When George Jones recorded his greatest hit, he was a country veteran with 25 years of hits under his belt. He was also a walking train wreck, so strung out on booze and cocaine that he couldn’t even manage a complete take of the song. (“Nobody will buy that morbid son of a bitch,” Jones complained at the time.) Yet somehow, producer Billy Sherrill pieced together a performance that exemplified country music’s unique power — its sentimentality, its appeal to maturity, its understanding of what it means to hope collectively in the face of hopelessness.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is absolutely shameless. (That spoken verse? Come on.) It’s also utterly heartbreaking, an unforgettable portrait of doomed desire made all the more dramatic by Jones’ understatement. The gigantic swoop of strings that Sherrill tacked onto the beginning of the final chorus may be the corniest thing ever put on record, but just try to listen to it without shivering.
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