The Zombies’ singer remembers the hurricane that was Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel (RCA Victor, 1956).
I would have been just over 10 in 1956. I lived in a block of flats in Hatfield and the neighbours called me ‘the boy who sang’, because I did, all the time. I’d sing ‘You take the high road’ and ‘I love to go a-wandering’ and the theme to Dick Barton: Special Agent – I didn’t have any preference!
Then I heard Heartbreak Hotel at my friend Gill’s house. We listened to it over and over again. Artists in this country then were great in their own way – singers like Frankie Vaughan, David Whitfield and Michael Holliday – but it was like Elvis was from a different planet entirely, with this incredible vocal and drum sound and a completely new, exciting kind of music. I really loved Heartbreak Hotel. It’s only about two minutes long but for me it was the beginning of rock’n’roll. Was I singing Heartbreak Hotel out loud when I left? Absolutely! Later, when you saw him on TV, his stage performance was incredible too. He was a new kind of performer. Coming out of the post-war austerity, he signified teenage freedom and angst, in a very stiff-upper-lip, class-ridden social order. People said, ”He’s the Devil incarnate!” But it was just a bit of fun, you could see it on Elvis’s face.
Elvis made such a huge impression on everybody. We’d go to fairgrounds and this one transport café on the A1 just to hear Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Another big one for me was Ricky Nelson’s It’s Late, because I sang it at the first Zombies rehearsal. I thought I was going to be rhythm guitarist and Rod [Argent, Zombies keyboardist] was going to be the lead singer.
I went to Sun Studio in Memphis in 2012 and stood in the spot where Elvis sang Heartbreak Hotel. It was quite a moment, I have to say.
As told to Ian Harrison The Zombies’ A Different Game is released on Cooking Vinyl on March 31. The band tour the UK in April.