Song: "He Stopped Loving Her Today"
Album: I Am What I Am
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While it goes without saying that any artist from any genre can write about any subject matter they wish, the fact remains that there are certain themes which work better within specific musical confines. To be more exact, though musicians from every musical style try their best, there is no question that when it comes to songs of heartbreak, country music has the perfect formula. There is something within the nuances of the genre that make it the ideal fit for such tales, and across the generations, lyrics that reach deep into the heart of listeners have become one of the trademarks of every great country performer. Among the artists who have perfected this style and theme over the years, there is one who stands above the rest, and one can easily make the case that there has never been a better country vocalist than one finds all across the catalog of George Jones. As a stalwart of the country music scene for nearly six decades, few artists of any genre have as massive a back catalog as Jones, and he is responsible for a number of the songs considered to be "standards" within country music. Due to this reality, it is almost impossible to name a single song that defines him as an artist, as there were a few different "phases" that one can see throughout his career. However, there is a track that is held in such reverence that it cannot be overlooked, and one can quickly understand why George Jones remains such an icon by experiencing his stunning 1980 single, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
On every level, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is true musical perfection, and it begins with the absolutely fantastic musical arrangement that works behind Jones' voice. The song is led by a handful of guitar tracks, with the classic country "twang" provided by a lonesome acoustic progression, and it is in this sound that the songs' soul resides. Even as more instruments are added to the track, it is this single guitar which remains constant, and it blends beautifully with the slightly distorted slide guitar. The slide track has an almost ghostly feel to it, and it presents a brilliant sonic contrast to the rest of the track, giving "He Stopped Loving Her Today" far more depth than nearly any other country song. The slight wavering in the slide guitar is nothing short of perfect, and it pushes the overall mood to unmatched levels. Yet the "roots" sound is reinforced by the harmonica performance, and this is where the "cowboy" style also comes into play. It is the fact that even with such an "old" instrumentation, the song fits perfectly into any time period which makes "He Stopped Loving Her Today" such a unique musical achievement, and this amazing overall tone also enables the track to easily appeal to an audience far beyond the "standard" country music fan. Adding in a bit of percussion and a small string section, there is a fullness to the arrangement on "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and this combined sound creates one of the most completely mesmerizing musical experiences in all of music history.
Yet even as ideal as the instrumentation is on "He Stopped Loving Her Today," it is the unmistakable voice of George Jones that truly makes the song something unforgettable. One can easily make the case that Jones possesses the strongest and most "pure" voice in country music history, as his vocals never seem forced, and he always finds the perfect way to capture the sentiment of every song he sings. The level of honest and proximity to the words he is able to deploy is often breathtaking, and it is this subtle showmanship that sets him so far apart from any other singer from any genre in music history. On "He Stopped Loving Her Today," Jones found a completely new level of heartbreak and despair within his singing, as the song turns into one of the most devastating tales of lost love that has ever been recorded. Throughout the verses, Jones describes a love to which all can relate, and this simple, unembellished presentation reinforces the honesty and raw nature of the song. Within these lyrics penned by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, one can easily see themselves or someone they know, and one cannot help but get caught up in the seemingly unending devotion the protagonist has for his lost love. It is due to the fact that Jones draws the listener so far into the song that the chorus is able to be so crushing, and the impact of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is one which can be felt well after the song has ended.
On every level, George Jones deployed every element of country music with absolute perfection on "He Stopped Loving Her Today," and to this day, it is often cited as the "greatest" song in the history of country music. In fact, such accolades did not take long to begin, as soon after the release of I Am What I Am, the song found its way to the top of the charts, garnering the Grammy Award for "Best Male Country Vocal Performance" in 1980. However, in an absolutely unprecedented occurrence, the song was forever vaulted far beyond others when it was awarded "Song Of The Year" by the Country Music Association in BOTH 1980 and 1981. This in itself should have been enough proof as to the songs' massive impact, and yet even more than three decades after "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was first released, it retains all of its power and relevance within modern music. In fact, even if one has heard the song countless times, the level of emotion from George Jones continues to hit as hard as ever, and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" remains the standard by which all other songs of heartbreak and loss are judged. Due to the fact that it is such a powerful recording, as well as the exceptional level of musicianship throughout the track, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" has managed to transcend musical boundaries, and there are few songs from any genre that can compare to the beauty and impact that one can find within George Jones' astounding 1980 single.