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With 'He Stopped Loving Her Today,' George Jones Returns From Certain Death

Music | September 12, 2020

George Jones in 1978. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

When George Jones recorded "He Stopped Loving Her Today," he didn't just need a hit -- he needed a lifeline. Like so many country stars, he'd overindulged in the '70s, and on the cusp of the '80s he was in poor health and had trouble even making it to the stage at his own concerts. Yet even at his low point, Jones still had his voice, considered by some country fans to be the sweetest sound ever committed to record. Despite Jones’s damaged reputation throughout the 1970s due to personal battles, he returned stronger than ever thanks to "He Stopped Loving Her Today."  The world forgave Jones’s previous actions and fell in love with the honky-tonk hero all over again.

George Jones Was One Of The Biggest Country Stars Of The '60s

Source: Billboard

George Jones was born in Saratoga, Texas and climbed to fame during the 1950s as a country star with a musical style heavily inspired by the honky-tonk works of Hank Williams. Jones was raised by a family with a shared love of music who constantly sang and listened to records with one another. As he began his professional career, Jones became recognizable for his finely polished love ballads that were able to grasp onto listeners’ emotions, especially since almost everybody can relate to stories of love and heartbreak. Another crowd-pleaser is backwoods country charm, which Jones brought to the table in the 1959 moonshiner anthem "White Lightning," Jones' first country #1. By the 1960s, his popularity only continued to rise as he established himself as one of the top country performers of the era as he recorded hit after hit, including number two hit “Window Up Above” and chart-topping singles “Tender Years” and "She Still Thinks I Care."

George Jones' Addiction to Drugs And Alcohol Ruin His Reputation

Source: Pinterest

Unfortunately, Jones’s career took a tragic turn during the 1970s when his personal issues meddled into his professional life. By this decade, Jones had already experienced multiple divorces with the latest being to country star Tammy Wynette, with whom he shared children and many duets together. Similar to many of the other country legends of the time, Jones turned to the heavy use of drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. The severe substance abuse he put himself through steered his career into the opposite direction it had been heading. 

'No Show' Jones

Source: Etsy

Jones became unreliable and unpredictable, often disappearing for days. There were multiple cases where he didn’t even show up for scheduled concerts and recording sessions, which upset fans and those working for him. His tendencies earned him the undesirable nickname "No Show Jones." His reputation was essentially ruined as people refused to work with him or even listen to his music at this time. His recent singles and albums were commercial failures, especially when compared to his massive hits of the previous decades. Along with his professional demise, his body was in jeopardy as well when his frequent cocaine use led to an unhealthy amount of weight loss. 

'He Stopped Loving Her Today' Saved George Jones

Source: Country Thang Daily

Despite seeming to be a complete lost cause, George Jones managed to reach the limelight once again with just one song. Songwriters Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman wrote a touching tune, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," about a man haunted by his love for an ex. Although it was only a simple three-chord song, He Stopped Loving Her Today was powerful because of its strong emotional appeal. Although his prominence had seriously dwindled, the song was brought to George Jones to record. Little did he know, Jones had made a decision that would save his career. 

"He Stopped Loving Her Today" almost wasn’t even recorded because of how difficult the session was for Jones. It was clear Jones had not released a hit in years as it seemed he completely forgot how to record a simple song. He could not remember the true melody and kept confusing it with Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night. The spoken word portion of the song was a production mess as Jones continuously slurred his words to the point where one could not even understand what he was speaking. Jones never was able to finish the song in one take, but fortunately Billy Sherrill was a production wizard and spliced together all the best pieces to form one hit song. When it was finished, George Jones admitted he hated the song and told Sherrill "Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a b***h." Jones could not have been more wrong. 

Lyrics And Meaning Of 'He Stopped Loving Her Today'

Source: Wide Open Country

The man in the song promises his former girlfriend that he'll love her until the day he dies; she brushes it off, saying he will forget her in time. The man stays true to his word as his love doesn’t end until the day he finally does die, as portrayed through the description of his funeral.

"He Stopped Loving Her Today"

He said, "I'll love you 'til I die"
She told him, "You'll forget in time"
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half-crazy, now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she'd come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single 'I love you'

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

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

You know, she came to see him one last time
Oh, and we all wondered if she would
And it kept running through my mind
This time he's over her for good

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

The funeral imagery might not be apparent on the first or second listen, but the key to the entire song is right there in the first line: "He said 'I'll love you 'til I die.'" While death is an obviously sad event, in this story it is also a merciful release from years of loneliness and unrequited love.

George Jones Kept Going For Three More Decades

Source: Billboard

"He Stopped Loving Her Today" became a number one hit, Jones' first in six years. In a sudden flash, Jones was back in the spotlight decades after what everyone believed to be his peak years. The song also won Jones a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance and a CMA award for Song Of The Year. Along with his professional career, Jones’s personal life was also on the rise when he decided to repent his old ways and to officially get his life back in order. He later admitted that it was the love of his wife Nancy Sepulvado (whom he married in 1983) that saved his life. The rest of his years were spent in success as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and continued to release hits and tour rigorously throughout his final decades. Jones passed away in April 2013 with an extraordinary reputation that had been fixed with the help of one simple love song. 

Tags: 1970s Country Music | Country Music | George Jones | Number-one Singles | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts

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Brian Gilmore

Writer

Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.