Mark James, Grammy-Winning Songwriter of ‘Always on My Mind,’ Dead at 83 (2024)

The Songwriters Hall of Fame member also penned "Suspicious Minds" and "Hooked on a Feeling."

Mark James, Grammy-Winning Songwriter of ‘Always on My Mind,’ Dead at 83 (1)

Songwriters are lucky if they leave behind one song that everyone knows and loves. Mark James, who the Houston Chronicle reported died at his home in Nashville on June 8 at age 83, left behind three: “Suspicious Minds,” the final No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 by Elvis Presley; “Always on My Mind,” which was a top five Hot 100 hit for both Willie Nelson and Pet Shop Boys; and “Hooked on a Feeling,” which was a top five Hot 100 hit for both B.J. Thomas and Blue Swede.


Gone But Not Forgotten: Musicians We Lost in202312/18/2023

James won two Grammy Awards – song of the year and best country song – for “Always on My Mind,” an exquisite ballad he co-wrote with Johnny Christopher and the late Wayne Carson. The song was also named song of the year by the Country Music Association in both 1982 and 1983. (CMA rules at the time allowed songs to win twice in this category, an overly generous policy which we can forgive if it worked to the benefit of a song this timeless and classic.)

Trending on Billboard

James was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame the following year. Thomas and Hunter Hayes performed James’ songs at the latter event.

James’ other notable hits included “The Eyes of a New York Woman,” a top 30 Hot 100 hit for Thomas in 1968; “Moody Blue,” a top 40 Hot 100 hit for Presley in 1977 and the title track of his last studio album released in his lifetime; and “Sunday Sunrise,” a top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs in 1973 for Brenda Lee.

James was born Francis Rodney Zambon on Nov. 29, 1940, in Houston, Texas. He befriended Thomas, who grew up in nearby Rosenberg, Texas, while both were still young. (Thomas died in 2021 at age 78.)

By the late 1960s, James was signed as a staff songwriter to Memphis producer Chips Moman’s publishing company. Moman produced Thomas’ versions of James’ songs “The Eyes of a New York Woman”, “Hooked on a Feeling” and “It’s Only Love” (which James co-wrote with Steve Tyrell). All three singles made the top 50 on the Hot 100 in 1968-69.

James released his own version of “Suspicious Minds,” also produced by Moman, on Scepter Records in 1968. Presley’s 1969 version, co-produced by MomanandFelton Jarvis, topped the Hot 100 in the issue dated Nov. 1, 1969, becoming the final No. 1 for the King of Rock and Roll.

In 1972, Lee had the first notable recording of “Always on My Mind.” Her version reached No. 45 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Presley recorded the song that same year, but, in what may have been a missed opportunity, allowed the song to go out as the B-side of a far less memorable song, “Separate Ways.” “Separate Ways,” Presley’s follow-up to his No. 2 Hot 100 smash “Burning Love,” reached No. 20, but “Always on My Mind” may have had far greater potential. As noted, subsequent cover versions by Nelson and Pet Shop Boys both made the top five. (Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 EDM version of this classic ballad served as a reminder that a great song can be interpreted any number of ways.)

Also in 1972, James signed a long-term contract with Screen Gems-Columbia Music. In 1973, Lee landed a top 10 hit on Hot Country Songs with James’ “Sunday Sunrise.” Anne Murray revived the song with some success in 1975.

In 1974, James landed his second No. 1 on the Hot 100 when Blue Swede, a Swedish group, recorded “Hooked on a Feeling.” The song was propelled by a punchy performance and, especially, an “ooga chaka” introduction (borrowed from a 1971 cover byJonathan King) that was at once grating and fiendishly clever. It was the love-it-or-hate-it hook that sent the song to No. 1 in April 1974.

Fine Young Cannibals, Jay-Z, Dwight Yoakam andBill Withersare among the other artists who have recorded James’ songs. James’ songs have also been featured in such films as Kramer vs. Kramer, Black Hawk Down and Reservoir Dogs.

Get weekly rundowns straight to your inbox

Sign Up

Want to know what everyone in the music business is talking about?

Get in the know on

Visit Billboard Pro for music business news
Mark James, Grammy-Winning Songwriter of ‘Always on My Mind,’ Dead at 83 (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Catherine Tremblay

Last Updated:

Views: 5483

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Catherine Tremblay

Birthday: 1999-09-23

Address: Suite 461 73643 Sherril Loaf, Dickinsonland, AZ 47941-2379

Phone: +2678139151039

Job: International Administration Supervisor

Hobby: Dowsing, Snowboarding, Rowing, Beekeeping, Calligraphy, Shooting, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Catherine Tremblay, I am a precious, perfect, tasty, enthusiastic, inexpensive, vast, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.