Songwriter Mark James (“Suspicious Minds,” “Hooked On A Feeling”) Dead At 83

Songwriter Mark James (“Suspicious Minds,” “Hooked On A Feeling”) Dead At 83

Mark James, a songwriter who’s responsible for some truly iconic hits, has died. The Houston Chronicle reports that James passed away at his Nashville home on Saturday. No cause of death has been reported. James was 83.

Mark James was born Francis Zambon in Houston, where his father worked as a contractor and his mother as a teacher. He studied violin as a kid, then moved to guitar. In the late ’50s, he formed a band, the Mark James Trio, and released a single called “Jive Note.” The band broke up when James was drafted to serve in Vietnam. When that was over, he moved to Memphis, where he worked as a staff writer for Memphis soul and country producer Chips Moman. James convinced his childhood friend B. J. Thomas to move to Memphis, and that’s where Thomas started his career.

In 1968, Mark James wrote and released the original version of “Suspicious Minds.” James’ single was a commercial failure, but its fortunes changed when Elvis Presley, chasing the high of his 1968 comeback special, went to Memphis to record with Chips Moman. Presley heard “Suspicious Minds” and decided to record his own version, and it became his last #1 hit.

Another Mark James song also became a big hit in 1969. A year earlier, he wrote “Hooked On A Feeling,” and Chips Moman produced B. J. Thomas’ version of the song. Thomas’ single reached #5. In 1973, the Swedish group Blue Swede recorded an extremely silly cover of “Hooked On A Feeling,” and that single became a #1 hit in the US.

In the early ’70s, Mark James co-wrote the ballad “Always On My Mind” with Wayne Carson and Johnny Christopher. Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley both released versions of the song in 1972, but the song didn’t really become a hit until the ’80s, when two different versions made the top 10. Willie Nelson covered “Always On My Mind” in 1982, and his version reached #5. Five years later, the Pet Shop Boys released a version of “Always On My Mind” that became a worldwide hit and reached #4 in the US.

Mark James wrote a great many songs over the years, but those three standards make up a towering legacy on their own. James was inducted in the the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame in 2014. Check out the definitive versions of his three biggest songs below.

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