George Jones has been called the Frank Sinatra of country music. He is the ultimate country crooner and has a voice that sounds like he is in severe emotional pain.
By March of 1980, he truly was. His career was in the toilet, his life was a blur of nonstop cocaine and alcohol abuse, his third marriage (to Tammy Wynette) had been over for five years, and he hadn’t had a solo number one hit since.
The heart-wrenching “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” co-written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman and from the “I Am What I Am” album, singlehandedly revived his career. Producer Billy Sherrill uses strings, a harmonica, and steel guitar, but all sparingly and in the service of Jones’ pained voice and the sad, sad story.
The lyrics (“morbid” is how Jones once described them) and Jones’ delivery sell it:
A man still carries a torch for the woman who had left him behind and vows to love her ’til he dies. Right before the chorus kicks in with those wonderful soaring strings, though, it seems like the man has finally gotten over her. His friend, who is narrating the song says, “I went to see him just today. Oh, but I didn’t see no tears. All dressed up to go away. First time I’d seen him smile in years.”
Not so fast. “Soon they’ll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.” He loved her until the day that he died. It gives me chills every time I listen to it. I love “sad bastard” music sometimes (Mark Kozelek, I’m looking at you), and this is one of the most perfect “sad bastard” songs ever.
Jones earned his first Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1980. The song was named Single of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy Of Country Music, and Jones was named Best Male Vocalist in both groups.
(Pardon the cheesy video, but at least it helps you concentrate on the lyrics. The whole point of this Great Songs series is to listen to the music anyway, not watch a video!)