The iconic country ballad “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is considered to be one of the most loved songs of all time. It is one of those rare pieces that transcends the genre, appealing to a wide audience of rock and rollers, rappers, and more. Even people who claim that they “don’t like country music” know and love this melancholy tune.
It tells of a man who is so in love with a woman that even when she is gone he still can’t move on. He holds on to her photos and letters, hoping that one day she would return. He never stops loving and hoping until the day he dies because only death could bring an end to his love for her.
But there’s a story there (isn’t there always a story?), and it makes this song all the more special.
The story behind the song.
Believe it or not, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was not well received when it was first pitched to Jones. In fact, he outright rejected it (after calling it a couple of choice words). It was written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman who were still riding high after the success of Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” a decade earlier as well as “Golden Ring” sung by both Jones and Wynette in 1976.
It was 1980 and Jones was dealing with devastating substance abuse that had severely damaged both his personal and professional life. He was the epitome of the sad country songs he was famous for singing. The last thing he wanted to do was sing what he called “too long, too sad, too depressing” and something that no one would ever want to play. This according to his biography “George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend” by Bob Allen.
In fact, he refused to even learn it.
Billy Sherrill, Jones’ producer, was convinced that they had a hit and after quite a bit of prodding and cajoling, Jones relented.
Taping was rough though. Jones was still warring with his demons and the lyrics were often slurred, especially during the spoken part. He also kept confusing the song’s melody with “Help Me Make it Through the Night” which didn’t help matters. However, Sherrill did a little of his music magic and pulled it all together to create the loved melody that we have today.
The comeback George Jones needed.
What Jones could did not anticipate was how a song he initially hated would garner such an overwhelmingly positive response. He released it in 1980, won a Grammy for it in 1980 (Best Male Country Vocal Performance) and it was named the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year for 1980 and 1981.
In 1981 “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles and number 2 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks. On Billboard’s year end U.S. Country Songs, it ranked number 3.
George Jones was back on the map!
Jones himself credits the song with salvaging his career. Some would even say it saved his life.
When Jones passed away in 2013, his friend, Alan Jackson, took the Grand Ole Opry stage at his funeral service. And he sang “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
What a fitting tribute to a country legend. And it’s all because of a lil’ ole song.
Picture provided for by The New York Times. Thank you!