This is one of those soul-influenced, hyper-produced, and horn-driven pop ballads that were prevalent on the radio in the early '70s, the sort that were hits for B.J. Thomas, the Hollies, Neil Diamond, etc. In fact, it was Mark James, a childhood friend of Thomas from Houston, who wrote "Suspicious Minds" as well as Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling." Thomas also released a version of "Suspicious Minds" in 1972, but it is Elvis Presley's 1969 recording that will remain forever embedded in the public's consciousness. The recording was produced by legendary Memphis soul producer Chips Moman at the down-home American studio, which had -- according to Peter Guralnick's Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (1999) -- produced "an unprecedented string" of 64 chart records over 18 months (1968-1969) for a variety of out-of-town labels. The track marked a return to form as well as a literal return to the singer's hometown. After years of wasting his talents on B-movie soundtrack filler, a bellowing, mature-voiced Presley unleashes his full power on this watershed ballad. It alternately rages and simmers, from a driving four-on-the-floor chorus to a slow-burning, halting-tempo bridge that feels like a completely different song. It is on this Stax-like soul section -- after the anguished frustration expressed in the verses -- that Presley testifies like Otis Redding, beseeching his lover not to "let a good thing die," as if down on one knee. The theme is summed up in the song's title: two adult lovers letting paranoia and mistrust drive a wedge between them.
James had released his own recording of the song on the Scepter label in 1968, and it provided the blueprint for the Presley version. Moman had also produced the original recording, which is almost identical in arrangement to the Presley take. But the King's intensity turns the song into something completely his own, spurring on the studio band to turn up the heat more than a few notches. The James version, which was not a hit, simply cannot even compare. With the Presley master recorded in merely four takes, "everyone in the studio knew that this was the song," according to Guralnick. Presley's enthusiasm to be back home, recording topnotch material in a funky studio with great musicians, is evident on the recording. This enthusiasm kept the recording sessions moving in the face of disputes over business matters; Moman, who owned the copyright to the song, resolutely refused to give any publishing to the Presley camp -- the practice of taking a chunk of the publishing royalties was common for material covered by Presley. The singer kept himself sheltered from such matters. In the end, it seems, his love for the song overruled his business advisors. The recording begins with a hammering guitar lick and a hi-hat drum introduction. Over this, the vocal lines are sung in a two-part harmony. The musicians on the sessions included Reggie Young on guitar, Tommy Cogbill on guitar and bass, Bobby Wood on piano, Ronnie Milsap on piano and vocal, Mike Leech on bass, and Gene Chrisman on drums. The arrangement soon builds to include horns, strings, layered backing vocals, and the pounding rhythm section.
After the Memphis sessions, Presley took his act out to Las Vegas, where he tried out "Suspicious Minds" in front of a live audience. A week into the engagement, he went into a studio in Vegas to do some overdubs on the original recording, including the International Casino horns, and rearranging it to include a false ending coda, wherein the song begins to fade out, only to return for a vamp on the lines "We're caught in a trap/I can't walk out/Because I love you too much baby." Guralnick notes that the reaction of Moman and his crew upon hearing the released version was that it amounted to a gimmicky "audio joke," perhaps influenced by the then-current Beatles hit "Hey Jude." But there is no arguing with the success of the recording: It was Presley's first number one in seven years. In addition to the well-known single version, Presley recorded a passionate live take heard on Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite (1973). Thomas also released a version of his friend James' song on the Moman-produced disc B.J. Thomas County (1972) that is, unsurprisingly, very similar to the other two Moman-produced versions of the song. The Fine Young Cannibals resurrected the song on Fine Young Cannibals (1985), scoring a post-new wave hit.