Mojo (UK)

Colin Blunstone

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.

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