Learn the Story Behind George Jones’ ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’
Whether or not you agree that George Jones‘ 1980 hit ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ is the greatest country song of all time, we can all probably agree on one thing: The song is Jones’ most famous hit. And there’s a reason why the mournful ballad is so heart-wrenching — it was recorded at one of the Possum’s lowest points.
The melancholy song was written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam, who had already scored major songwriting success with Tammy Wynette‘s hit song ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E.’ Although Jones’ producer Billy Sherrill was itching to put ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ on the country star’s new record, Jones hated the song when he first heard it.
Perhaps Jones was so hesitant to record the song because by 1980, he had all but destroyed his personal and professional life with substance abuse. He didn’t need to record another sad country song — he was living one.
At that point, his singles were dull in comparison to his previous hits, but Sherrill was on the hunt for material that would bring Jones back. Sherrill liked the song, which tells a poignant story about a man who never stops loving his ex until he dies. Jones, on the other hand, was a tough sell.
According to Bob Allen’s biography ‘George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend Sherrill,’ Jones “thought it was too long, too sad, too depressing and that nobody would ever play it … He hated the melody and wouldn’t learn it.”
Eventually, Possum agreed to head to CBS Studio B in Nashville to record the now infamous song. He was still reeling from hurdles he had faced in his personal life, and it was difficult for him to perform. He repeatedly confused the melody of the song with Kris Kristofferson‘s ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night,’ and he slurred the lyrics during the tune’s spoken word bridge.
Fortunately, Sherrill was able to do some work on the back end to make the track sound how it does today — like a mournful, personal ballad that is marked with Jones’ bourbon-laced, grizzled voice.
‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ revived Jones’ fledgling career, as it earned him a Grammy Award in 1980 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and it became the CMA Song of the Year for 1980 and 1981.
As Jones put it in his autobiography, “a four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.”