What may be the world’s greatest break-up song was first recorded by songstress Brenda Lee, who scored a hit with it in the summer of 1972. Elvis Presley recorded it in March of that year, one month after he was legally seperated from his wife Priscilla Presley. It peaked at # 16 on the charts and went gold and fit in well with his Las Vegas-era melodramatic output.

Arguably, the definative version was recorded by Willie Nelson for his album of the same name in 1982. It was a huge crossover hit for the country artist, hitting # 5 on the charts and going quadruple-platinum. On an album filled with strange covers (Procol Harum? Simon and Garfunkel? Aretha Franklin?), this song stood out as one that may have actually surpassed previous versions.

Over the years, both Presley’s and Nelson’s hits inspired an astounding number of cover versions from easy listening artists like Floyd Cramer, Englebert Humperdink, and James Galway. Perhaps the strangest cover was the Pet Shop Boys transformation from a ballad to a dance hit which opens with the roar of an animal. Recorded for a TV tribute, it was later released as a single in November 1987. (Written on the single are the words “Not on the album actually”, a pun on the name of their album Actually. A remix appears on their album Introspective.) Though intended to be as un-Elvis like as possible, it is a fitting tribute to the song and one of my favorite cover versions of anything.

Always on My Mind
(Johnny Christopher/Mark James/Wayne Carson Thompson)

And the track listing for Nelson’s album:

1.   Do Right Woman, Do Right Man (Moman/Penn)
2.   Always on My Mind (Christopher/James/Thompson)
3.   A Whiter Shade of Pale (Brooker/Reid)
4.   Let It Be Me (Becaud/Curtis/Delanoe)
5.   Staring Each Other Down (Emmons/Moman)
6.   Bridge over Troubled Water (Simon)
7.   Old Fords and a Natural Stone (Emmons/Moman)
8.   Permanently Lonely (Nelson)
9.   Last Thing I Needed First Thing This... (Ciscel/Nunn)
10.  The Party's Over (Nelson)