George Jones has been around longer than dirt, issued more albums and CDs than most record companies, charted more often than any other artist in any genre (other than Bing Crosby) and is still the best country singer on the planet despite his advancing years. In this article I will take you through some of the CDs available for this legend. The first album purports to be an overview of his entire career, although mostly covers the 1970s/1980s Epic years. The remaining ones cover more specific periods.
The Essential George Jones
This two-disc set of 40 songs on the Epic / Legacy Label is an excellent introduction to the career of George Jones. Of course, when you’ve charted over 160 singles over the course of 50 years, any 40 song set can only scratch at the totality of his career. While I can think of additional songs that I’d like to add to this collection, I can’t think of any that are on the set that I’d be willing to delete.
Since this set comes to us from Epic, it naturally focuses most heavily on George’s 20 years or so with the label. It does, however, delve into the early catalog of Starday and Mercury recordings, including three songs (“No Money In This Deal”, “I’m Ragged But I’m Right” and “Why Baby Why”) that date back to the earliest sessions in 1955.
Disc One includes such classics from the Mercury and United Artists years as “White Lightning”, “Tender Years”,”A Girl I Used To Know”, “You’re Still On My Mind”, The Race Is On”, “She Thinks I Still Care” and “Window Up Above” plus duets with Melba Montgomery (“We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”) and Tammy Wynette (“Take Me”). The Musicor years are conspicuously missing,probably due to licensing difficulties. The last three songs on Disc One are from the Epic years as are 19 of the 20 songs on Disc Two.
Disc Two can be best described as the best of the Epic years with such classics as “The Grand Tour”, “The Door”, “Still Doin’ Time”, “I Always Get Lucky With You”, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)”. The post-Epic period is represented only by the Billy Yates-penned classic “Choices”, but the end of George Jones as a hit singles artist essentially coincided with his departure from Epic. The sound quality of this set is excellent.
For many years, George Jones’ material on the Musicor label has been mostly unavailable on CD except on cheap, poorly packaged CDs of very short playing time and poor sound quality. Even the recent George Jones anthology 50 YEARS OF HITS (which I will touch on in another article) celebrating the Possum’s long and successful career, was forced to rely on remakes to represent the Musicor years since the current owners of the Musicor catalog have refused to license the tunes to his current label. Here are the two best CDs covering this period, a period in which Jones was horrendously over-recorded (234 songs in six years, many novelties):
24 Greatest Hits
Up until recently this album was the best available collection of George’s mid 60s recordings for the Musicor label. Issued by TEE VEE in 1996 and sold via TV advertising and sometimes found in record shops, particularly places like Good Deal Music, Music 4 Less and Music For A Song. While an okay collection with good sonics, it actually includes 4 remakes of material from George’s United Artist years, three duets with female singers (two of which are themselves remakes of United Artist material) and a duet with Gene Pitney, leaving a total of 16 solo hits. Missing were two of the biggest hits (“Walk Through This World With Me” and “A Good Year For The Roses”).
The Musicor Years: 1965-1971
This is the best CD you are ever likely to see of the Musicor period. Unfortunately, it was issued in 2000 by EMI Australia so you may have difficulty locating it, although major internet dealers probably have it. If you find it, you will have found the Holy Grail of mid-career George Jones – 23 solo hits – every big hit, including “Things Have Gone To Pieces”, “Walk Through This World With Me”, “If My Heart Had Windows”,
“When The Grass Grows Over Me”, “I’ll Share My World With You”, “A Good Year For The Roses” and “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win”. If you find it, snap it up!
During the early 1960s George Jones recorded for United Artists, which is now part of the same empire as Capitol, Liberty, etc. Several of the United Artist albums have been reissued intact, by various labels. These recordings are very “Nashville Sound”, with strings and background voices, but George is in excellent voice throughout
Razor & Tie has reissued some UA albums intact (no bonus tracks but superior sound. Of these THE RACE IS ON and SINGS BOB WILLS are the best, but neither is a greatest hits collection
Liberty released intact the album THE NEW FAVORITES OF GEORGE JONES, a fine album but not a hits collection. I think there is another Liberty album out there but i don’t have it.
Liberty also issued a 20 cut CD of George Jones-Melba Montgomery duets, which is okay, but George and Melba are too similar in style to make for compelling duets.
Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years
This two CD set actually covers both the very earliest years on Starday plus the years on Mercury. Starday and Mercury had a working relationship for a few years so Mercury (now Polygram) has the rights to all of the 1954-1960 material. This collection begins with his first recording “No Money In This Deal”and works its way through a total of 48 recordings including the original versions of “Why Baby Why”, “Seasons of My Heart” , “I’m Ragged But I’m Right”, “Tall Tall Trees”, “White Lightning”, “Accidentally On Purpose”, The Window Up Above” and “Tender Years”.
This is the best collection of George’s early recordings yet released. If it proves impossible to find (it was issued in 1994), the recent 20th Century Masters: The Best of George Jones – Milleninum Edition touches the highlights of these years.