S is for Suspicious Minds

‘Suspicious Minds’ is a 1968 song that was written and first recorded by American songwriter Mark James and produced by Chips Moman at American Studios, but it failed to become a hit.  ‘Suspicious Minds’ was a serious pop song about deep love, suspicion and hurt and with a dramatic operatic power and it became one of the highest high points of the Memphis sessions.  Chips Moman brought this song to the table and one that would almost immediately become the center of a depressingly familiar business dispute.  Chips refused to give up any of the publishing on the song, as was customary for music that Elvis recorded.  Back in 1956, while “Elvis-mania” was raging around the world, Freddy Bienstock joined the New York division of Hill & Range, Elvis’ publishing company, as a song plugger.  Freddy and Tom Diskin who worked as the assistant and right-hand man for money grabbing Colonel Tom Parker, were both known for driving hard bargains with all who wanted the King of Rock n Roll to record any song.  They declared that in that case the song would not be recorded, which made Chips Moman was quite angry.  Freddy and Tom both wanted to maximize income for the Colonel, and they would pressure songwriters to forfeit a large portion of their royalties to achieve this.

George Klein an American DJ and television host who met Elvis Presley in the eighth grade and remained friends with him for his entire life urged Chips to talk it over with Elvis before Diskin got Colonel Parker involved.  Elvis didn’t often interfere with his manager’s business arrangements, but he did this time, declaring that he wouldn’t let a publishing dispute stop him from recording and releasing a song he liked.  Elvis sided with the songwriter, and his road manager and friend Joe Esposito talked him into recording it.  Ultimately Chips kept the publishing, and the Colonel didn’t get his usual cut of the royalties, but this led to Elvis cutting a number which featured adult appeal and showcased his vocal mastery, that would in a large measure, define the last phase of his career.  ‘Suspicious Minds’ was his eighteenth and last #1 single in the United States.  Rolling Stone ranked it #91 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  ‘Suspicious Minds’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

After all the financial arguments were over, after various political and aesthetic disagreements between Chips and RCA A&R man Felton Jarvis who was responsible for most recordings of Elvis Presley in the years 1966–1977 had been effectively resolved.  Marty Lacker was one of Elvis’ trusted friends, and he was instrumental in arranging Elvis’ seminal recording sessions at American Sound Studios with producer Chips Moman.  When Chips cut ‘Suspicious Minds’ and mixed it, the fade and bump at the end was not there.  This is the part where the song fades out and then it bumps up again. the part where Elvis is just repeating and repeating the last chorus.  Marty said that the genesis behind the song’s fake ending was a result of tampering by Elvis’ longtime record producer Felton Jarvis.  Felton recorded a horn overdub in Las Vegas, where Elvis had opened in July in his first regular return to live performing in twelve years.  Felton Jarvis witnessed Elvis amazing performances and realized that the original Master would be even more remarkable if he could only replicate Elvis’ dramatic fade & return ending for the single release.  The concept of the overdub was to follow the dramatic architecture of Elvis’ live performance in which the singer and the band both faded out, and then they both came roaring back to great audience reaction.  In a Las Vegas studio the song was faded, looped, and brought up again, with the addition of a crudely recorded horn section.  To Chips and the American studio musicians this was something like the desecration of a masterpiece, but to the public, it added a mysterious, unquantifiable element that led this song to becoming Elvis’ first #1 hit in the past seven years.

Elvis recorded “Suspicious Minds” in the early morning hours of January 23, 1969.  It was the last of 20 songs Elvis recorded in those January sessions at American Studios in Memphis.  The musicians already knew the arrangement from having recorded it with Mark James.  Elvis spent some time working over the lyrics, and then, after three or four takes, nobody could think of any way the track might be improved.  Chips played it back over the loudspeakers, and the studio just went nuts.  It was a great song, where Elvis gave an awesome performance, and everything just went right.  However, ‘Suspicious Minds’ would not be released until seven months later.  In the interim, Elvis’s recording underwent some significant and controversial changes.  Marty Lacker saw a huge difference in the way they were cutting at American and the way that Elvis had been recording for the last 10 years prior to that.  The difference was that Elvis would get in a room with all of the musicians out in the open and that’s the way they’d cut.  They wouldn’t record his vocal as an overdub.  He’d cut a live vocal with the band.  Usually, a singer would do a rough vocal while the rhythm section was laying down the tracks.  With Elvis, he’d get out in the middle of the studio with them and lay down a live vocal.  The musicians that Elvis had on his sessions played the same old licks for years.  Marty Lacker felt that this led to a lack of creativity.  However, Chips Moman cut over 150 chart records in that studio with the same six musicians.  He had hits with Neil Diamond on ‘Sweet Caroline’, and ‘Holly Holy’, he produced music icons such as Petula Clark and Dionne Warwick.  He is associated with the Box Tops ‘The Letter’, Dusty Springfield ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, B.J. Thomas ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ and Willie Nelson’s ‘Always on My Mind’.

When ‘Suspicious Minds’ came out in September, it had a surprise on it, because after Chips turned over the master tapes to RCA, somebody took ‘Suspicious Minds’ back to Nashville or to California and remixed it.  They put all these other voices on it and went back to that Nashville crap.  And then they stuck a phony fade-and-bump ending on it, where it drops down and then pops back up.  Not only was the false-ending not the record that Chips Moman had produced, but it proved to be a problem that radio jocks would have to deal with.  This had a potential to reduce the all-important radio plays.  At a full four and a half minutes, the final version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ was also nearly twice as long many of Elvis previous top ten hits.

Bill Gavin had a big industry newsletter the Gavin Report, he was a highly respected radio and records publisher and they were giving Chips an award for producer of the year.  At the end of the ceremony, Bill asked Chips, why in the world did he put that fade and bump on the end of ‘Suspicious Minds, because a lot of program directors and disc jockeys almost didn’t play that record as it messed up their timing.  Chips didn’t like that it was put on there without his knowledge.  He never would have done it himself.  Marty Lacker felt that fade and bump was not meant for a record, it’s meant for stage and it almost killed that record.

It didn’t though, as ‘Suspicious Minds’ entered Billboard’s “Hot 100” at #77 on September 13, 1969 and 5 weeks later, it was in the top 10, and on November 11 it pushed aside The Temptation’s ‘I Can’t Get Next to You’ taking over the top spot on the chart.  It was only at #1 for one week, but it completed Elvis’s return to relevance in pop music that had begun with his TV “Comeback Special” almost a year before.  The song is about a dysfunctional relationship, and various feelings of mistrust within it, and how the couple need to move on in order to survive.  When Mark James wrote this song, he was married to his first wife, but at this time he still had feelings for his childhood sweetheart, who was also married.  James’s wife became suspicious of his feelings to the other woman, and James felt it was a tricky time as all three of them were caught in this trap and since he loved his wife, he could not just walk out on her.  Her suspicious mind was telling her not to believe her husband because she is jealous, when his old friend stopped by to see him.  He breaks down crying and feels like their relationship can’t go on and they will never be able to build their dreams together.  He asks her to let their love survive and not let a good thing die.  He offers to dry the tears from her eyes and assures her that he has never lied to her.  In the original version, James sang the lead vocals, with backing by the Holladay Sisters.

‘Suspicious Minds’ was recorded on January 22, 1969 at American Sound Studio, in Memphis.  Elvis Presley sang lead vocals and played guitar and piano.  Tommy Cogbill on bass, Mike Leech was also on bass, John Hughey played pedal steel guitar, Reggie Young was on guitar, Bobby Emmons played organ, Ronnie Milsap played piano, Bobby Wood played piano, Ed Hollis was on harmonica, and Gene Chrisman was on drums.  The musical duo of saxophonist Andrew Love and trumpeter Wayne Jackson known as The Memphis Horns also played om this song.  Background vocals were done by Mildred Kirkham, Sonja Montgomery and Hurshel Wiginton along with a group of girls who called themselves Southern Comfort.  Southern Comfort consisted of group founder and leader Jeanie Green, along with the sisters Mary and Ginger Holladay, Donna Jean Thatcher Godchaux McKay, and Susan Coleman Pilkington.  The group broke and when their separate ways somewhere around 1974.  The Holiday sisters stayed on and continued to record with Elvis up until his death in 1977.  Donna went on to marry Keith Godchaux in 1970 and she became a member of The Grateful Dead from 1972 to 1979.

Elvis rose from being a regional performer and he reached international stardom becoming the greatest selling recording artist of all time.  Elvis went on to sell over a billion records worldwide, and his career literally changed the course of music and pop culture around the world.  In terms of numbers, The Beatles have sold 42.5 million more albums in the U.S. than Elvis, yet Elvis sold 25.5 million more singles than The Beatles.  Elvis recorded more than 600 songs in his music career, but he did not write a single song (although this is impossible to confirm, because he was given co-writing credit on many songs which his label demanded, so songwriters had to give up 50% of the credit before Presley would record it).  This actually hurt Elvis, as if writers weren’t forced to give up their royalties, Elvis would have had more quality music to record.  He won three Grammy Awards, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds (suspicious minds)
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

So if an old friend I know
Stops by to say hello
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?

Here we go again
Asking where I’ve been
You can’t see the tears are real, I’m crying
(Yes I’m crying)

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds (suspicious minds)
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

Oh, let our love survive
I’ll dry the tears from your eyes
Let’s don’t let a good thing die
When honey, you know I’ve never lied to you
Mmm, yeah, yeah

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

Well, don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Well, don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Well don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Well don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Well don’t you know I’m caught in a trap?
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby

Well don’t you know I’m caught in a trap

8 thoughts on “S is for Suspicious Minds

  1. On the songwriting credit front: this is something Elvis learned from Sam Phillips during his days at Sun Records. Sam would insist on his artist getting songwriting credit … and that since he owned the artist, all of the publishing needed to go through Hill & Range … also owned by Sam Phillips. Phillips thus got paid three different ways from the same tune.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Beatles were very fortunate to have Epstein who cared for them and he made some mistakes in money but Parker was a huckster…he did do Elvis harm later on. Look at Elvis’s album covers later on…cheap shots just to make money…. I’m glad Elvis let this song through…it’s one of his best. Great post Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

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