Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”

“He Stopped Loving Her Today”

George Jones

Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

June 20 – June 27, 1980

Billboard

#1 (1 week)

July 5, 1980

After “Two Story House,” George Jones was well positioned for a solo comeback hit, and he took advantage of that opportunity by releasing one of the greatest country singles in history.

Much has already been written about “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a song that I first sought out because it was ranked No. 1 on some “Greatest Country Singles of All Time” list published in the nineties.  It was a huge seller and got Jones his first major awards recognition as a solo artist, earning him a Grammy and multiple CMA and ACM Awards, while also powering its parent album to platinum.  The weight of history is heavy here.

But strip all of that away, and you just have a damn good song that Jones sings the ever loving hell out of.  Producer Billy Sherrill’s use of dramatic strings, honed so well in support of amplifying the fragile power vocals of Tammy Wynette, provide the perfect foil here for Jones’ purely traditional vocals.  Even in 1980, this kind of string-heavy Nashville Sound record was a bit of an anachronism.  Because of the song’s subject matter, it still worked, right down to the angelic background vocals that transport you right to the side of the casket as “she came to see him one last time.”

Jones always had a flair for the dramatic, and with “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” he made one of his most cinematic records, up there with classics like “A Good Year For the Roses” and “The Grand Tour,” the latter of which we’ll cover when we get to the seventies.  George Jones at his best is about as good as country music gets, and this is him at his best.

He followed it with two more hits from its parent album, I Am What I Am: the top five “I’m Not Ready Yet” and the top ten “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will.)” We’ll see him again in 1981 with the lead single from his next album.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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16 Comments

  1. The story goes that George carried the song around in a brief case for a few years and thought it was too sad. He supposedly said “No one wants to hear that miserable son of a bitch”… He was surprised how well it did. Absolutely a classic. One of my favorites of his, on that same album, is These Days (I Barely Get By). I’m enjoying this journey of yours. Great thoughts on each song.

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  2. Author Jack Isenhour wrote a wonderfully captivating book about the recording of this song in 2011 for the University Press of Mississippi. It is titled “He’s Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time.” It’s a crazy fun read full of wild anecdotes from the people who were there during the recording process which apparently took anywhere from month to a full year to do.

    In it he writes, “What is it exactly that George Jones does to produce those shivers? Nobody know, really. You can talk, write, research yourself silly and still not come up with an answer for that one. He just does.”

    This song is case and point. When trying to write about it, all I want,and need to do, is listen to it again: every time, the song just demands we shut up and stop what we are doing.

    And if you don’t want to do that, dial up Vern Gosdin’s “Do You Beleive Me Now” from his 1988 album “Chiseled in Stone.” In many ways, it is a copy-cat single right down to the same angelic back ground vocals.

    That would typically be a bad thing except that if George Jones had a true rival for best male country vocalist it may well be Vern Gosdin, who was simply known as “The Voice.

    And similarly, “Do You Beleive Me Know” is it’s own masterpiece. I often imagine both songs as being about the same characters. Maybe the meeting between the former lovers at the “place where losers go” in Gosdin’s song was a private rendez-vous in “the troubled side of town” that preceded her publicly showing up at his funeral in the Jones song.

    And that Jones song is an utter classic.

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  3. It’s an iconic, amazing and a sad song, but it is an absolute classic and a beautifully sung one as well. Just amazing. Not much else to say.

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  4. While i definitely think this is an all time classic but hell I don’t even think it’s the greatest George Jones performance. That goes to show you how great George Jones was throughout his career. You nailed when you said George at his very best is country music at it’s very best. Enough said.

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  5. While I agree that the lists the listed this as THE greatest country song of all time were a bit off, it is an amazing song and great performance. People are followers by nature without listening. I have heard people tell me this is the greatest of all time but then don’t even know what the song is about, lol. Anyway, yes it is a great song.

    I would actually rate The Grand Tour or Golden Rings (w/ Tammy) as the best of Jones

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  6. A classic song! But most certainly not the best county song of all time. I could think of dozens of songs I’d put above it. Not knocking the song, just the high level of praise calling it the best.

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    • Hi, The Trouble With The Truth. If you have a few minutes, please name those dozens. I’m not saying this is the BEST ever, but, surely top 5.

      • Here’s a few songs I’d put above He Stopped Loving Her Today: Coal Miners Daughter, Long Black Veil, Coat of Many Colors, Crazy Arms, I Still Miss Someone, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Sweet Dreams, Together Again, The Greatest Man, and Makin’ Believe. I’m not here to rile anyone up but I personally find more to enjoy in these songs and sounds than on He Stopped Loving Her Again. I’d even put George Jones Choices above it as far as Jones songs go.

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  7. Typical human reaction is to poke holes in anything considered “the best.” He Stopped Loving Her Today may or may not be the BEST country song ever, but, it is certainly in the discussion. BUT, we can all accept it as the beautiful song that it is 42 years later.

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  8. I think it is worth noting that two classic songs have already charted number one this early in the decade, Don Williams’ “Good Ole’ Boys Like Me” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The eighties are already looking to flip the script on the quality of music commonly associated with it.

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    • There are so many fantastic songs still on the way in 1980 alone, and that’s not counting ones any of the ones that I’m unfamiliar with now but may fall in love with when I hear them. I am really enjoying writing this feature.

  9. By no means my favorite George Jones song (it would be about #5 on my George Jones ‘Hit Parade’), but a great song and great performance anyway. I think Johnny Russell was the first artist to record the song (the last verse was written after Russell recorded the song) but Russell, a fine singer and songwriter, lacked the gravitas to really make this song shine.

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