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Are You Lonesome Tonight? (song)

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"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
Single by Charles Hart
B-side "Sweet Marie"
Released 1927
Format 10" single (431-H)
Recorded May 9, 1927
Genre Pop
Length 3:10
Label Harmony Records
Writer(s) Lou Handman / Roy Turk

"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" is a song written by Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. Several recordings of the song appeared in 1927: the song was first recorded by Charles Hart, while versions by Vaughn De Leath and the duet of Jerry Macy/John Ryan enjoyed success. In 1950, the song was recorded by the Blue Barron Orchestra, and became a top twenty hit on Billboard's Pop Singles chart.

In 1960, after his two-year service in the United States Army, Elvis Presley recorded the song upon his return to studio sessions in April. Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker suggested to him that he record "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", his wife Marie Mott's favorite song. The release of the single was delayed by RCA Records executives, who doubted the song would suit Presley's new publicized style. In November 1960 the song was released to immediate success: it topped Billboard's Pop Singles chart, while it reached number 3 on the R&B chart. A month after its release, it topped the UK Singles Chart. Presley's version was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1961, while in 1992 it was upgraded to double Platinum.

In later years the song was recorded by several artists. Versions by Donny Osmond and Merle Haggard became top-twenty hits on the Pop and Country charts respectively. Billboard listed "Are You Lonesome Tonight" at number 81 on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs in 2008.

Writing and early recordings[edit]

The song was written in 1926 by vaudeville artists Lou Handman and Roy Turk. The structure of the song consisted of three sung verses, followed by a spoken bridge. Turk based the narration on Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci,[1] the line "You know someone said that the world's a stage. And each must play a part" referred to the monologue "All the world's a stage", from William Shakespeare's play As You Like It.[2]

Several versions of the song were recorded in 1927, the first one was released by Charles Hart

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Several versions of the song were recorded in 1927. The first version, by Charles Hart, was recorded on May 9 and released on Harmony Records (431-H),[3] as the flipside of "Sweet Marie".[4] On June 13, singer Vaughn De Leath recorded the song for the flipside of her single "It's a Million to One You're in Love", released on Edison Records (Ed-52044).[5] De Leath had the first hit version of the song, peaking at number four on the hit parade in November.[4] On July 10, 1927, the Newport Society Orchestra recorded the song featuring Irving Kaufman as the lead vocalist. It was released on Harmony Records (511-H), coupled with "I'm Walkin' On Air".[6] A vocal duet featuring Jerry Macy and John Ryan was released on OKeh Records (Ok-40866), as the flipside of "Carolina Mine".[7] Henry Burr released a cover of the song that peaked at number ten,[8] while also in 1927 Little Jack Little released a hit cover on Columbia Records.[9] The Carter Family recorded a version of the song in 1936, changing several elements of the original version.[10] Throughout the 1930s Gene Austin included the song in his shows, but he never recorded it.[1]

In March 1950, Blue Barron Orchesta released a single with the song "Penny Wise and Love Foolish" featured on the B-side. The release peaked at number nineteen on Billboard's Top pop singles. In April, Don Cornell released a cover that removed the narration bridge on the flipside of his RCA Victor single "Stay With the Happy People".[11] Billboard called it a: "dreamy waltz ... (that) gets effective treatment (on the recording)". Based on votes sent to Billboard, the record was rated with 78 points by disc jockeys, 78 by record dealers, and 79 by jukebox operators. Between the three, the track scored 78 points overall. With reference to its 100-point scale, Billboard regarded the record as "Good".[12] Al Jolson recorded a version of the song, that included the spoken verse, on April 28, 1950, in Los Angeles, California, with Gordon Jenkins directing the orchestra.[13] Coupled with "No Sad Songs For Me" on the flipside, it was released by Decca Records in June. Billboard defined the performance of the track as "revived" by Jolson's "schmaltz style", while it called the recitation "hamboned". Based on votes sent to the magazine, the record was rated with 71 points by disc jockeys, 71 by record dealers and 71 by jukebox operators. With an overall of 71, it was deemed as "Good".[14] In 1959, Jaye P. Morgan released the track on MGM Records with "Miss You" on the B-side.[15] Morgan's version peaked at number 65 on Billboard's Pop Singles chart.[16]

Elvis Presley's version[edit]

"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
US single sleeve
Single by Elvis Presley
B-side "I Gotta Know"
Released November 1, 1960
Format 7" single
Recorded April 4, 1960 (RCA Studio B, Nashville, Tennessee)
Genre Pop
Length 3:07
Label RCA Victor
Writer(s) Lou Handman / Roy Turk
Producer(s) Steve Sholes / Chet Atkins
Certification Double Platinum
Elvis Presley singles chronology
"It's Now or Never"
"Are You Lonesome Tonight?"
(US, 1961)
"Wooden Heart"
(UK, 1961)
Music sample

During the peak of his success in 1957, Elvis Presley received a draft notice. Presley was inducted into the Army on March 24, 1958.[17] During the final months of his service, he started to experiment with new material and began thinking ahead to his anticipated return to recording.[18] His friend Charlie Hodge taught him techniques to improve his breathing and to expand his vocal range.[19] By the end of his time in Germany, Presley had added a full octave to his vocal range.[20] He returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5.[21]

His first recording session upon his return was arranged for March 20.[22] RCA's Studio B had recently been equipped with a new three-track recorder.[23] To further improve the recording of Presley's voice, engineer Bill Porter had Telefunken U-47 microphones placed in the studio.[24] A follow-up session was arranged for April. Presley then left for Miami, Florida, where he taped The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis.[25]

During the selection of the material for the sessions, Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker suggested to him that he record "Are You Lonesome Tonight?". It marked the first and only time Parker intervened in his artist's choice of repertoire. It was the favorite song of Parker's wife, Marie Mott. Mott knew it from Gene Austin's act because he was managed at the time by her husband.[26] Presley returned with the band, consisting of Scotty Moore, drummer D.J. Fontana, pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Hank Garland, bassist Bobby Moore, percussionist Buddy Harman and the backing group The Jordanaires to the studio on April 3.[27]

After the eight songs Parker needed for Elvis is Back! were cut, Presley moved to his manager's special request. At 4 am on April 4, Presley started to record "Are You Lonesome Tonight", accompanied by an acoustic guitar, drums, bass, and the backup singers. Presley asked everyone else in the recording studio to leave the session, and asked Chet Atkins to turn the lights out. Presley performed the song with the spoken bridge. By the end of the second take, he told producer Steve Sholes: "throw that tune out, I can't do it justice". Sholes ordered Bill Porter to ignore Presley's request, and asked the singer to perform a new take, explaining that the Jordanaires had bumped into their microphone stands while recording in the dark. The song was performed once again, and the resulting take became the master for the single release.[28]

Release and reception[edit]

The song remained unreleased for a few months, while label executives discussed whether the slow ballad would properly reflect Presley's new style. RCA Records executives and Parker eventually decided to release the song. "Are You Lonesome Tonight" was released as a single on November 1, 1960, coupled with "I Gotta Know" on the B-side. The label assigned the pressing of the single to its plants in New Jersey, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. Copies were sent to 5,000 disc jockeys; the jacket featured a smiling Presley, wearing a green chartreuse shirt, on a blue background. Orders for the record started at 900,000 copies in the first week, climbing to 1,200,000 in the second.[29]

It debuted on Billboard's Top 40 at number 35 on November 14, moved a week later to number 2, and topped the chart by November 28, replacing Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs's "Stay". It retained the top position until January 9, 1961.[30] It became Presley's 15th chart-topping single.[31] It peaked at number 3 on the R&B Chart, and remained on it for ten weeks.[32] It topped the Cash Box Singles,[33] and reached number 45 on the Cash Box Country Singles.[34] Meanwhile, it topped the UK Singles Chart a month after its release there.[35] Three months after its release, the single had sold two million copies worldwide. The same year, the Recording Industry Association of America certified it gold.[29]

The November 7, 1960 review in Billboard called Presley's rendition of the song a "warm and touching performance".[36] In a later review Allmusic praised Presley's vocal range, while it referred to it as a: "tender ... sugary ballad ... full of soul and intense and intimate power". It defined it as "one of Presley's darkest moments".[37]


The success of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" turned the song into one of Presley's recurring live performance numbers. He performed the song live for the first time on March 25, 1961, at the Bloch Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii at a benefit concert held to raise funds for the construction of the USS Arizona Memorial. This was Presley's only live performance between his return from the Army and his shift of career focus to making movies.[38]

Returning to music in 1968, Presley included the song in the playlist of his appearance on NBC's special Elvis. Presley returned to live performances in 1969 during his first Las Vegas engagement.[39] A version of the song, recorded on August 26, featured Presley altering the words to the narration, with the singer laughing throughout the rest of the bridge. This version was released in 1980 with the box set Elvis Aaron Presley.[40] In 1982, it became a radio hit in the United Kingdom, eventually reaching number 25 on the British Singles Chart.[35] Presley also included it in his 1972 documentary Elvis on Tour and the 1977 CBS special Elvis in Concert.[40]

On March 27, 1992, the RIAA certified the song double Platinum.[41] In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of Billboard's Hot 100, the magazine listed the song at number 81 on The Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs list.[42]

Later versions[edit]

Frank Sinatra performed the song, without the spoken bridge, on his 1962 album All Alone.[43] The Lettermen recorded the song on their 1964 album She Cried.[44] Pat Boone recorded a version of the song, without the spoken recitation, in 1966 for his album Memories.[45] Doris Day recorded the song on June 6, 1967, in a version included on The Love Album.[46]

Donny Osmond released a cover in 1974 that reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.[47] In 1977, Merle Haggard covered the song for his album My Farewell to Elvis. The release peaked at number 12 on Billboard's Top Country Singles.[48] A 1983 version by John Schneider peaked at number 53 on the Country Singles chart.[48] In 1989, Sam Kinison appeared on The Tonight Show and performed a variation of the song, but with a bitter rant in place of the Shakespeare-inspired monologue. In 1992, Bryan Ferry's version of the song appeared as part of the soundtrack to Honeymoon in Vegas.[49]

Chart performance[edit]

Year Artist Chart Peak position
1927 Vaughn De Leath Top selling records 4
Henry Burr Top selling records 10
1950 Blue Barron Orchestra Billboard Pop Singles 19
1959 Jaye P. Morgan Billboard Pop Singles 65
1960 Elvis Presley Billboard Pop Singles 1
Billboard R&B singles 3
Cash Box Singles 1
Cash Box Country Singles 45
UK Singles Chart 1
1974 Donny Osmond Billboard Pop Singles 14
1977 Merle Haggard Billboard Hot Country Singles 12
1982 Elvis Presley UK Singles Chart 25
1983 John Schneider Billboard Hot Country Singles 53


  1. ^ a b Schultz, William Todd 2005, p. 146.
  2. ^ Galey, Allan 2014, p. 53.
  3. ^ Gregory, Charles 2003, p. 930.
  4. ^ a b Leszczak, Bob 2014, p. 11.
  5. ^ Laird, Ross 1996, p. 134.
  6. ^ The Discographer staff 1971, p. 22.
  7. ^ Laird, Ross; Rust, Brian 2004, p. 404.
  8. ^ Sullivan, Steve 2013, p. 625.
  9. ^ Jasen, David 2013, p. 13.
  10. ^ Malone, Bill; McCulloh, Judith 1975, p. 104.
  11. ^ Collins, Ace 2005, p. 165.
  12. ^ Billboard staff 1950, p. 35.
  13. ^ Fisher, James 1994, p. 148.
  14. ^ Billboard staff 2 1950, p. 86.
  15. ^ Popoff, Martin 2010, p. 829.
  16. ^ Billboard staff 1959, p. 39.
  17. ^ Guralnick 1994, p. 461–74.
  18. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 44-45.
  19. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 45.
  20. ^ Jeansonne, Glen; Luhrssen, David; Sokolovic, Dan 2011, p. 162.
  21. ^ Slaughter 2004, p. 54.
  22. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 59.
  23. ^ Colman, Stuart 2011, p. 8.
  24. ^ Colman, Stuart 2011, p. 4.
  25. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 61.
  26. ^ Creswell, Toby 2007, p. 31.
  27. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 64.
  28. ^ Guralnick 1998, p. 65-66.
  29. ^ a b Murray, Don 1961, p. 66.
  30. ^ Collins, Ace 2005, p. 166.
  31. ^ Colman, Stuart 2011, p. 10.
  32. ^ Collins, Ace 2005, p. 167.
  33. ^ Hoffman, Frank 1983, p. 834.
  34. ^ Albert, George 1984, p. 280.
  35. ^ a b Humphries, Patrick 2003, p. 87.
  36. ^ Billboard staff 1960, p. 45.
  37. ^ Janovitz, Bill 2013.
  38. ^ Schultz, William Todd 2005, p. 147.
  39. ^ Schultz, William Todd 2005, p. 148.
  40. ^ a b Schultz, William Todd 2005, p. 149.
  41. ^ RIAA 2014.
  42. ^ Billboard staff 2008.
  43. ^ Friedwald, Will 1995, p. 343.
  44. ^ Whitburn, Joel 1996, p. 446.
  45. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra Chris 2003, p. 863.
  46. ^ Santopietro, Tom 2008, p. 359.
  47. ^ Grein, Paul 1981, p. 6.
  48. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel 2002, p. 140.
  49. ^ Billboard staff 1992, p. 72.


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