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Featuring the songs of Nick Sullivan

Demos, discussion, lyrics, sheet music

Trouble On His Mind


Album:  Songs Sung Sideways

3. Trouble On His Mind

The couple probably didn’t think it was going to be the last time they would walk into a bar together. Was it the liquor that was soon to finally push him over the edge? Was it the flies and the heat? Or was it the subtly disturbing influence of that old saloon piano?

“I envy people who drink – at least they know what to blame everything on.”
Oscar Levant, composer (1906-1972)

The Song

Trouble On His Mind was built for sturdiness and simplicity. Learn a few lines and three easy chords and you’re all the way there. Hard to go wrong, unless you’ve got trouble on your mind.

Walt: That is a plate on his head, is it not? What is he trying to hide?

Nick: Does the plate on that troubled head – if it is really a plate – in fact hide anything? Is it not rather the dish on which he serves up his hopes and dreams – and yes, his beguilingly melodious troubles – to an officially uncaring though musically captivated world.

All: Sometimes a plate on your pate is just a pate-plate.

The Music

Music written in 12/8 time has four beats to the bar, each internally divided into three, like a proton. At the slow medium tempo of Trouble On His Mind (about 96 beats a minute), 12/8 lends itself to an easygoing lope that resonates ideally with the brainwaves of the indolent. Indeed, this may explain much about how the song came to be.

Nick: The songs I had been writing just before Trouble On His Mind were homely enough, but they all made a point of bringing in some out-of-town chords for harmonic variety. After a while, one starts to suspect oneself of using chordiness as a crutch. At such times, what better therapy can there be than to write a three-chorder in G?

Lyrics and Chords

Verse 1


She’s as pretty as a picture,

            C               G

In fact the paint is hardly dry;


He sits right beside her,


He’s her guy;

           G               C

But if the way he keeps on drinking

          G            C

And never talking is a sign,

               G        D7             G

That there’s a man with trouble on his mind.

(G  D7  G  D7  G)

Verse 2

There’s a picture in his wallet

You won’t find on his wall;

It’s someone that he used to love

That’s all;

He knows she knows about it,

She’s not the jealous kind;

But he’s still a man with trouble on his mind.

Verse 3

There’s the moment of decision,

There’s the future that it brings;

That’s the rule for paupers

And kings;

He’s heading for the doorway,

He can’t help but look behind;

There goes a man with trouble on his mind.

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