He Stopped Loving Her Today
Written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman
It’s been called the greatest country single of all time, sung by the genre’s greatest vocalist. But while it was an enormous hit, becoming George Jones’ biggest record and signature song, it was surrounded by doubts before its release.
The song was about a man who carried a flame for a woman who had left him behind, vowing, “I’ll love you ’til I die.” Told from the point of view of the man’s friend, the various ways he holds on to her memory are documented. Just before the chorus, it seems like the lovesick fool has finally turned it around, as his friend recounts, “I went to see him just today. Oh, but I didn’t see no tears. All dressed up to go away. First time I’d seen him smile in years.” Then the chorus brings the kicker: the man kept his word, and loved her until the day that he died. “Soon they’ll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.”
The song was co-written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman, and had its origin in off-color funeral humor, before taking a serious turn as the songwriting progressed. Johnny Russell recorded it first, but his label refused to release it. At the time, the song ended after the first chorus. When Billy Sherrill heard it, he knew it was perfect for George Jones, who was in need of a comeback hit after some serious personal struggles. Sherrill requested that another verse be added, which took the form of the woman he loved attending his funeral.
As the producer recounted to Tom Roland in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Jones didn’t want to record the song, and when he cut it, he said, “Nobody will by that morbid S.O.B.” Sherrill bet Jones $100 that he was wrong, and recalled, “I won that one hands down.”
The song was a massive hit, returning Jones to prominence on the country hit parade. It was his first solo #1 single in nearly six years. Until then, he’d only had gold albums with Tammy Wynette, but “He Stopped Loving Her Today” propelled the album I Am What i Am to platinum status. After twenty-five years on the charts, “Today” earned Jones his first major accolades from the country music industry. It was named Single of the Year by both the CMA and the ACM, and both organizations named Jones their Male Vocalist. Jones also won his first Grammy for the recording.
The songwriters weren’t left out of the festivities, either. The CMA named “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Song of the Year twice – in 1980 and in 1981. It was also named Song of the Year by the ACM, and was nominated for Best Country Song at the Grammys. It has since become a country music standard, a tour de force performance by the man who is most often cited as the greatest country music vocalist in history.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the first in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles.
Listen: He Stopped Loving Her Today