20. “Hotel Whiskey” – Hank Williams Jr. & Clint Black
A bottle, a room, and an old guitar are all Hank Junior and Clint Black need on this single from 1991. Can’t get enough hotel songs from Bocephus? Listen to “The Cheatin’ Hotel” from 2002’s The Almeria Club Recordings.
A stay at the cheapest motel in town costs a man everything. Well, that’s what he gets for being stupid enough to frequent that hotel in the first place. Even a novice adulterer knows you’ve got to cheat at least one town down the road.
The boyish string band does some of their best work when dealing with more serious subject matter, i.e. “Big Time in the Jungle.” On this haunting track from Tennessee Pusher they sing about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel and the aftermath, asking “Did you tremble when you thought about the future/And cry out for a martyred man?”
Losing one’s home bar is like losing a beloved family member, or a limb or something. Chris Wall, or, as his website calls him, the Cowboy Savior/Hero/Poet sings about his closing honky tonk with the same emotion others might reserve for true love or mama.
Nobody can write a sad song quite like Willie Nelson. A once happy home has now become the Home Motel on Lost Love Avenue. Its sole tenant stumbles in between dusk and dawn, only to “call your name and then remember you don’t live here anymore.”
More than a few legendary musicians, artists and writers have resided at New York’s Hotel Chelsea. On this track from Real Animal, Escovedo sings about, among other things, one of the hotel’s most infamous incidents: Nancy Spungen’s murder. Other artists who’ve sung about the Chelsea include Ryan Adams and Leonard Cohen.
10. “The Bitter Inn” – Johnny Rodriguez
The rundown motel where this brokenhearted guy is staying matches his mindset: “At this place I call home/The sign out front’s gone/Like our love it’s gone with the wind/So I gave it a name/For the tears and the pain/I call it the Bitter Inn.” Note to self: don’t cheat until you can afford a stay at the Ritz-Carlton.
Not a real hotel. But a classic song nonetheless; it’s the hit that made Elvis a star. Willie Nelson and Leon Russell’s countrified version, shown below, topped the charts in 1979. Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins, Roger Miller, and Tanya Tucker are just a few of the other country artists who’ve also covered it.
8. “Another Motel Memory” – Shelly West
Not to be confused with the Rolling Stones’ “Memory Motel,” this Top 10 single is from West’s second solo album, Red Hot. On this little slice of ’80s pop-country heaven, she sings about how she doesn’t want to be just another roll in the hay. A little more Jose Cuervo might change that tune; he is, after all, a friend of hers.
This was a Top 20 hit for Stewart in 1976. The couple here is married, but not to one another, which is why they’re meeting in that room above the street. In the song’s final verse, Stewart sends the lady back home to her husband: “If he wants your love tonight/Don’t turn away, don’t hurt his pride/Close your eyes and think of me/In some room above the street.” What a prince.
6. “The Night Miss Nancy’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” – Tex Williams
Turns out “hotel for single girls” is a euphemism for “whorehouse frequented by pillars of society.” The real mystery is what—or who—started the fire that left “the so-called elite caught out in the street/With their pompous purity down.”
Poor Tom T. Hall. All his buddies are out boozing it up and having a good time while he’s stuck songwriting in a motel room far away from them all. I’m not sure if that actually qualifies as suffering for one’s art, but it’s a good song nonetheless.
No exhausted travelers here: the Camelot Motel is full of “sinners, liars, outlaws and fallen angels/Looking for the grace from which they fell.” Mentally ill bar hookups, anonymous gay sex, robbers on the run…it’s either the makings of a country song or the cast of a wacky sitcom.
Kershaw covered this song in 1994, 19 years after the Amazing Rhythm Aces recorded the less successful original. The music video delivers its own judgment on third rate romances in skeezy motels: the fella gets his watch and wad o’ cash stolen while he’s in the john.
He’s a Scout Leader, a family man, preacher’s pal, and an adulterer. He regrets the affair, promised his wife he wouldn’t cheat anymore, but he’s also tempted to make another trip to Margie’s room at the Lincoln Park Inn. This was a Top 5 hit for Bare in 1969; lots of other artists have recorded this song (written by Tom T. Hall) including Johnny Darrell and Charlie Sizemore.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.