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"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" is a popular song with music by Lou Handman and lyrics by Roy Turk. It was written in 1926, first published in 1927 and most notably revived by Elvis Presley in 1960 (with the title spelled Are You Lonesome To-Night?).


 [hide*1 1920s - 1930s

1920s - 1930s[edit][]

Even if it is sometimes reported as recorded in 1926 by Bob Haring & the Cameo Dance Orchestra, there is no known existing copy of the disc "Cameo #967" so it can't be checked as the original recording or a different one.[1] A number of artists recorded "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" in 1927. The song was first recorded by Ned Jakobs on May 8, but not released until 17, so the first published recording belongs to Charles Hart, on May 9. Composer Lou Handman himself played piano while his sister Edith provided the vocals for a recording released on the Gennett label on June 27. Vaughn De Leath (also known as "The Original Radio Girl") recorded the song twice, first on June 13, as solo and later on September 21, as vocalist for The Colonial Club Orchestra. On August 5, another version was released by famed tenor Henry Burr. The popular British singer Stanley Kirkby released the song in 1928 on the Edison Bell Radio Label (Serial no. 826). The Carter Family also recorded a version in a different melody in 1936.

1950s and 1960s[edit][]

The first charting version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" was recorded by Blue Barron for MGM Records as catalog number 10628. The record first reached theBillboard pop chart on April 7, 1950 and lasted eight weeks there, peaking at number nineteen.[2] This version introduced an additional spoken part to the song loosely based on Shakespeare's As You Like It using Jaques' speech on Act II Scene VII: "All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts." Only a few weeks after Barron's recording, Al Jolson recorded a version of the song on April 28, 1950; it was released by Decca Records as catalog number 27043. Jolson also included the spoken section.

In 1959 American songstress Jaye P. Morgan had a Billboard #65 hit with it on the MGM label, backed by "Miss You."[3] Morgan omitted the new spoken part. Elvis Presley may have heard it while he was in the army in Europe, as he also heard and was inspired by other songs like "O Sole Mio" and "Return To Sorrento", which he made into hits on his return in 1960.

Elvis Presley version[edit][]

Morgan's version was followed by the best-known recording, by Elvis Presley,[4] recorded on April 4, 1960 along with "I Gotta Know", and engineered by Nashville sound pioneer Bill Porter. For this recording, he played on Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar . Reportedly, Colonel Parker (it was one of his wife's favorite songs) persuaded Elvis to record his own rendition of this song. Elvis' version was based on the Blue BarronOrchestra version from 1950 with spoken segment. It is also possible that Elvis heard the 1958 version of the song by Jim Flaherty's Caravan with vocals by Howie Stange. This version was produced on the Jenn 101 record label and received much air play in the New England area and overseas in Europe, especially Germany, where Howie Stange developed quite a following with his particular brand of Rockabilly music, This version also had the unique spelling of the song, "Are You Lonesome Tonight" as well as the spoken part. Jim Flaherty was also the manager for the band and was a prominent DJ for WHAY in New Britain, CT area. Jim attended a DJ convention in Nashville in Nov 1958 where he went to promote "Are You Lonesome Tonight" to Elvis' handlers. Jim eventually was able to share the 45 with Chet Atkins, RCA Artist and Repertoire man. In April of 1960 Elvis went on to cover the song. Elvis Presley cut 12 songs at the RCA Victor studio in Nashville - his second session since returning from the Army. During one number, the studio lights were turned off to set the mood for the song - “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Present was Chet Atkins. Elvis was backed by the Jordanaires. The Elvis cover went on to be one of the biggest-selling singles of 1960, peaking at number one on the Billboard pop chart for six weeks and peaking at number three on the R&B charts.[5]

Elvis, occasionally during live performances, would randomly change lyrics to give them humorous connotations. The first recorded example of this was during his famous benefit concert for the USS Arizona Memorialat Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on March 25, 1961. During this frenzied concert, Presley in a clearly fun mood while performing the spoken word section over constant audience screams, delivers lines like "Then came Act Two. You seemed to change. You got fat!" and "Now the stage is bare, and you've lost your hair." The most popular among these humorous versions however was recorded at the International Hotel in Vegas on August 26, 1969. During the performance, instead of singing: "Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there", he sings "Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair". Moments later, he saw a bald man in the audience (as legend has it), and burst into laughter which continued into the next lines. The audience was treated to additional laughter during the spoken verse singing: "You know someone said that the world's a stage, and each must play a part." "All the world's a stage" is the phrase that begins a monologue from William Shakespeare's As You Like It, spoken by the melancholy Jaques in Act II Scene VII. Seeing the irony of his own lyrics, Elvis was again overtaken by laughter and barely recovered. The audience enjoyed the sincerity of the moment while Elvis regained his composure. Meanwhile the band and backup singers continued to keep the song going. It is speculated that much of Elvis' mirth derived from the solo backing singer; Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, whose obligato remained resolute throughout. To this, Elvis comes back just in time for the line: "And I had no cause to doubt you" followed by more laughter. So overtaken, Elvis encourages Cissy to "sing it, baby" drawing even more laughter which nearly brings the house down. In the end, the song is finished to a round of applause as Elvis says, "That's it, man, fourteen years right down the drain...boy, I'll tell ya. Fourteen years just shot right there." The version is considered to be a popular underground classic, and was a UK Top 30 hit in 1982 after first being commercially released by RCA in the 1980 box set Elvis Aaron Presley.

According to Dr. Demento, who plays the version on his show, there is nothing on the label of the recording to indicate that it is anything other than an ordinary recording of the song--"People must have been surprised when they took it home and played it."

In 1977, Presley again performed the song for the Elvis in Concert TV special. Similarly to 1969, he also appears to mess up the spoken interlude, ad-libbing jokes throughout. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown; the 1981 documentary film This Is Elvis uses footage of this performance to illustrate Presley's physical deterioration near the end of his life. Darrin Memmer's book Elvis Presley - The 1977 CBS Television Special, published in 2001 by Morris Publishing, suggests it was intentional, as does the recorded evidence that Presley had been fooling with the song in live performance as far back as 1961. It is suggested that Elvis would purposely ruin the song because, as stated, it was one of Parker's wife's favorite songs, hence a dig at Parker, who Presley had begun to despise toward the end of his life. To this suggestion Elvis expert Jan-Erik Kjeseth has said that Elvis may very well have begun to despise his manager, but whether he did or not has no relevance to the way he treated the song on the TV show. That was just Elvis ad-libbing as the mood took him.


Elvis's version was listed at #81 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.[6]

Later versions[edit][]