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The Story Behind George Jones’ ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’

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The recording session for George Jones’ classic song “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which happened on Feb. 6, 1980, is so iconic, there’s an entire book about it. Jones showed up at Nashville’s Studio B, 26 years ago today, and set about creating what would become his definitive song.

Documenting the breakdown of a man after his relationship ends, the song eventually reveals the heartbreaking reason he finally “stopped loving her today.” It’s hard to imagine anyone comes away from listening with dry eyes, especially with Jones’s voice delivering the aching lyrics.

The song remains one of the highlights of country music history. It gathered awards – including CMAs and Grammys – after its release, and in 2009, it was chosen for the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board’s selections.

But “He Stopped Loving Her Today” might never have been recorded, if not for an unlikely set of events.

At the peak of his career, Jones was among the more troubled country singers. He was battling drinking and drug problems and was famous for his missed appearances and alcohol-fuelled rages. And he was bankrupt and homeless.

Author Jack Isenhour documented the session, which Jones barely got to, in his book He 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. Recording was difficult: Jones couldn’t get it done in one take and kept forgetting the melody.

The spoken word section was the most difficult for him, however. He kept slurring the words. Jones would have to rely on producer Billy Sherrill to splice together the best moments of several takes. In the end, it was a masterpiece, a song many say is the best country song of all time. It’s soaring pedal steel only adds to the emotional intensity.

READ MORE: How Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” Became an Unexpected Classic

Jones was back on top with a song he hadn’t expected would succeed. He later said that the three-minute tune salvaged a four-decade career. Little wonder: Jones’s life at the time he recorded it made him the ideal person to deliver the sorrowful tale.

When George Jones died at the age of 81, close friend Alan Jackson performed a rendition of the song at his memorial service. Now, decades later, many country fans still say that “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is truly the greatest country song of all time.

George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Lyrics:

He said, “I’ll love you till 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

 

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The Story Behind George Jones’ ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’