George Jones

*****Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years (1955-59; Mercury, 1994)
****1/2The Best of George Jones (The Millennium Collection) (1955-62; Mercury, 2000)
***1/2Hank, Bob & Me (1962; Fuel 2000, 2003)
****1/2The Best of George Jones (1956-67; Rhino, 1991)
***1/2Sings the Great Songs of Leon Payne (1971; Hollywood, 1987)
****A Picture of Me/Nothing Ever Hurt Me (1972-73; Koch, 1998)
***1/2Memories of Us/The Battle (1975-76; Koch, 1999)
***1/2All-Time Greatest Hits (Epic, 1977)
***1/2My Very Special Guests (Epic, 1979)
****I Am What I Am (1980; Epic/Legacy, 2000)
****1/2Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits (Epic, 1982)
***1/2Love Songs (1972-86; Epic/Legacy, 2003)
***First Time Live (Epic, 1987
****Super Hits (Epic, 1987)
*****The Spirit of Country: The Essential George Jones (1955-88; Epic/Legacy, 1994)
****16 Biggest Hits (1972-88; Epic/Legacy, 1999)
***1/2One Woman Man (Epic, 1989)
****Walls Can Fall (MCA, 1992)
***High-Tech Redneck (MCA, 1993)
***1/2Super Hits Vol. 2 (Epic, 1993)
***1/2It Don't Get Any Better Than This (MCA, 1998)
***1/2The Best of George Jones Vol. 2: The '90s (The Millennium Collection) (1991-98; Mercury Nashville, 2002)
****Cold Hard Truth (Asylum, 1999)
**1/2Live With the Possum (Asylum, 1999)
***1/2The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001 (BNA/Bandit, 2001)
***The Gospel Collection (BNA/Bandit, 2003)
George Jones & Melba Montgomery:
****Vintage Collections (1963-64; Capitol, 1995)
George Jones & Tammy Wynette:
***1/2Greatest Hits (1972-77; Epic, 1989)
****Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1972-80; Epic, 1992)
****16 Biggest Hits (1971-80; Epic/Legacy, 1999)
****George & Tammy Super Hits (1995)
***1/2One (MCA, 1995)

Nashville neotraditionalism had to be invented because George Jones was still making records that were the very essence of country tradition, and no one else wanted the comparison. Take Alan Jackson, for example: terrific singer, fine writer, expert, hard-working, prolific, yet since Jackson started releasing albums in 1990 Jones has cut more and better and made it look almost effortless. Of course, a big part of this is, as by now everyone knows, that George Jones is the greatest pure singer in country music -- while his East Texas drawl identifies him both regionally and culturally, it doesn't cloud his remarkably clear and pliant voice, nor does it limit his astonishing vocal technique. But just as important is how profoundly Jones has bound himself to country music tradition, which for him is the religion that saved his life.

Jones' life is by now an open book, but virtually none of it appears in his music. As a child, Jones sang to pacify his alcoholic father. As a teenager, Jones sang on street corners and in honky tonks to escape his home. Jones sang country music because country was what he grew up with and all that he knew. He tried odd jobs, did a hitch in the Marines, had a couple of messed up marriages, but the only thing he was ever any good at was singing, and singing was the only thing that kept him going. He channeled Roy Acuff and Hank Williams and countless others, but judging from the numerous covers in his early Mercury recordings, the only singer he had any trouble subsuming was Lefty Frizzell. And within a few years his own voice became such an integral part of that tradition that nothing -- not even eighteen years of Billy Sherrill -- could diminish Jones. But perhaps the most curious thing about Jones is that his music never seems connected to his own life. It's not that he can't convey emotion but that you're never really convinced that the emotion he conveys is his own. The dissociation between his art and his life has been much commented on, leading to suggestions that he has an "inert mind" (Nick Tosches) or that he is a "blank slate" (Robert Christgau). But this seems to be imposing false expectations on what Jones does -- we expect our artists to be auteurs, but Jones is just a supremely gifted performer, and while he can imbue the songs he sings with the weight of the tradition he has internalized, as opposed to the experiences of the life he has estranged.

For the first 35 years of his career, Jones' records were produced by two men: Pappy Daily (1955-71) and Billy Sherrill (1972-89). Daily was co-owner of Starday Records, but took over managing as well as producing Jones, and stayed with him through a series of record companies: Mercury, United Artists, Musicor. Jones' first hit, "Why Baby Why," was pure honky tonk. His first #1 hit was J.P. Richardson's moonshiner novelty "White Lightning," with a panoply of vocal effects. But he also cut songs that became classics, like "The Window Up Above," and "Tender Years," and "She Thinks I Still Care." Four good comps cover this period with a lot of overlap on the hits: by far the most extensive is the 51-cut Cup of Loneliness, which gives by far the fullest picture of Jones the hardcore honky-tonker. Rhino's The Best of George Jones (1955-1967) adds a few later tracks to the Mercury hits, most of which are duplicated on the first disc in Epic/Legacy's 2-CD The Spirit of Country.

Aside from the biggest hits, very little of the massive amount of material that Jones and Daily recorded for United Artists (1962-66) and Musicor (1965-71) is in print. Hank, Bob & Me restores parts of albums of Hank Williams and Bob Wills songs from 1962. The Vintage Collections duets with Melba Montgomery are long on bluegrass and notable for the freak hit, "Let's Invite Them Over," about spouse-swapping, and the magnificent "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds." Jones and Daily recorded something in excess of 300 cuts for Musicor, including 23 chart singles, so it's surprising that the only one seen recently is the fine set of Leon Payne songs.

Jones married Tammy Wynette in 1968. She had just released "Stand By Your Man," making her one of the biggest new stars in Nashville, and he was already a legend, so their marriage kicked off the King and Queen of Nashville hype. More concretely, marriage steered Jones to Wynette's label (Epic) and producer (Billy Sherrill), but it was late-1971 before the first George & Tammy duet came out, and they cut another dozen singles after that, hitting #1 three times -- twice after the inevitable d-i-v-o-r-c-e. The songs, which have been collected in short, overlapping comps, are a strange mix of pop artifacts -- hopeful, cynical, devout, dejected, and/or funny ("God's Gonna Get'cha"). But one thing that can't be doubted is their utter professionalism, and both can switch on absolute devotion to even the most irrelevant of material. (This continues without a hitch in their 1995 reunion, One.)

But the duets were just a sideshow: Jones recorded at least an album a year from 1972-89, a vast amount of material, most now out of print (most regrettably 1976's Alone Again). Billy Sherrill had a reputation as a guy who never heard a song without thinking that it could use some strings, and anyone with a taste for Jones' honky tonk roots is likely to view most of the music that Sherrill produced as glop. But for Jones the music was just the launch pad for his singing. While most voices thicken with age, Jones' voice was becoming, if anything, lighter and more pliable, and the ballads that Sherrill preferred often worked best to flatter Jones' singing. Sometimes the pair joined spectacularly, as on "He Stopped Loving Her Today," where the swelling of the strings lifts Jones into the stratosphere. The ballads dominate the comps from the period, especially 16 Biggest Hits and Love Songs, both full of treasures. The Spirit of Country is the broadest selection currently available, the 15 early hits followed by 29 Epic cuts, including 5 Wynette duets and a couple of curveballs (like inviting Ray Charles to join in on "We Didn't See a Thing"). All-Time Greatest Hits were interesting 1977 remakes of early hits, which also surface in the short Super Hits volumes. Of Jones' surviving albums, the early twofers on Koch are consistently good; 1980's I Am What I Am is perhaps his peak, with exceptionally strong material throughout; and One Woman Man closed out the series on a high note.

During the late '80s Jones finally started to get his oft wrecked life together. He married again, to Nancy Sepulveda, and this time it stuck. In 1991 he moved to MCA, and his new producers pointed him back toward his old country roots. They also helped him pick better songs -- Jones had long since stopped writing his own, but Nashville was full of songwriters who dreamt of servicing him. Walls Can Fall was perhaps the best of the '90s albums, with ballads like the title cut and "She Drives Me to Drink," the fast-paced "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," and the definitive "Wrong's What I Do Best." Others like It Don't Get Any Better Than This, Cold Hard Truth are nearly as good, and The Rock isn't far behind, but Jones' reunion with Billy Sherrill on The Gospel Collection is uninspired profit-taking. Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is how consistent Jones has been over a recording career that now approaches fifty years.


Other records:

****1/2The Best of George Jones, Vol. 1: Hardcore Honky Tonk (1955-59; Mercury, 1991)
George Jones Sings the Hits of His Country Cousins (UA, 1962)
New Favorites of George Jones (UA, 1962)
***Homecoming in Heaven (1962; Razor & Tie, 1995)
My Favorites of Hank Williams (1962, Razor & Tie)
***George Jones Sings Bob Wills (1962; Razor & Tie, 1994)
I Wish Tonight Would Never End (UA, 1963)
George Jones Sings Like the Dickens (UA, 1964)
George Jones Sings More New Favorites (UA, 1964)
I Get Lonely in a Hurry (UA, 1964)
From the Heart (UA, 1965)
The Race Is On (1965; Razor & Tie)
Trouble in Mind (UA, 1965)
King of Broken Hearts (UA, 1965)
She Thinks I Still Care: The George Jones Collection (1962-66; Razor & Tie, 1997)
George Jones & Melba Montgomery (Deluxe, 1968)
The Best of Sacred Music (Hollywood, 1971)
George Jones (Epic, 1972)
***1/2A Picture of Me (Without You) (Epic, 1973)
****Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad as Losing You) (Epic, 1973)
George Jones in a Gospel Way (Epic, 1974)
The Grand Tour (Epic, 1974)
***Memories of Us (Epic, 1975)
***1/2The Battle (Epic, 1976)
****1/2Alone Again (Epic, 1976)
I Wanta Sing (Epic, 1977; Columbia)
Bartender's Blues (Epic, 1978)
Encore (Epic, 1981)
Still the Same Ole Me (Epic, 1981)
Shine On (Epic, 1983)
Jones Country (Epic, 1983)
Ladies Choice (Epic, 1984)
You've Still Got a Place in My Heart (Epic, 1984)
By Request (Epic, 1984)
Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes? (Epic, 1985)
First Time Live (Epic, 1985)
Wine Colored Roses (Epic, 1986)
Too Wild Too Long (Epic, 1987)
You Oughta Be Here With Me (Epic, 1990)
Hallelujah Weekend (Epic, 1990; DCC)
Friends in High Places (Epic, 1991)
Walking the Line (Merle, Willie & George) (Epic)
And Along Came Jones (MCA, 1991)
Don't Stop the Music (Ace, 1993)
The Bradley Barn Sessions (MCA, 1994)
I Lived to Tell It All (MCA, 1996)
The George Jones Collection (MCA, 1999)
Gospel Collection (BNA/Bandit, 2003)
14 Greats by George Jones (Hollywood)
20 Greatest Hits (Deluxe)
24 Gospel Greats (Teevee)
24 Greatest Hits (Teevee)
At His Best (King)
Best of the Best (Federal)
Best of the Best: George Jones Sings [ . . . ] (Federal)
Blue Side of Lonesome (King)
Classic George (Universal)
Country Legends (Disky)
Country Music Hall of Famer (Legacy)
Country Stars & Stripes (Direct Source)
Definitive Country Collection (Epic import)
Friends in High Places / She [ . . . ] (Import)
George Jones (St. Clair)
George Jones' Golden Hits (Hollywood)
Greatest Hits (EMI-Capitol)
Greatest Country Hits (Curb)
Greatest Hits (Madacy)
Hall of Fame, Inducted 1992 (King)
Heartaches & Hangovers (Columbia River)
Heartaches & Hangovers (Maste)
Hits (Mercury Nashville)
Honky Tonkin' (Universal)
I Am a One Woman Man (Hollywood)
Life Turned Her That Way (Hollywood)
Lovin' Time (King)
My Mom & Santa (Hollywood)
Nothin' Like George Jones (Sony)
She Still Thinks I Care (CEMA)
Ways of the World (Starburst)
Wishing & Dreaming With George Jones (King)
George Jones & Gene Pitney:
George Jones & Gene Pitney (Bear Family)
George Jones & Melba Montgomery:
George Jones & Melba Montgomery (Hollywood, 1994)
Bluegrass Hootenanny (Longhorn, 2000)
George Jones & Merle Haggard:
Taste of Yesterday's Wine (1982; Epic/Legacy)
George Jones & Tammy Wynette:
We Go Together (Epic, 1971)
Me and the First Lady (Epic, 1972)
We Love to Sing About Jesus (Epic, 1972)
We're Gonna Hold On (Epic, 1973)
Let's Build a World Together (Epic, 1973)
George & Tammy & Tina (Epic, 1975)
Encore (Epic, 1981)
Golden Ring (Razor & Tie, 1997)
Together Again: Encore Collection (BMG, 1999)
Best of the Best (Federal)
It Sure Was Good (Sony)
President & the First Lady (Teevee)
George Jones & Johnny Paycheck:
***Double Trouble (Epic, 1980)
Merle Haggard and George Jones:
Taste of Yesterday's Wine (Legacy, 1992)

Note: The above omits a bunch of original albums: the Dixie EPs, Starday LPs, and Mercury LPs. The Musicor LPs are mostly omitted as well, except for a few that have subsequently been reissued (e.g., by Hollywood). The United Artists LPs have been listed, since most of them were reissued by Razor & Tie (although they are out of print now).


Singles (mostly from, but with corrections as I find things that need correcting; e.g., Melba Montgomery instead of "Shelby Lynn"):

54-03-06You're In My Heart / No Money In The Deal130
54-05-29Wrong About You / Play It Cool Man146
54-07-16Let Him Know / Let Me Catch My Breath160
54-09-25Let Him Know / You All Goodnight162
54-11-06Heartbroken Me / Tell Her165
55-05-14Hold Everything / What's Wrong With Me?188
55-10-29418Why Baby Why / Seasons Of My Heart202
56-01-2877What Am I Worth / Still Hurtin216
56-04-07I'm Ragged But I'm Right / Your Heart234
56-05-05Rock It / How Come It (Thumper Jones)240
56-07-1478You Gotta Be My Baby / It's OK247
56-08-11Boat Of Life / Taggin' Along291
56-10-20311Just One More /
5Gonna Come Get You264
62-06-16Boat Of Life / Where Will I Shelter My Sheep291
New Baby For Christmas / Maybe Next Christmas
57-03-09102Don't Stop The Music / Uh, Uh, No71029
57-12-15Just One More / Gonna Come And Get You71049
57-06-10136Too Much Water / All I Want To Do71096
57-07-01Flame In My Heart / No, No, Never71141
57-08-26Tall, Tall Trees / Hearts In My Dream71176
57-11-11Cup O Loneliness / Take The Devil Out Of Me71224
58-04-14710Color of the Blues / Eskimo Pie71257
58-06-30616Treasure Of Love /
291If I Don't Love You71373
59-03-09122White Lightning / Long Time To Forget71406
59-07-20Who Shot Sam / Into My Arms Again71464
59-10-05My Lord Has Called Me / If You Want to Wear a Crown71506
59-11-231512Money To Burn71514
60-04-041612Accidently On Purpose /
301Sparkling Brown Eyes71583
60-05-02Have Mercy On Me / If You Believe71615
60-08-22252Out Of Control / Just Little Boy Blue71641
60-11-07234The Window Up Above / Candy Hearts71700
61-05-29162Family Bible / Your Old Standby71721
61-06-19132Tender Years / Battle Of Love71804
62-02-24512Aching, Breaking Heart / When Your Heart Hurts No More71910
62-08-25281You're Still On My Mind / Cold, Cold Heart72010
63-02-09I Love You Because / Revenoor Man72087
64-03-28393The Last Town I Painted / Tarnished Angel72233
64-07-11Life To Go / Oh Lonesome Me72293
64-11-14I Wouldn't Know About That / You Better Treat Your Man Right72362
Mercury: Duets With Margie Singleton
61-09-18153Did I Ever Tell You
62-06-161110Waltz of the Angel71856
62-09-29I Want To Be Where You're Gonna Be / When Two Worlds Collide72034
United Artists
62-04-14123She Thinks I Still Care
62-04-28175Sometimes You Just Can't Win424
62-04-15Beacon In The Night / He Made Me Free442
62-07-211311Open Pit Mine / Geronimo462
62-10-06318Girl I Used To Know
62-10-13139Big Fool Of The Year500
63-02-09718Not What I Had In Mind /
63-04-0691I Saw Me528
62-12-08Lonely Christmas Call / My Mom and Santa Clause530
63-07-13522You Comb Her Hair / Ain't It Funny What a Fool Will Do578
64-02-01518Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was on the Right)
64-02-08159My Tears Are Over Due683
64-06-06317Something I Dreamed
64-06-201016Where Does a Little Tear Come From724
64-09-26328The Race Is On / She's Lonesome Again751
65-01-301515Least Of All / Brown to Blue804
65-06-051412Wrong Number / The Old, Old House858
65-10-09403What's Money / I Get Lonely in a Hurry901
66-03-12463World's Worse Loser / I Can't Change965
66-07-02Best Guitar Picker / A Good Old Fashioned Cry5001
66-09-10Afraid / Now Tell Me5001
United Artists: Duets With Melba Montgomery
63-05-04328We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds575
63-11-30205What's in Our Heart
63-12-07177Let's Invite Them Over635
64-09-05315Please Be My Love732
64-12-122515Multiply the Heartaches784
65-03-13921Things Have Gone To Pieces / Wearing My Heart Away1067
65-08-28618Love Bug / I Can't Get Use to Being Lonely1098
65-11-06818Take Me / Ship Of Love1117
66-03-12617I'm a People / I Woke Up From Dreaming1143
66-02-19Take Me / Ship of Love1144
66-06-25307Old Brush Arbors / Flowers for Mama1174
66-07-30516Four-O-Thirty Three / Don't Think I Don't1181
67-01-21122Walk Through This World With Me / Developing My Pictures 1226
67-05-20517I Can't Get There From Here / Poor Man's Riches1243
67-07-18Take the World but Give Me Jesus / Cries1244
67-10-07718If My Heart Had Windows / The Honky Tonk Downstairs1267
68-02-03814Say It's Not You / The Poor Chinee1289
68-04-133513Small Time Laboring Man / Well, It's Alright1297
68-07-06313As Long As I Live / Your Angel Steps out of Heaven1298
68-11-23217When the Grass Grows Over Me / Heartaches and Hangovers1333
68-11-23Lonely Christmas Call / My Mom and Santa Clause1339
69-03-29218I'll Share My World With You / I'll See You While I Go1351
69-07-19614If Not For You / When the Wife Runs Off1366
69-11-15614She's Mine
69-11-227213No Blues in Good News138
70-03-142810Where Grass Won't Grow / Shoulder to Shoulder1392
70-05-06Goin Life's Way / Unclouded Day1404
70-07-041314Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong / You've Become My Everything140
70-11-21215A Good Year for the Roses / Let a Little Loving Come In1425
71-03-201013Sometimes You Just Can't Win / Brothers of the Bottle1432
71-06-12714Right Won't Touch a Hand / Someone Sweet to Love1440
71-10-021312I'll Follow You (Up to Our Cloud) / Getting Over the Storm1446
Musicor: Duets With Gene Pitney
65-04-241610I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night1066
65-07-03257Louisiana Man1097
65-11-20502Big Job1115
66-06-04473That's All It Took1165
Musicor: Duets With Melba Montgomery
66-11-19703Close Together (As You and Me)1204
67-09-092410Party Pickin'1238
Musicor: Duets With Brenda Carter
68-09-281212Milwaukee, Here I Come / Great Big Spirit of Love1325
72-02-12308A Day in the Life of a Fool / Old, Old House0625
72-04-12I Made Leaving (Easy for You) / How Proud I Would Have Been0700
72-10-14467Wrapped Around Her Finger / With Half a Heart0792
1972She's Mine / I Can Still See Him in Your Eyes0878
1972Tender Years / White Lightnin'AMB
1972Late Getting Home / For Better or for WorseAMB
1972I Can Love You Enough / Talk to MePB-10
1972Lonesome Heart
72-02-12614We Can Make It / One of These Days10831
72-05-20214Loving You Would Never Be Better / Try It You'll Like It10858
72-10-28516A Picture of Me (Without You) / The Worth Lovin' You10917
73-03-03614What My Woman Can't Do / My Loving Wife10959
73-06-23713Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad) / Wine You've Used Me Long Enough11006
73-11-24316Once You've Had the Best / Mary Don't Go Around11053
74-06-08117The Grand Tour / Our Private Life11122
74-10-26113The Door / Wean Me50038
75-03-221014These Days (I Barely Get By) / Baby There's Nothing Like You50088
75-07-262111Memories of Us50127
75-11-01924I Just Don't Give a Damn
76-02-071612The Battle50187
76-05-22379You Always Look Your Best (Here in My Arms) / Have You Seen My Chicken50227
76-09-04316Her Name Is50271
77-05-21348Old King Kong / It's a 10-33 (Let's Get Jesus on the Line)50385
77-08-132410If I Could Put Them All Together (I'd Have You) / You've Got the Best of Me50423
78-01-07614Bartender's Blues / Rest In Peace (With James Taylor)50495
78-07-011113I'll Just Take It Out in Love / Leaving Love All Over the Place50564
79-06-302211Someday My Day Will Come / We Oughta Be Ashamed50684
80-04-12118He Stopped Loving Her Today / Hard Act to Follow50867
80-08-23217I'm Not Ready Yet / Garage Sale Today50922
81-01-17815If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will) / Brother of the Blues50968
81-10-03117Still Doin' Time / Good Ones and Bad Ones02526
82-02-06519Same Ole Me02692
83-01-15319Shine On03489
83-05-07118I Always Get Lucky With You03883
83-09-10222Tennessee Whiskey04082
87-04-07319You Still Got a Place in My Heart04413
84-09-22223She's My Rock04609
85-08-03320Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes05439
85-11-23322The One I Loved Back Then05698
87-04-19921Somebody Wants Me Out of the Way05862
86-09-131023Wine Colored Roses06296
87-01-17823The Right Left Hand06593
87-05-162618I Turned to You07107
87-12-192614The Bird07655
88-03-265210I'm a Survivor07748
1988Ya Ba Da Ba Do68743
88-06-04636The Old Man No One Loves07913
88-12-17520I'm a One Woman Man08509
1990Hell Stays Open All Night73305
1990Six Foot Deep, Six Foot Down73424
Epic: Duets With Tammy Wynette
71-12-25913Take Me10815
72-07-08615The Ceremony10881
72-11-25389Old Fashioned Singing10923
73-04-07329Let's Build a World Together10963
73-09-01117We're Gonna Hold On11031
74-02-091513(No We're Not) The Jet Song11083
74-02-27812We Loved It Anyway11151
75-05-172513God's Gonna Get'Cha (For That)50099
76-06-05115Golden Ring50235
76-12-11116Near You50314
77-07-16513Southern California50418
80-03-01211Two Story House50849
80-09-061911A Pair of Old Sneakers50930
Duets With Johnny Paycheck: Epic
79-05-261411You Can Have Her50708
80-06-21319When You're Ugly Like Us50891
80-12-131812You Better Move On50949
Epic: Duets With Merle Haggard
82-08-07115Yesterday's Wine03072
82-12-042810C.C. Water Back03405
Epic: Duets With Ray Charles
83-12-17618We Didn't See a Thing1042297
Epic: Duets With Brenda Lee
84-12-221516Hallelujah, I Love You So04723
Epic: Duets With Lacy J. Dalton
85-04-271918Size Seven Round (Made of Gold)1042297
Warner Bros.: Duets With Randy Travis
1990A Few Ole Country Boys26310
91-08-312119You Couldn't Get the Picture541
92-01-115713She Loved a Lot in Her Time54272
92-04-11636Honky Tonk Myself to Death54370
92-10-172120I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair54470
93-11-132420High Tech Red Neck54749