Did you know that there are over three-hundred recorded releases of “Always on My Mind” in different versions by dozens of performers? The song has been a crossover hit, charting both in the country and pop categories.
The Country Music Association even named it Single Of The Year in 1982. It also did very well at the Grammy Awards, taking the awards for Song Of The Year, Best Country Song, and Best Male Country Vocal Performance. It was also the first country song to take Song Of The Year, and it remained to be one of the most loved tunes to this day.
Who do you think sang it the best among the rest?
The Different Versions of “Always on My Mind”
Written by the songwriting trio Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson Thompson, “Always on My Mind” is a man’s confession. The song tells the story of a man who confessed that he wasn’t able to do the things he should have to show appreciation for his lady but wanted her to know he’s always thinking about her now that they are no longer together.
“Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have. And maybe I didn’t treat you quite as good as I should have. If I made you feel second best, girl I’m sorry I was blind. You were always on my mind. You were always on my mind,” the song goes.
Carson revealed that he wrote “Always On My Mind” in about ten minutes, while sitting at his kitchen table in Springfield, Missouri. He said he left out a bridge to the song on purpose, as he thought it was fine as it was.
But when he was at the studio in Memphis, producer Chips Moman said the song needed a bridge. Carson went upstairs to figure the bridge out and luckily bumped into fellow songwriters, Christopher and James. The three of them played around a bit, writing a bridge together. All three names then appeared in the writing credits.
But who gets credit for recording the most iconic version of the song is a murkier issue – after all, it was recorded more than we could imagine. The earliest recording dated back in 1970 by B.J. Thomas, but it was first released by Gwen McCrae and Brenda Lee, each releasing versions only months apart from each other in 1972.
B.J Thomas’ Version
Brenda Lee’s Version
That same year, Elvis Presley recorded his version of the song, and “Always On My Mind” was a huge success for Presley. The song received immense fame and critical appreciation, hitting No. 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and doing well on charts worldwide. “Always On My Mind” was considered as one of Presley’s standout songs of the 1970s.
Elvis Presley’s Version
Other notable singers who released their version of the song were John Wesley Ryles, Pet Shop Boys, and Willie Nelson, who had even more success. Released in 1982, Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” charted higher than Presley in most categories. It also won three Grammys in 1983 and was certified platinum in 1991. In 2008, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Willie Nelson’s Take of the Classic Song
Though popularized by Presley in the 1970s, Nelson had never heard the song until Johnny Christopher brought it to him and Merle Haggard, while they were busy recording the album Pancho & Lefty.
“‘Always On My Mind,’ bowled me over the moment I heard it, which is one of the ways I pick songs to record,” Nelson revealed in his 1988 autobiography, Willie. “There are beautifully sad songs that bowl me over … haunting melodies you can’t get out of your mind, with lines that really stick.”
Nelson thought he and Haggard would do the song together, but Haggard didn’t give much attention. After they finished recording their album, Nelson stayed in the studio to record the ballad solo and see what it would sound like. And indeed, it sounded like a hit. Still, Nelson wondered, “We’ll never know what would have happened if Merle had really heard the song right.”
Watch Willie Nelson perform “Always On My Mind” in the video below.
B.J. Thomas, Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson