The voice of George Jones. Drenched in alcohol, burnished with cigarettes, and artfully conveying the deepest pain in the human experience. How good was he? Robert Christgau, “The greatest country singer in history.” Iman Lababedi, “Maybe the greatest singer of the 20th century, after Sinatra.” Describing his cross genre appeal, Bob Pfeifer of Human Switchboard noted, “You couldn’t be into Punk without being into George.”
Jones imparted gravitas to everything he sang. Knowing sin and salvation, he could effortlessly convey anguish, hope, and humor. He stuck to his knitting – his songs almost all fall into four categories: drinking, heartbreak, novelty tunes, and gospel. With over fifty years of recording, it’s not easy to find all the gems in his catalogue. Here is a listing of over 70 essential songs from the Possum. I’m sure I missed some good ones.
Here’s the format: song title, songwriter(s), brief description, year it was recorded, and its highest position on the country charts. DNC = did not chart.
“Angels Don’t Fly” (John Fountain/Will Webb). They just walk out on you. Played at his slow savor every note tempo. (1991, DNC).
“The Battle” (Lew Kimball, George Richey, Norris Wilson). Love is war, complete with military percussion. (1976, #16).
“Billy Ray Wrote A Song” (Hank Cochran, Glenn Martin). Two guys hit the road – one gets drunk, one writes a tune. (1976, DNC).
“The Bird” (Doodle Owens, Dennis Knutson). Don’t cheat on your wife when a talking animal is in the house. “The last thing I gave her was the bird.” (1987, #26).
“Blindfold of Love” (Dallas Frazier, Clarence Selmon). George tosses out some of his unique vocal hiccups on this upbeat novelty number cut during Nashville’s Bakersfield sound era. (1966 ,DNC).
“Brown to Blue” (Johnny Mathis, V. Frank, George Jones). “They changed your name from Brown to Jones and mine from Brown to Blue.” One of his definitive weepers. (1964, DNC).
“Bubbles in My Beer” (Tommy Duncan, Cindy Walker, Bob Wills). A #4 hit for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in 1947, from the album “George Jones Sings Bob Wills.” (1962, DNC).
“Choices” (Mike Curtis, Billy Yates, Rob Lyons). Living and dying with the choices he made. Also, check out the Bettye LaVette version. This was his first Top 40 hit since 1993. (1999, #30).
“Color of the Blues” (George Jones, Lawton Williams). As traditional as it gets, it’s easy to imagine Hank Williams belting out this one. (1958, #7).
“Cup of Loneliness” (George Jones, Burl Stephens). Sin and salvation in a two out of three falls, no disqualification death match. (1967, DNC).
“Don’t Leave Without Taking Your Silver” (Black). You left it right here in my hair. (1986, DNC).
“Don’t Let Me Cross Over” (Penny Jay). A #1 song by Carl Butler and Pearl (a husband and wife team singing about cheating) in 1962. Also a hit for Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis in 1969. (1966, DNC).
“Don’t Stop the Music” (George Jones). Another one George penned himself; this one combines a musical and female infatuation. (1957, DNC).
“The Door” (Billy Sherrill, Norro Wilson). She walked through it, the saddest sound he ever heard. (1974, #1).
“Eskimo Pie” (George Jones). Finding buoyant love in the 49th state. (1958, DNC).
“Even The Loser (Likes to Dream)” (Dallas Frazier). Tom Petty’s losers might get lucky, but George’s don’t. “I know it’s no use, I should turn your memory loose.” (1969, DNC).
“A Few Ole Country Boys” (Troy Seals, Mentor Williams). 1980s neo-traditionalist Randy Travis cuts a fine tune with eternal traditionalist Jones. (1990, #8).
“Four-O-Thirty Three” (George Jones, Earl Montgomery). Love on the four thousand block with another dose of the Bakersfield sound. (1966, #5).
“From Here to the Door” (Don Chapel). Mystifying why this wasn’t a hit. Penned by one of Tammy Wynette's ex’s. (1966, DNC).
“Funny How Time Slips Away” (Willie Nelson). Gravitas, my friends. (2006, DNC).
“Golden Ring” (Bobby Braddock, Rafe VanHoy). The pawn shop always wins. George and Tammy’s finest duet. (1976, #1).
“A Good Year for the Roses” (Jerry Chestnut). Cigarette and coffee cup memories of the woman that walked away. (1970, #2).
“The Grand Tour” (Norro Wilson, Carmol Taylor, George Richey). Just George ripping your heart out of your chest and stomping all over it. (1974, #1).
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” (Billy Sherrill, George Jones). After two and a half decades of recording, he got his signature song. Won the CMA Song of the Year in both 1980 and 1981. (1980, #1).
“Heartaches by the Number” (Harlan Howard). A 1959 #1 hit for Guy Mitchell. (1961, DNC).
“I Always Get Lucky With You” (Merle Haggard, Freddy Powers, Gary Church, Tex Whitson). Producer Billy Sherrill almost overwhelms the song with strings, but George prevails. (1983, #1).
“I Gotta Get Drunk” (Willie Nelson). George and Willie hit the hootch. (1978, DNC).
“If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)” (Harlan Sanders, Rick Beresford). If you listen to this song three times in a row, there is a 78% probability that you will fail a field sobriety test. (1981, #8).
“If God Met You” (Daniels, Wells). George and Tammy need a heavenly referee in their battle of the sexes (1995, DNC).
“I’ll Give You Something to Drink About” (Hank Cochran, Jerry Laseter, Mack Vickery). Mariachi horns! (1996, DNC).
“I’ll Share My World With You” (Ben Wilson). Jones taking an average song and making it special with his flawless vocal performance. (1969, #2).
“I’m a Long Gone Daddy” (Hank Williams). George was long past being a Hank Williams imitator when he cut this in 1987 and he was better for it. (1987, DNC).
“I’m a One-Woman Man” (Tillman Franks, Johnny Horton). Johnny Horton took this to #7 on the country charts in 1956, Jones did even better more than three decades later. (1988, #5).
“Jambalaya” (Hank Williams). As a teenager, Jones once backed up Williams at a radio station performance. This song is virtually indestructible and George does it very well. (1960, DNC).
“Just One More” (George Jones). Just one more drink on the table. His second top 5 hit and his biggest hit until 1959’s “White Lightning.” (1956, #3).
“The King is Gone (So Are You)” (Roger Ferris). Fred Flintstone, George, and Elvis having a chat. Originally titled “Ya Ba Da Ba Do.” (1989, #26).
“Kneel at the Feet of Jesus” (Willie Nelson). The prodigal son getting spiritual with help from Willie. (1962, DNC).
“Let’s Invite Them Over” (Onie Wheeler). A duet with Melba Montgomery about swapping partners. In country music. Before Beatlemania. (1963, #17).
“Louisiana Man” (Doug Kershaw). Rocking Cajun style with Gene Pitney, dig those ‘50s rock saxophone licks. (1965, #25).
“The Love Bug” (Wayne Kemp, Curtis Wayne). Cupid as a virus; another fun upbeat novelty number. (1965, #6).
“No Money in this Deal” (George Jones). Choosing gold over love in this 1954 comedy cut with some seriously old school fiddle sawing. (1954, DNC).
“No Show Jones” (George Jones, Glenn Martin). George takes his bad reputation and makes a fine song out of it. “Tammy had some kind of excuse, she divorced George Jones.” (1985, DNC).
“Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You” (Bobby Braddock). A truly hysterical listing of physical and emotional pain caused by the loss of a woman; his best comedic hit. “It’s not because you measure 50-20-44.” (1973, #7).
“Ol’ George Stopped Drinking Today” (Osbie McClinton). The day he stopped drinking is the same day he stopped loving her. (1983, DNC).
“Old Brush Arbors” (Gordon Ardis, Darrell Edwards). A spiritual number that George made an album title track and got into the country Top 40. (1966, #30).
“Old King Kong” (Sammy Lyons). A gorilla sized love song that makes its point in less than two minutes. (#1977, #34).
“The Old Rugged Cross” (George Bennard). From his 2003 gospel album, reuniting George with producer Billy Sherrill. (2003, DNC).
“The One I Loved Back Then (The Corvette Song” (Gary Gentry). Nice marriage of traditional style country with ‘80s production values. Hotter than a two dollar pistol. (1985, #3).
“Open Pit Mine” (Delbert Gentry). Wedding, betrayal, murder, suicide. (1962, #13).
“Out of Control” (Darrell Edwards, George Jones, Herbie Treece). Searching for contentment in the bottom of a glass. (1960, #25).
“A Picture of Me (Without You)” (Norro Wilson, George Richey). 1970s heartbreaker with Billy Sherrill’s country wall of strings production. (1972, #5).
“The Race is On” (George Jones, Don Rollins). A broken heart masked by an upbeat tempo. Insert synonym for “brilliant” here. Later covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks. (1964, #3).
“She Thinks I Still Care” (Dickey Lee, Steve Duffy). One of his best early heartbreakers. He ain’t missing her at all. Or maybe… (1962, #1).
“Singing the Blues” (Melvin Endsley). An extremely confident vocal from a young Possum. (1954, DNC).
“Still Doin’ Time” (Michael Heeney, John Moffat). Another superlative performance, another broken heart. (1981, #1).
“Stranger in the House” (Elvis Costello). The English (one time) punk rocker keeps up with the honky-tonk hero. (1979, DNC).
“Take Me” (Leon Payne, George Jones). Not a request, a prayer. (1965, #8).
“Tender Years” (Darrell Edwards). Unrequited to the nth degree, #1 for seven weeks. (1961, #1).
“Things Have Gone to Pieces” (Leon Payne). Jones hit the Top 40 three times with Gene Pitney. This was the only Top Ten for the duo; the two men deftly tiptoe between sincerity and satire. (1965, #9).
“Two Story House” (David Lindsay, Glenn Tubb, Tammy Wynette). Listen to George and Tammy swoop into this chorus, legend status duly earned. (1980, #2).
“Walk Through This World with Me” ( Sandy Seamons, Kaye Savage). Ambiguous enough to be either about a woman or the man upstairs. (1967, #1).
“Walls Can Fall” (Dycus, Yates, Bruce Bouton). Country radio had phased Jones out by the early 1990s. It wasn’t because of the quality of his recordings. (1993, DNC).
“We Didn’t See a Thing” (Ray Charles, Chet Atkins). Ray lies and George swears to it. (1983, #6).
“(We’re Not) The Jet Set” (Bobby Braddock). “We’re Gonna Hold On” from the album of the same name hit #1, but this song beats it in both honesty and humor. Later covered by John Prine and Iris DeMent. (1974, #15).
“When I Stop Dreaming” (Charles Louvin, Ira Louvin). Another duet with Tammy; this one a remake of the 1955 Top Ten hit by The Louvin Brothers. (1973, DNC).
“Where Grass Won’t Grow” (Earl Montgomery). Life and death on a Tennessee farm. (1970, #28).
“White Lightning” (J. P. Richardson). The Big Bopper penned this taunt at prohibition. George’s first #1 hit, topping the charts two months after the day the music died. (1959, #1).
“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” (Max D. Barnes, Troy Seals). You get your monthly corn quotient with this one, but it’s still a nice tribute. (1985, #3).
“Why Baby Why” (Darrell Edwards, George Jones). His first hit record, courtesy of a cheating woman. Red Sovine and Webb Pierce took this to #1 in 1956. (1955, #4).
“The Wild Irish Rose” (Bobby Braddock). A tale about an alcoholic, homeless veteran, heart wrenchingly rendered. (1998, DNC).
“Window Up Above” (George Jones). Thematically and stylistically, more like the music he would do for the next few decades than the hard driving hillbilly style he used in the 1950s. (1960, #2).
“Yesterday’s Wine” (Willie Nelson). Covering Willie and singing with Merle. Enjoying a drink in the process (1982, #1).
“You Couldn’t Get the Picture” (Chuck Hartor). A tale of a lover that can’t give up her hope for the one that left her behind. (1991, DNC).
“You’re Looking at a Happy Man” (George Jones, Carmol Taylor). She’s gone, he’s elated. (1973, DNC).
“You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart” (Leon Payne). A chance for Jones to stretch out and show off a bit, sounding like the C&W Sinatra. (1984, #3).
Look at that last title. Pretty good place to stop.
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