You’ll associate a different act with “You Were On My Mind” depending which side of the Atlantic you live on.
The music industry has gone global now, so this doesn’t happen anymore. But back in the 1960s, depending on an artist’s ability to tour, TV exposure, licencing deals and a whole host of things, it wasn’t unusual for different acts to record hit versions of the same song on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
We Five had the US hit with “You Were On My Mind”, Crispian St Peters the British one.
You’ll know the song, though, although its most famous section probably isn’t the title. It’s…
I got troubles, whoa-oh
I got worries, whoa-oh
I got wounds to bind
A quick straw poll at work the other day suggested that, while plenty of people of a certain age know the song, many of them think it’s called “I Got Troubles”. As that refrain is repeated regularly throughout the song, it’s not the craziest idea to have.
The song is, however, called “You Were On My Mind” and its journey into our collective consciousness didn’t start with either We Five or Crispian St Peters…although both acts helped it along its way.
“You Were On My Mind” was written by Sylvia Fricker…later Sylvia Tyson…of Canadian folk/pop group Ian and Sylvia.
Ian and Sylvia aren’t especially well-known internationally, although they did very well in their native Canada where they’re seen as one of the most important acts in Canadian music history.
They were operating very much at the intersection where the formerly separate disciplines of pop, folk and country music all started to come together in the early 1960s.
Ian and Sylvia’s career was kick-started by Albert Grossman, at the time Peter, Paul and Mary’s manager, and soon to be Bob Dylan’s manager, who got them the recording contract for their first album.
We Five took “You Were On My Mind” to Number Three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. The lyrics took a bit of rewording first as Sylvia Fricker’s original version told tales of getting drunk and feeling hungover…not exactly radio-friendly topics for public broadcasting networks in the mid-1960s, on either side of the Atlantic.
“You Were On My Mind” tells the story of not being able to get someone out of your head. No matter what difficulties and pressures there might be, the first thoughts that pop into this person’s mind every morning are someone who can’t…or perhaps won’t, you could take the lyrics either way…be with them…
When I woke up this morning
You were on my mind
And you were on my mind
Through the comings and goings of the day, those thoughts are still there…never far below the surface. Whenever a quiet moment comes along and life stops distracting you with busy-ness, the memories come back again in an instant. Try as you may, you can’t shut them off.
Although We Five had a monster hit with “You Were On My Mind”, this would be the only time they troubled the upper reaches of the Hot 100. After a couple of commercially-unsuccessful albums, they went their own ways.
Which makes me wonder, because “You Were On My Mind” was pretty much Crispian St Peters’ only brush with the top of the UK charts as well. It almost like the song is spooked in some way…
Crispian St Peters followed “You Were On My Mind” with “The Pied Piper”, which did quite well — a UK Number Four and US Number Five — but after that, he faded away too.
What every version of the song reminds us is that you’ve got to keep going through your troubles, no matter how hard it is at the time. The worst thing to do is become stuck where you are, deep in something unpleasant, even if that unpleasant thing is only the company of your own thoughts. Moving forward isn’t easy, but as Sylvia Fricker put it…
And I got a feeling
Down in my shoes
Said way down in my shoes
Yeah, I got to ramble, whoa-oh
I got to move on, whoa-oh
I got to walk away my blues
You see, you’re never likely to lose your blues if you stay where you are. You’ve got to move on.
If that’s you at the moment, good luck on the journey…
Of all the versions of “You Were On My Mind”, I like Crispian St Peters’ best. I’m sure that’s partly because it’s the version I heard on UK radio growing up.
Ian and Sylvia’s version is a perfectly decent, if rather sparse, folkie interpretation of the song. There’s obviously the slightly problematic lyrics for mid-60s radio, but for me this version just meanders through at its own pace. Nothing wrong with that…and it’s Sylvia Fricker’s song to perform any way she chooses…but I keep waiting for it to get exciting, and it never does.
We Five’s version does inject some progression in that it starts quietly and builds throughout the song. For me, though, there’s a little too much going on in there. With four guitarists the sound seems a little over-crowded for me. You could take out a guitar or two and still have a very respectable song.
Crispian St Peters’ version retains all the progression from We Five’s treatment, but in a more interesting way. Instead of rather too many guitars slugging it out , we have a single guitar and bass at the beginning, which expands to include some piano, an organ and a bass sax as the song builds.
Because different musical elements are being introduced, rather than just more of the same…or something very similar…Crispian St Peters’ version works better than the others for me. But obviously that’s a matter of personal taste…perhaps depending where you live…
If you’re interested in the song’s progression, you can find Ian and Sylvia’s version here, together with We Five’s version here (full marks to the TV segment producer for finding a way around the fact that We Five didn’t have a drummer…and with a name like theirs, the band could hardly have six people in it).
Whichever version you prefer, though, hats off to Sylvia Fricker…still going strong at 78 years old…for writing one of the 1960s most memorable songs.
Here’s Crispian St Peters’ 1966 UK Number Two, “You Were On My Mind”…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/18R1pCsojJB9YHMb00CcmE
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.