"He Stopped Loving Her Today"

He Stopped Loving Her Today
George Jones
1980

Written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman

It's been called the greatest country single of all time, sung by the genre's greatest vocalist. But while it was an enormous hit, becoming George Jones' biggest record and signature song, it was surrounded by doubts before its release.

The song was about a man who carried a flame for a woman who had left him behind, vowing, “I'll love you 'til I die.” Told from the point of view of the man's friend, the various ways he holds on to her memory are documented. Just before the chorus, it seems like the lovesick fool has finally turned it around, as his friend recounts, “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.” Then the chorus brings the kicker: the man kept his word, and loved her until the day that he died. “Soon they'll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.”

The song was co-written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman, and had its origin in off-color funeral humor, before taking a serious turn as the songwriting progressed. Johnny Russell recorded it first, but his label refused to release it. At the time, the song ended after the first chorus. When Billy Sherrill heard it, he knew it was perfect for George Jones, who was in need of a comeback hit after some serious personal struggles. Sherrill requested that another verse be adde

d, which took the form of the woman he loved attending his funeral.

As the producer recounted to Tom Roland in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Jones didn't want to record the song, and when he cut it, he said, “Nobody will by that morbid S.O.B.” Sherrill bet Jones $100 that he was wrong, and recalled, “I won that one hands down.”

The song was a massive hit, returning Jones to prominence on the country hit parade. It was his first solo #1 single in nearly six years. Until then, he'd only had gold albums with Tammy Wynette, but “He Stopped Loving Her Today” propelled the album I Am What i Am to platinum status. After twenty-five years on the charts, “Today” earned Jones his first major accolades from the country music industry. It was named Single of the Year by both the CMA and the ACM, and both organizations named Jones their Male Vocalist. Jones also won his first Grammy for the recording.

The songwriters weren't left out of the festivities, either. The CMA named “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Song of the Year twice – in 1980 and in 1981. It was also named Song of the Year by the ACM, and was nominated for Best Country Song at the Grammys. It has since become a country music standard, a tour de force performance by the man who is most often cited as the greatest country music vocalist in history.

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17 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

17 Responses to "He Stopped Loving Her Today"

  1. LJNo Gravatar

    Wow…. great question. No doubt “He Stopped….” is right up there. Hard to pick “THE” greatest but some that scream “COUNTRY!” to me are:
    “Hello Darlin'” by Conway Twitty
    “Chiseled in Stone” by Vern Gosdin
    “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
    “Rocky Top” (and not just cuz I love me some VOLS)
    … for starters.

  2. Those are all great choices and I’m sure they’ll all eventually make appearances. I don’t know if this will be a daily or every other day kinda thing, but I thought it would make a nice counterpoint to the current single reviews, and incorporate some of what made the 100 Greatest Women countdown work.

    There’s just no way I’d do this as a countdown. It’s been done before anyway by writers better than me. I like this format because I can write about a song from any era on any day.

  3. I comment way too much on this site, I know. But you never cease to come up with great new ideas for features to keep the people coming back. You enabler.

    I’ll be very interested to see what else makes this list. Some of them (like this one) will be foregone conclusions, I suppose, so of the ones that may not be, I’m rooting for “Seven Year Ache,” “Annie’s Song,” “Coat Of Many Colors,” “In The Jailhouse Now,” “Behind Closed Doors,” and whatever you consider to be Dwight Yoakam’s signature hit (“Fast As You,” I guess?)

  4. Also, I think Jones’ performance stands alongside Patsy Cline’s on “Crazy” as one the most untouchable vocal performances of all time. I’ve never heard anyone cover this song well, and I doubt I ever will.

  5. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Curiously enough, Jones was not the first artist to record the song. That honor fell to Johnny Russell, a fine singer but not in the George Jones class as a singer – not necessarily a knock against Russell for few are in the Possum’s class

  6. LJNo Gravatar

    “Crazy” … of course!

    I also love “Til I can make it on my own” by Tammy Wynette.
    Martina did a really good cover on “Timeless” …. it was off the chain live.

    I would also add Dolly’s “I Will Always Love You”.
    Don’t even go there with Whitney’s version.

    Lo’retta Lynn’s “Coal Miners Daughter”.
    Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side”.
    Hank Williams’ “I’m so lonesome I could cry” and/or “Hey Good Lookin'”.

    Honorable Mention: Statler Bros’ “Flowers on the Wall”.

    Dan M. … gets bonus points for “In the Jailhouse Now”.

  7. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that this feature is supposed to take the form of a list, though I know that we’re all primed to think that way after all of Kevin’s incredible undertakings.

    Despite his great catalog, Jones missed out on recording a significant number of country classics over the years. Every veteran artist has a tale about “the one the got away,” but Jones seems to have more of his share, and this article provides a significant example of narrow-mindedness. Jones acknowledged this with an entire album, Hits I Missed…And One I Didn’t, with “He Stopped Loving Her Today” serving, of course as the “one I didn’t” and “Detroit City,” “Blues Man,” “One the Other Hand,” “Too Cold at Home” and “Busted” among the “hits I missed.”

  8. Matt C. – It’s not a countdown, right, but isn’t any system where you name several entries united by a particular theme sort of inherently a list?

  9. Not to be a tool, though. I’m just giving you a hard time!

  10. I should also note that I consider “He Stopped Loving Her Today” to be the greatest country recording of all time, and it’s Jones’s performance, more than the song itself, that makes it so special. Thus, we should be quite thankful that he was wagered into recording it.

  11. LeeannNo Gravatar

    I agree with Matt C on this song. I think it’s a great song, but Jones’ performance is what really makes me think it’s one of the greatest country songs of all time as well. That’s why I think Dan is right in saying that no cover can top it.

    Yeah, Kevin can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is technically a list, but rather a new feature.

  12. Dan, you’re trying to get me in trouble. I will not be dragged into another conversation about editorial decisions at Country Universe.

  13. JarheadDadNo Gravatar

    I got to see George perform this song… uh…. wait a minute…. he didn’t show up that night. No, I saw him perform it… no, he didn’t show up that night either!

    Come to think of it I never did get to see George perform this song and I never did get refunds neither! :-o

    The ultimate country song. Personally I don’t think it would’ve been a great song without George Jones. Period! I can’t even think of anyone else that could’ve taken that song and made it what is. That is the greatest compliment I can give a singer I reckon.

  14. Promise I didn’t mean anything by it!

  15. TomNo Gravatar

    kevin,
    i hope the feature’s title will not prevent you from chosing singles, wich may be great in their own right, but of course never (or perhaps, not yet)
    reach the almost untouchable, iconic status of those songs that are generally considered to be the “classic” or “greatest”country songs, thanks to time life and other countless, nostalgic compilations with their almost brainwashing impact.

    if your next choice was “maybe it was memphis”, i couldn’t argue with that for a second. one must have both hands in plaster or being almost dead for not turning up the stereo when this one’s played.

  16. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    Legend has it that Jones was in such bad shape during this period (1979-80) that Sherill had to piece the song together from several different studio sessions. So the masterpiece we hear on record today is really an ode to Sherill as producer as much to Jones as a performer.

  17. Tim S.No Gravatar

    George does an amazing live version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” on The Best of Austin City Limits CD. In my opinion, it conveys even more raw emotion than the original studio recording.