Monday, July 9, 2012

Elvis Covers Part I: Suspicious Minds & Always on My Mind

Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter: Suspicious Minds


Me First and the Gimme Gimmes: [Always] On My Mind

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Why didn't Elvis record more Mark James tunes? Some of the most successful songs from the latter half of the King's career came from Gray's pen -- "Suspicious Minds," "Always on My Mind," "Raised on Rock" and "Moody Blue" (the title track from the last album Elvis recorded before he died). Born Francis Zambon, James was childhood friends with singer B.J. Thomas, who scored a big hit with James's "Hooked on a Feeling." James became a staff writer for Chips Moman, who brought him to Elvis's attention during the recording of The Memphis Records, which Moman produced.

Here are covers of James's two best-known Presley tracks. Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter's take on "Suspicious Minds" sticks pretty close to Elvis's original. It was originally released in 1969, in a bid to establish Waylon and Jessi as a groovier version of Johnny and June. The song made a bigger splash when it was re-released in 1976, as part of The Outlaws compilation, which became the first country record to go platinum.

The obvious cover of "Always on My Mind" is Willie Nelson's take, which is one of the biggest records of the 1980s, and one of the few redos of an Elvis Presley song that outsold the original. After a couple of weeks of posting obvious choices, I'll go with a lesser known and more adventurous version by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The tongue-in-cheek punk supergroup specializes in breakneck covers of ballads and pop standards. (Their version of "I Am a Rock" is brilliant.) "On My Mind" (for some reason, the word "Always" has been dropped) is from Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah, recorded at a 2004 bar mitzvah party.

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