This is the fifteenth number one by Elvis, with many more to come. “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was written by Roy Turk and Lou Handman way back in 1926. Turk and Handman were vaudevillians and the song was originally written with three verses and a spoken bridge. That bridge is based on a line from the opera Pagliacci and the words about all the world being a stage is taken from As You Like It by William Shakespeare.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” was first recorded by Charles Hart in 1927, but has been covered by many people over the years. The first person to hit the charts with the song was Vaughn De Leath who reached number four on the pop chart in 1927. One of the most notable is Al Jolson who recorded it in 1950, but people thought he was hamming it up on the spoken bridge and the record didn’t sell that well.
After Elvis got out of the Army, he was looking for songs to record. He needed to get back to what he did best. “Are You Lonesome Tonight” was Colonel Tom Parker’s wife’s favorite song. Her name was Marie Mott. This was the first and only time that Colonel Parker suggested a song to Elvis. Elvis always picked his own songs.
The recording of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” happened early in 1960 right after he was discharged. Elvis recorded it in parts. When he got to the bridge, there was just him and Chet Atkins on guitar in the studio. But, when Elvis finished, he told them to throw out the song, he just couldn’t do it justice. Instead, producer Steve Sholes told him to go back into the studio and do it again and he did. This time they got a record Elvis and everyone else liked. The record didn’t get released until late in the year, so it didn’t appear on the chart until near the end of the year and it holds down the last number one spot of 1960.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” debuted on the pop chart on November 14, 1960 at number 35, the next week it was number two and the week after that it was number one. It stayed at number one for six weeks, taking us well into 1961.