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45 at 45: Brenda Lee’s Always On My Mind (No, really)

Brenda Lee’s legacy as the first woman to be inducted into both the Country Music and Rock & Roll Halls of Fame speaks for itself. Not to mention her many admirers include the likes of Dolly Parton, Elton John and Taylor Swift, who once described her as “the singer who mastered the sound of heartbreak so flawlessly that she made audiences not only identify with her but believe her.

As an 11-year-old, in 1956, she tore into Hank Williams’ Jambalaya (On The Bayou), showing off an already-polished blend of bubblegum sweetness and growling intensity that she’d channel into early hits like That’s All You Gotta Do and Dum Dum. 

Her deep songbook is a testament to the stunning versatility of her voice, which adapted perfectly to the ubiquitous holiday cheer of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, the soul-deep ache of Emotions, and the raw regret of Always On My Mind. 

Lest we forget, Lee’s melancholy Memphis take was the first recorded version of the song in early 1972, with Gwen Macrae’s and Elvis Presley’s swiftly following that year.

A decade later, Willie Nelson took the song back to its stark country origins, while its biggest success took it furthest away, with a souped-up synth-pop reimagining by British electro-dup the Pet Shop Boys topping the charts in seven countries.

Steve Pafford

45 at 33: Pet Shop Boys’ Always On My Mind is here

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