LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 1st March: Country musician George Jones performs on stage at the Country & Western Festival held at Wembley Arena, London in March 1986.
David Redfern/Redferns

'He Stopped Loving Her Today': The Story Behind George Jones' Career-Saving Classic

The recording session for George Jones' best song "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is so iconic, there's an entire book about it. Jones showed up at Nashville's Studio B and set about creating what many consider to be his definitive hit.

Documenting the breakdown of a man after his relationship ends, the song 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' dynamic voice delivering the aching lyrics.

It remains one of the greatest classic country songs of them all. It gathered awards in its time, including a two CMA awards for Song of the Year ('80 and '81) and a Grammy for Best Male Vocal Country Performance. In 2009, it was recognized for its cultural importance by the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board. As impressively, it ranked at No. 142 on the 2021 edition of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

But "He Stopped Loving Her Today", written by songwriters Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, might never have been recorded, if not for an unlikely set of events.

The story behind the song is quite interesting. 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 (thus the nickname "No Show Jones") and alcohol-fueled rages. And the Grand Ole Opry star 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. The recording was difficult: Jones couldn't get it done in one take and kept forgetting the melody. In fact, he kept singing it to the melody of the Kris Kristofferson song "Help Me Make It Through The Night." Things went so poorly that the recitation was recorded 18 months after the first verse was captured on tape.

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 for this three-minute song. At first, Jones hated the song. Per his autobiography I Lived to Tell It All, he proclaimed that "Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a bitch"— and as the legend goes, the lyrics reminded Jones of his past marriage to Tammy Wynette. But, in the end, it was a masterpiece, a song many believe to be benchmark in country music history. Its soaring pedal steel accompaniment by Hall of Famer Pete Drake only adds to the emotional intensity. It was released as the lead single from 1980's I Am What I Am.

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.

Close friend Alan Jackson performed a rendition of the song at Jones' funeral. Now, decades later, many country fans still say that "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is truly the greatest country song of all time.

Few have had the nerve to cover a near-perfect country song, with Johnny Cash highlighting the short lists of artists with their own renditions.

READ MORE: Scotty McCreery on Inspiration-Turned-Peer George Strait: 'an Icon, a Legend, a Hero of Mine'

This story was previously published in 2019.

"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