Tom: This week, we saw Pet Shop Boys in concert. It was an incredible gig, and as we left, I said I was surprised that they ended on a cover. And you said…
Tim: “Wait, it’s a cover?”
Tom: I quelled my initial reaction of “how could you not know that?” because, congratulations, you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000!
Tom: Always On My Mind is a country standard. It’s been recorded by dozens of artists — there’s a history on Wikipedia, of course — but I’d like to pick out just the two most popular versions that aren’t Pet Shop Boys, because the difference between them is astonishing.
The canonical version was sung by Elvis Presley, recorded just after he separated from his wife, and is one of his best-known and most loved records. In fact, the only reason the Pet Shop Boys version exists is because they performed it on a tribute-to-Elvis TV show.
Tim: Oh…oh, I do recognise that, now I hear it.
Tom: And it’s emotional. It’s an apology of sorts, and that’s certainly how it came across, but in hindsight it almost sounds like a passive-aggressive apology, the sort provided by someone who doesn’t know why they’re apologising, but knows that they have to. The instrumentation is almost triumphant.
Why do I say that? Because the hindsight is provided by Willie Nelson’s absolutely heartbreaking, wistful version, ten years later.
Tom: It sounds like an apology. It sounds like it should. Everything, from that one quiet “you did, you did” from a female vocalist in the first verse, to the instrumentation that somehow manages to avoid Elvis’s triumphalism despite being almost as large and full. It sounds like the song of someone who is genuinely sorry.
Tim: It really does. It’s an almost completely different song, and it’s lovely.
Tom: Despite my love for the Pet Shop Boys cover, to me, this will always be the canonical version of Always On My Mind.
Tim: Nice to know. I’ll throw in my two cents cents: looking at that Wikipedia article you linked to, I realised why the Pet Shop Boys’ version is the only one I really know: because it’s on my family’s primary Christmas compilation album, due to its Christmas number one status. Anyway, thank you very much for today’s education.