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Mark James, writer of ‘Suspicious Minds’ and other songs, passes away at 83

Among the many stars who lent their voices to James’ catalog of songs over the years were Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.
Last Updated : 16 June 2024, 03:03 IST

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Mark James, a genre-defying, Grammy Award-winning songwriter whose hits included Suspicious Minds, Hooked on a Feeling and Always on My Mind, died June 8 at his home in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Sammie Zambon.

Among the many stars who lent their voices to James’ catalog of songs over the years were Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.

His career of powerhouse hits began in 1968 when country and pop hitmaker B.J. Thomas, a lifelong friend, recorded The Eyes of a New York Woman, which reached the Billboard Top 40. Thomas followed it with another song by James, Hooked on a Feeling, a celebration of newfound love that hit No. 5 that year. It did even better in 1974, when Swedish rock band Blue Swede’s version reached No. 1.

James catapulted into a different stratosphere in 1969 when Presley cut Suspicious Minds, a song James had recorded and released as a single, to little notice, the previous year. Presley’s version became one of his biggest hits, reaching No. 1 in 27 countries. It was his last No. 1 single.

Suspicious Minds was twice included on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time — at No. 91 in 2004 and No. 70 in 2024.

Always on My Mind, which James wrote with Wayne Carson and Johnny Christopher, became one of his most celebrated works. Brenda Lee recorded the first version, in 1972; Presley released his take in 1973; and John Wesley Ryles had a Top 20 country hit with his version in 1979, according to the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association.

But the best-known version of Always on My Mind was Nelson’s, released in 1982. It earned James and his collaborators the Grammy for song of the year and best country song, and it was also named song of the year by the Country Music Association. The record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

James’ songs have also been recorded by Michael Bublé, Jay-Z, the Pet Shop Boys, Bill Withers, Fine Young Cannibals and others. They have been featured in the films Reservoir Dogs and Lilo & Stich and in the Guardians of the Galaxy' franchise.

James was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Broadcast Music, the music rights management company, included “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Always on My Mind” on its list of the 100 greatest songs of the 20th century.

James was born Francis Rodney Zambon on Nov. 29, 1940, in Houston. (The Houston Chronicle reported that he used the name Mark James because, when he began performing, club owners in Houston “didn’t like the sound of Francis Zambon.”)

In addition to his daughter Sammie, his survivors include his wife, Karen Zambon; another daughter, Dana Zambon; a brother, Rollin; and two grandchildren.

Presley recorded five songs by James in all. Two were the title tracks of his albums Raised on Rock and Moody Blue.

In an interview with The Tennessean, James recalled the moment when Presley was booked for a studio in Memphis, Tennessee, and he realized that “Suspicious Minds” would be perfect for him.

“I turned around in the chair and it was like seeing a golden number one and I knew that was the song I’d been looking for,” he said. He felt, he added, like “shaking Elvis and saying, ‘This is a great one for you, man, to record.’ But I knew probably everyone in the world had probably said that to him. So all I could do is tell the guys around him, ‘Get him to cut this, this is a great one for him!’”

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Published 16 June 2024, 03:03 IST

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