In mid-January 1969, Elvis Presley and his entourage arrived at American Sound Studios in Memphis for a scheduled 10-day recording session with studio producer Chips Moman and Presley’s longtime RCA producer Felton Jarvis. These would be the first sessions Presley had done outside of Nashville or Hollywood since his last Sun Records sessions in 1955 and would take place just weeks after Presley’s triumphant 1968 comeback special. Aired on NBC during the Christmas season, the special fueled a renewed interest in Presley to shift his focus in the studio from movie-soundtrack fodder to songs he could feel more invested in recording and performing.
With a rhythm section made up of the studio’s famed house band, the Memphis Boys, led by guitarist Reggie Young, the sessions injected elements of Memphis soul, gospel, blues, and country into the resultant cuts, compiled for an LP titled From Elvis in Memphis. The single released from the album was the Mac Davis-penned “In the Ghetto,” a Top Five hit for Presley and his highest-charting hit since 1965’s “Crying in the Chapel.”
Perhaps the most well-known of the songs recorded during these sessions, however, was one written by Houston-based singer-songwriter Mark James called “Suspicious Minds.”
In 1968, James had cut the tune about a troubled relationship as a single for New York-based label Scepter Records, home to artists including B.J. Thomas, who had hits with several of James’ songs, including “Hooked on a Feeling.” Also produced by Moman at American Sound using many of the same musicians as Presley’s version, James’ more subdued country-sounding take on the song failed to chart. Presley’s rendition, however, which hit stores 50 years ago this week, became an instant smash. By mid-1969, the King had logged 17 Number One hits on Billboard’s pop chart. This would be his 18th and final chart-topper.
One of the more unusual aspects of the single is the fade-out that begins at about 3:35, lasting for several seconds before fading back in and resuming normal volume, then fading out again for good. While accounts vary as to how this came about, one version is that the edit was producer Jarvis’ idea, executed at a Las Vegas studio in early August after witnessing Presley onstage during his series of concerts at the International Hotel. During the epic performance of the then-unknown track, Presley and the band would attack then retreat several times, lowering their collective volume on the tune and thereby enhancing its already intrinsic dramatic effect. With a running time of around eight minutes during most of the performances at those 29 historic shows from July 31st to August 28th, 1969, “Suspicious Minds” became one of the more irresistible showpieces of the triumphant Vegas concerts.
The eight takes of “Suspicious Minds” from the Memphis sessions are among the 90 tracks included on the just-released American Sound 1969 collection, which boasts several rare and previously unreleased takes from Presley and the legendary musicians. Earlier this summer, Sony’s Legacy Recordings also released Live 1969, a spectacular 11-CD box set that collects 11 of the performances from the International Hotel shows, which featured the first lineup of his classic TCB Band, led by guitarist James Burton.
As successful as Presley’s take on the song would become, “Suspicious Minds” was a popular cover tune. In 1970, country couple Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter recorded it, landing a Top 30 cut that year and a Number Two country hit six years later. Others who recorded it included Del Reeves and Billie Jo Spears, Merry Clayton, Candi Staton, and British duo Peters and Lee. In 1986, U.K. band Fine Young Cannibals had a hit with it and the song returned to the country chart in 1992 thanks to Dwight Yoakam.
Although “Suspicious Minds” was a smash, it would soon be dwarfed by another Mark James composition, which Presley would cover in 1972. The song, which also became a major crossover hit for Willie Nelson in 1982, and a pop Number One for Pet Shop Boys in 1987, was “Always on My Mind.” James was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.