashville that started on April 3, 1960. He recorded eight songs before taking on "Are You Lonesome Tonight" in the early morning of April 4.
  • Elvis was a transgressive rocker, but around this time he recording oldies. His previous single, also a huge hit, was "It's Now Or Never," which used the melody from the old Italian song O Sole Mio."

    Elvis welcomed this change in direction, seeing it as a way to broaden his musical horizons and adapt different styles. It worked out well for him: He gained many new fans and retained most of his old ones.
  • Performing in Las Vegas on August 26, 1969, Elvis had some fun with this song, changing the line:

    Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?

    To:

    Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?

    From there, he gets a case of the giggles and laughs his way through the rest of the song. This became known as the "Laughing Version"; it was unofficially recorded and released years after Elvis' death. The female backing singer who keeps singing as Elvis struggles to regain his composure is Cissy Houston, Whitney Houston's mother.
  • Producer Bill Porter drenched the first take in echo by mistake but didn't say anything because he figured there would be more attempts. However, all they did was record the end part over again due to a mistake on the guitar and what the listener hears is basically take one.
  • Had Elvis waited just a little longer to record this, it could have ended up being a Connie Francis hit. Francis told DISCoveries Magazine: "One day in 1960 I was going through my collection of Al Jolson and Judy Garland records, and I played Al's 'Are You Lonesome Tonight.' I said, 'Daddy, come listen to this. I could make it a No.1 song.' He agreed and I called Don Costa in to do the arrangement. I said, 'I'm more excited about recording this song than anything I've ever cut.' We were in the car on our way to New York when the radio played Elvis' 'new single,' 'Are You Lonesome Tonight.' Can you believe that? I was literally on my way to the studio to record it. How do you like that? Elvis even did the recitation part just like Al Jolson did."
  • When this song took off, at least five answer songs by female singers flooded the market. Dodie Stevens, Linda Lee, Ricky Page, and Thelma Carpenter all released versions called "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight," keeping the same lyrics but changing the perspective. Jeanne Black released a completely different answer song called "Oh, How I Miss You Tonight." Carpenter's version (#55) and Stevens' (#60) both charted.
  • This earned Grammy nominations for Best Performance By A Pop Single Artist and Best Vocal Performance Single Record Or Track, Male, but lost in both categories to "Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles.

Comments: 9

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn this day in 1960 {November 14th}, "Are You Lonesome To-Night?"* by Elvis entered Billboard's Top 100 chart at position #35, the following week it jumped to #2, and on it's third week on the chart it peaked at #1 {for 6 weeks}...
    And it also reached #1 in Canada, Australia, Belgium, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom...
    The first four weeks it was #1, the record at #2 was "Last Date" by Floyd Cramer, and that was it's peak position on the chart. Both "Are You Lonesome To-Night?" and "Last Date" were on the RCA-Victor Record label, Floyd Cramer played piano on "Are You Lonesome To-Night"...
    * "Are You Lonesome To-Night?" replaced "Stay" by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs at #1 on the Top 100, "Are You Lonesome To-Night" was 3:07 in length, while "Stay" was 1:50 and it stills holds the record as the shortest #1 record...
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaI also understand that this song helped make Elvis acceptable to his peers who were ballad singers.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 17th 1960, Dodie Stevens* performed "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight" on the NBC-TV program 'Saturday Night Prom"...
    Eight days later on December 25th the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a six week stay; and on January 29th, 1961 it peaked at #60 {for 1 week}...
    She had four other songs make the Top 100; "Pink Shoe Laces" {#3 in 1959}, "Yes-Sir-Ee" {#79 in 1959}, "The Five Pennies" {#89 in 1959}, and "No" {#73 in 1960}...
    * Dodie was 14 years old at the time of her appearance on 'Saturday Night Prom', she was born Geraldine Ann Pasquale on February 17th, 1946.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 8th 1960, Elvis' "Are You Lonesome Tonight" " was in its 2nd of six weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart...
    And also on this day in 1960 teenage rock star Fabian visited Elvis at the Graceland mansion in Memphis, and according to web site http://www.oldiescalendar.blogspot.com Elvis was demonstrating some karate moves and ripped his pants, and Fabian lend his pants to the King...
    Fabian's biggest hit was "Tiger" in 1959; it peaked at #3; while the King managed to have eighteen #1 records and five that peaked at #2.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyIn 1961 an answer record was released, "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight", by Thelma Carpenter and Dodie Stevens. Carpenter's version peaked at #55 while Stevens' reached #60!!!
  • David from Brunssum, NetherlandsAl Johnson ends the spoken part with the sentence "...in the part of a broken clown". Elvis changed this to "with emptiness all around".
  • Tony from Dordrecht, NetherlandsHe also used the "the bald head" lyric on June 25th 1968, during the rehearsals, for his upcoming NBC Special, wich can be heared on the Follow That Dream release "Let Yourself Go"! -Tony Versluis, Dordrecht, The Netherlands
  • Alex from Calgary, CanadaThe 1969 "laughing version" is the only version known in which Elvis used the "bald head" lyric. And it was in fact recorded officially by RCA, not unofficially. It was recorded along with other performances that were released on the Live at the International Hotel album, which included a non-laughing performance of this song recorded on another night. RCA released the "laughing versoin" for the first time in 1979. And it should not be confused with a similarly messed up version (apparently intentional) recorded in 1977 for the Elvis in Concert special and album.
  • Genevieve from Leongatha, AustraliaIn some live versions Elvis would change the line:
    "Do you gaze at your doorstep/
    And picture me there?/"
    to:
    "Do you gaze at your bald head/
    And wish you had hair?/"
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