George Jones

He Stopped Loving Her Today

Song Review by

In the '90s, George Jones' 1980 hit "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (written by Braddock/Putman) was voted the greatest country single of all time by a selection of fans and industry insiders. It certainly is one of the high points of his long career, but calling it the greatest country song of all time is a little hyperbolic, since most of its appeal derives in how it perfectly fits Jones. Not only does it play to Jones' musical strengths, it seems to be the final chapter in the Billy Sherrill-orchestrated musical soap opera that was the stormy love affair between George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Then again, that's what gives it its strength and magic -- it's a song that only the greatest country singer of all time could convincingly sing.

In a way, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is a fusion of Jones' two greatest loves -- heartbreaking country ballads and novelty songs. Some may dispute tagging the song as a novelty, since it certainly isn't a "Who Shot Sam?" or "King Kong," but the song is built on a very cutesy foundation. The opening line is, "He said, 'I'll love you 'til I die'" and the title is "He Stopped Loving Her Today" -- which means, of course, that the only reason he stopped loving is because he stopped living. Other lines have a similar, almost-comic effect -- the narrator observes that as the love-struck deceased lays in his coffin, it's the first time he's "seen him smile in years" -- but that certainly wasn't the intention of the songwriters, and Jones doesn't deliver any of the lines as if they were jokes. It just happens to be a subtext to this larger-than-life song. Producer Billy Sherrill didn't necessarily think of the song as an almost-parody, but he realized its operatic potential -- and he knew that the song would play into the public's perception that Jones was still carrying a torch for his ex-wife Tammy Wynette. So, he crafted a record that was operatic in scope, with the slide guitars and harmonicas providing little details in the opening verses, just before the strings and choirs come sweeping in, elevating the record to epic status. Jones' performance is as richly detailed as Sherrill's production, finding emotional details within a song that was pretty corny. And that's why it's seen by many country fans as the greatest single of all time, even though it's rarely been covered by other artists. It captures George Jones' greatest gift -- he can find depth and true emotion in every song, even a song that is nearly too melodramatic for its own good. The truest testament to his talent is that while "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is playing, the exaggerated sentiments never seem overblown -- they seem natural and affecting. Logically, you can break the song apart, find the bits that are too cutesy or corny, but as a record, it's a real emotional powerhouse. So much so that you begin to believe that George Jones is indeed singing about himself and his devotion to Tammy Wynette. But that, of course, was all part of Sherrill's marketing plan, wasn't it? Or was it?

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
I Am What I Am 1980 Legacy / Epic 3:19
Together Again 1980 BMG Special Products 3:17
Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits 1982 Epic 3:15
Super Hits 1987 Epic / Columbia 3:17
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: New Tradition 1988
Various Artists
Columbia 3:15
He Stopped Loving Her Today 1988 Hollywood
Greatest Country Hits of the 80's: 1980 1989
Various Artists
Columbia / CBS Records 3:15
Contemporary Country: The Early '80s 1991
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Smithsonian Collection of Classic Country Music, Vol. 4 1991
Various Artists
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 3:12
Living Legends 1992 Epic 3:47
Branson USA, Vol. 2: Silver Dollar Country 1993
Various Artists
Priority Records
Country Music Classics, Vol. 21 1980-1985 1993
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:16
Nothin' Like George Jones 1993 Sony Music Distribution 3:14
Country Super Hits 1994
Various Artists
Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:15
All-Time Legends of Country Music 1994
Various Artists
Columbia / Legacy 3:16
The Essential George Jones: The Spirit of Country 1994 Epic / Legacy 3:19
The 101 Greatest Country Hits [Box] 1995
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:15
The Songs I Wanta Sing 1995 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:14
Country [Life, Times & Music] 1995
Various Artists
Life Times & Music 3:17
The Best of the Best of George Jones 1996 Federal Records 3:17
Super Hits of the '80s [Sony] 1997
Various Artists
Epic / Sony Music Distribution 3:16
In the Country of Country, People And Places In American Music 1997
Various Artists
Compass / Compas Records 3:17
Country's #1's 1997
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 3:17
The 101 Greatest Country Hits, Vol. 7: Country Nights 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:15
Country Jukebox Favorites 1997
Various Artists
Intercontinental Records 3:21
Country Heartbreakers [K-Tel] 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:15
Together Apart 1997 BBC Music / K-Tel Distribution 3:15
Super Hits/Super Hits, Vol. 2/George and Tammy Super Hits 1997 Sony Music Distribution 3:17
80's Country Number 1 Men 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:15
The Hits 1997 Mercury Nashville / PolyGram 0:00
Country Classics [EMI #1] 1997 EMI Music Distribution
Super Hits: Cryin' Time 1998
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:17
16 Biggest Hits 1998 Legacy 3:17
The Best of the Best [1999 Federal] 1999 Federal Records 3:18
Together Again: The Encore Collection 1999 BMG Special Products 3:17
4 Country Living Legends 1999
Various Artists
Double Play Records 3:17
Country: The American Tradition 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:17
Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:17
Exposed Roots: Country Legends 1999
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 3:16
Country Music Hall of Fame 1992 1999 King 0:00
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:16
Back 2 Back 1999 Masters / Intercontinental Records 3:17
Country: The Life, Times & Music Series 1999
Various Artists
Friedman Fairgfax 3:17
No Image 2000 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 3:17
Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes 2000
Various Artists
CD Double Play / IRC / Intercontinental Records 3:16
No Image 2001 Sony Music Distribution 3:18
All Music Guide: Cool Country 2001
Various Artists
All Music Guide / Medalist Entertainment 3:17
Country's Most Wanted [2002 Columbia River] 2002
Various Artists
Columbia River Entertainment Group 0:00
Ultimate Country Super Hits [Sony Box Set] 2002
Various Artists
Immediate / Sony Music Distribution 3:17
The Ultimate Classic Country Collection 2002
Various Artists
WEA International 3:18
Love Songs [2003] 2003 Legacy / Epic 3:15
Country Classics, Vol. 1 [Varese Vintage] 2003
Various Artists
Varèse Sarabande / Varese 3:17
Classic Country: The '80s 2003
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:18
The Very Best of Love 2003 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:14
All American Country 2004 Karussell 0:00
Classic Country, Vol. 1 [2004] 2004
Various Artists
CBUJ Distribution 3:16
Artist's Choice: Willie Nelson 2004 Hear Music / UMG 3:18
Country Gold: 50 Years of Country Hits, 1980-84 2004
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 3:18
50 Years of Hits 2004 Bandit Records 3:17
Loving You Can Never Be Better 2004 Platinum Disc 3:18
Greatest Collection 2005 Platinum Disc 3:14
Classic Country: Stars of Branson 2005
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:18
Hits I Missed...And One I Didn't 2005 Bandit Records 3:21
The Kings and Queens of Country [Sony] 2005
Various Artists
Sony BMG 3:17
The Essential George Jones 2006 Legacy / Epic 3:17
The Best of Classic Country: '80s 2006
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:19
#1 Super Country 80's Hits 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:18
Greatest Ever! Country 2006
Various Artists
Greatest Ever / Union Square Music 3:18
Legends of Country: Classic Hits from the '50s, '60s & '70s 2006
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 3:18
Lifetime of Country Romance: Always on My Mind 2006
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 0:00
All Country Outlaws 2007
Various Artists
Madacy 3:15
Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Country 2008
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 3:17
Country's 20 Classic Songs of the Century 2008
Various Artists
New Haven / Provident Music 3:18
The Epic Years: The Box Set Series 2010 Epic / Legacy 3:17
Country's Got Heart: Lookin' for Love 2010
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:19
Country's Got Heart [Box Set] 2011
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:19
Radio Lover 1980-1989: A Critical Anthology 2011 Raven Records 3:17
Legends of Country 2013
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:19
NOW That's What I Call ACM Awards 50 Years 2015
Various Artists
NOW! / UMG Recordings Inc. / Universal 3:16