George Jones will always be remembered for his magnificent, evocative voice. That golden throat graced dozens of country classics across six decades of recording. Here are 10 prime hits (listed alphabetically) that helped define his incredible career — and, on occasion, bring devoted listeners to tears.
Jones deservedly won a 1999 Grammy for this hard country ballad in which he reflects on a life of poor decisions. The steel guitar and fiddle cry along with him as he considers his taste for drinking and the loved ones he’s hurt. Still, without those choices, his life wouldn’t have been the same. When he was asked to shorten the song for the CMA Awards, he bowed out — and Alan Jackson earned a standing ovation by tacking on “Choices” at the end of his own slot.
“Golden Ring” (With Tammy Wynette)
Although their iconic marriage didn’t last, the undeniable chemistry of their duets will never tarnish. In a fitting tribute to the song’s title, everything comes full circle in this three-minute narrative. Two lovers find a pair of wedding rings in a pawn shop, get married, break up and take the rings back to the shop. Back on display, they attract the eyes of another couple. Wait, do people buy used wedding rings? Well, when George and Tammy sing, you believe every word.
“The Grand Tour”
Nashville tourists probably would not enjoy the sort of home tour that Jones describes here in miserable, meticulous detail. With echoes of piano, he points out the empty chair and the empty bed in the empty house. About the only thing he’s kept is the framed photo of the woman who’s gone. “As you leave you’ll see the nursery/Oh, she left me without mercy.” A tour de force.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today”
This 1980 Grammy-winning weeper is considered by many to be the greatest country song of all time. As the story unfolds, Jones goes to a funeral visitation for a heartbroken old friend. When the orchestra is diminished, your attention is shifted to a ghostly background vocal and Jones’ recitation about the woman who came to see his friend one last time. It almost feels like you’re in the room when he has the epiphany. And that’s the magic of Jones’ vulnerable voice.
“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”
Sure, the song is a novelty, but that didn’t keep longtime admirers like Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Pam Tillis from chiming in their support, along with short phrases sprinkled in here and there. The boisterous track won a 1993 CMA Award for vocal event of the year. Jones later repeated in the category by harmonizing with Patty Loveless on the marvelous “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” and teaming with Brad Paisley, Buck Owens and Bill Anderson on “Too Country.”
“She Thinks I Still Care”
Hey, he’s only casually mentioning her, asking friends about her, accidentally calling her and retracing her footsteps. It doesn’t mean anything, right? Where would she get such an idea? A No. 1 smash in 1962, “She Thinks I Still Care” tells its story with teardrops — and a sly wink.
Instead of a honky-tonk direction, Jones took a smooth approach to “Tender Years” in 1961, surrounded by lush orchestration and elegant harmonies. Don’t be misled, though. In the lyrics, he’s torn up about his woman forsaking him for another man. The only solace Jones can find is the knowledge that she’ll look back fondly … someday. And in the meantime, he’ll wait. (By the way, I don’t think women want to hear that you’ll still be there when their new relationship fails.)
“Sheeeew … White lightning!” Written by J.P. Richardson (a.k.a “The Big Bopper”), this 1959 romp set the stage for a lifetime of drinking songs. With a hidden North Carolina moonshine still, the singer’s dad likes to fill up a jug and pass it around. No revenuers allowed. And of course, the tough city slickers can’t handle it: “I heard him a-moanin’ as he hit the ground.” As for Jones, he hit the ground running as “White Lightning” became his first No. 1 hit.
“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”
The demise of classic country music has been on listeners’ minds for decades now. In 1985, Jones wondered aloud if anybody would come along to carry the traditionalist torch. Then he lists some of the men and women who altered the course of country music — even contemporaries like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley. It’s an honorable tribute to country music’s heritage and will be remembered as one of Jones’ most poignant recordings.
“Why Baby Why”
This catchy tune brought Jones a national audience in 1955 after years of paying his dues. The melody is easy to like, while the message is true Jones — drinking, fighting, crying and loving. Although we’ve lost the legendary singer, the topics — and that voice — are timeless.