This is the second single from jazz-pop singer-songwriter Rumer's debut album, Seasons of My Soul. The song finds the singer interweaving her relationship with her mother into the tale of a girl seeking solace in Aretha Franklin: "mama, she'd notice but she's always cryin'/ I've got no one to confide in / Aretha, nobody but you."
Rumer was asked by the Nottingham Post to what extent her songs are autobiographical. She replied: "Oh, I think they all are. Sometimes fiction tells a story better than the truth. So a lot of them are stories, but they're stories that are embedded in the truth. 'Aretha,' for example, is a story, but there are loads of true elements in it. And I think it tells a lot of people's stories."
Rumer explained to Digital Spy why she chose to sing about Aretha Franklin: "She's the Queen of Soul! If you're going to write about somebody who embodies the spirit of music itself you go to the top of the list - and there she is! Her voice is probably the closest you get to God. There's an incredible amount of passion and heartbreak in her voice as she's lost a lot of family members. She's just got something in her voice that puts her at the top of the tree and there's no negotiation."
Rumer described the song as a "very American story" in an interview with Mojo magazine. She explained: "Americans want to be emotional, they want to go there. A song like that is saying. 'you can do it, believe in yourself.'"
The lyrics to "Heartbreak Hotel" were written by a steel guitar player who was once a dishwasher repairman. He was inspired by a newspaper story about a man who killed himself and left behind a note saying only, "I walk a lonely street."
George Harrison's 1971 song "Bangla Desh" was the first major charity single. It was part of a concert held to bring relief to the people of Bangladesh, who were fighting for independence and suffering from a famine.