Mark James, ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ songwriter, dies at 83

Mark James
Mark James in 2015.
(Wade Payne / Invision / AP)
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Mark James, the songwriter behind lovelorn rock and country hits like Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind,” has died. He was 83.

James’ death on Saturday, at his home in Nashville, Tenn., was first reported in the Houston Chronicle. In a statement, James’ family said that “Mark’s legacy and zest for life will live on in the hearts of those who loved him, and through his timeless lyrics and melodies that have been the soundtrack of lovers for generations.”

James, born Francis Zambon in Houston, became an era-defining songwriter with 1968’s “Suspicious Minds,” which he first released under his own name to little notice. But the song — about a couple “caught in a trap, I can’t walk out... / We can’t go on together with suspicious minds” — became an era-defining classic in the hands of Presley, who made it his final No. 1 single when he released it in 1969. The song made Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.


James scored another generational classic with 1972’s “Always on My Mind,” which he co-wrote with Wayne Carson and Johnny Christopher. While the song was first recorded that year by Gwen McCrae, Brenda Lee and by Presley as well, Willie Nelson made it a country hit in 1982, reaching the top five of the Hot 100 and taking home Grammys for country song and song of the year. In 1987, the U.K. electro-pop duo Pet Shop Boys turned it into their their own hit single, reaching number four on the U.S. singles chart in 1987. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008 (as was “Suspicious Minds” in 1999).

James’ song “Hooked on a Feeling” has had an equally long and varied life in pop culture. Originally written for B.J. Thomas in 1969 (who made it a top-five hit), Blue Swede ran it up to a No. 1 single in 1974 (re-purposing the “ooga-chacka” intro from a 1971 cover by Jonathan King). The song was more recently covered by garage rockers the Hives, and has made several cameos in films like Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and in the ‘90s TV series “Ally McBeal.”

Other notable hits written by James included Brenda Lee’s “Sunday Sunrise,” which hit the top 10 in 1973, and Blood Sweat & Tears’ single “Roller Coaster” that same year. James was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014.

James is survived by his wife Karen, daughters Sammie and Dana and his grandchildren.