Thursday, September 15, 2011

George Jones' Top Ten...or Just Ten Greats Out of 160 Plus

One of the Greatest Living Performers--George Jones
 George Jones has had over 160 songs that have made the top of the charts.  From the mid-1950s through the present, he has been recording and singing great songs, many of which became hits.  Jones is a top country singer, a winner of many singing awards and honors, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, a newsmaker (not always for good reasons), and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.  It is not all that easy to pick his top ten songs.  I have enjoyed his music for decades, but I don't come close to even knowing all his songs.  And some of his lesser known works are just as good as the big hits.

Don't hold me too accountable for the order given below.  I don't even agree with it.

1.  "He Stopped Loving Her Today." This is not only one of Jones' greatest hits, but it is one of the great all time country songs.  It is so incredibly sad and moving that I can hardly ever listen to it without nearly breaking down.  The perspective is that of a friend who observes a man's undying love for a woman who rejected him many years earlier.  Only in death does his love for this woman end.

2. "She's Mine."  This is a less well known Jones song.  I am not even sure if it was a top charted hit.  This song is about a man who accepts the fact that this girl who is in his life will someday leave him and that her love is still with one who has left them.  It seems to be an unusual romantic relationship, until the end of the song reveals the missing element.  The song is about a girl, a daughter, whose mother has "left this world" and the accepting love her father has for her.  "She's mine and yet, I know someday she'll leave me."  "She's a baby, I'm her daddy, and she's mine."  A sweet and moving work.

3.  "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," with Barbara Mandrell.  I strongly identify with this song.  It is slightly autobiographical.  Barbara Mandrell's portion is great, but the crowd explodes when George enters in and echoes that theme of being country when country wasn't cool.  And there was something better about country music before "everyone" got in on the act.

4.  "I Don't Need No Rocking Chair."  This is a much more recent Jones' song.  It is in part a protest against so many country radio stations and producers who ignore the legends.  It is also a testimony to both Jones' resilience and to that of many an older person who can still do great things.  So many of my heroes have performed great feats in their older years:  Jones, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and Paul Johnson are just a few.

5.  "If Drinking Don't Kill Me, Her Memory Will."  This is a traditional drinking, broken heart song.  I don't like the taste of liquor, but it sure resonates with the soul to hear these kind of powerful lyrics.  You feel the depth of pain that a person can go through in this world and understand why man in his sinful weakness so often seeks consolation in demon rum.

6.  "The Race is On."  What makes this song so attractive is that it was perhaps the first Jones' song I heard.  It was a hit way back in the 1960s.  It is clever and, like many country songs, skillful in its replaying of emotions through metaphors.

7.  "We're Gonna Hold On," with Tammy Wynette.  During the six or so years that Jones and Wynette were married, they produced a great number of wonderful songs.  As it turns out, they were probably better at singing together than living together in marriage.  Any Jones-Wynette duet is worth hearing.

8.  "Angel Band," with Ralph Stanley.  Jones and Stanley have performed several songs together on a couple of albums where Ralph Stanley sings with friends.  I wish they would produce a whole album together.

9.  "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes."  This song is a tribute to many of Jones' friends, fellow singers, and heroes.  It is another tear-jerker for me.  When Jones speaks of Hank, Marty, and Lefty, I find myself saddened by their absence.  And we all know that when George is singing this song, his shoes cannot be filled either.  (Watch the video!)

10.  "Choices."  I am painfully looking past quite a few other songs to chose this one.  I heard it for the first time today.  It is a powerful song that reflects on Jones' own life.  Even for those of us who have been preserved from the problems and failures that Jones both experienced and sings about, we are reminded that we have all made painfully bad and foolish choices.  This song reminds me of how thankful I am for a choice I did not make; in other words, I rejoice in the grace of God's electing love.

Of course, "The Grand Tour" should be on the list.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Eightieth Birthday to a Superstar

George Jones celebrates his 80th birthday on September 12, 2011
Not many legends are still around.  Johnny Cash, Porter Waggoner, Bill Monroe, and Patsy Cline are all gone.  Elvis has been gone a long while, and old old Hank, Marty, and Lefty even longer.  Thankfully, we still have George Jones and Ralph Stanley.  (There are others no doubt.)  God has been good to George Jones, even though Jones, just like every one of us, has not always been very good toward God. 

Jones's drinking songs, like his songs about heartbreak, blues, and dejection, are born out of his many miserable experiences.  He has suffered from alcohol use and abuse, broken marriages, and at least one major wreck that should have ended it all.  As he says in one song, "from the blood from my body I could start my own still."

Just as those two great William's, Shakespeare and Faulkner, plummeted the depths of human tragedy and woes via their dramas and novels, so Jones has revealed the pain, misery, and struggles of man's failed efforts to find perfect bliss in this vale of tears.  Country Music is truly a Saturday night honky-tonk and Sunday morning revival kind of experience.  This is not to endorse every celebration of the honky-tonks, cheating songs, or drunkeness.  It is to realize the depth of reality in so many of those songs.

Perhaps the greatest song Jones ever did (and there are so many) is "He Stopped Loving Her Today."  Unrequited love has never been so powerfully portrayed as in this song.  It breaks my heart every time I hear it.  When Jones first looked at the song, even he thought it was too **** depressing (to use his words, sort of) to appeal to people.  But we are all depressed sometimes.  The blues and their first cousin from the south, sad country songs, all bespeak the human condition.  If you are not sad or heartbroken or lonely right now, someone in your family, neighborhood, or church is.  And whether that sorrow is self-inflicted, the result of events beyond your control, or due to being sinned against, it is a glimpse into the abyss, a journey into the underworld, a vision of the heart of darkness.  (Country music is, after all, great literature, sectioned up into 3 minute experiences with a fiddle and a steel guitar for emphasis.)

Sometimes the fault of Jones and other country singers is the lack of balance in giving answers to man's plight and misery.  Yes, this is a miserably depressing, lonely, heart-breaking world.  We could all drink ourselves into oblivion due to the fallen condition of mankind and the miseries of our own hearts. But God has spoken. There is hope.

Jones not only knows of the hope in this world, but he has celebrated it.  After his near-fatal car crash some years back, he appealed to Vestal Goodman of the Happy Goodman Gospel Singers.  Along with his fourth wife, Nancy, these two women helped George recover a vision of the Cross. Prior to that wreck, his wife worked to free him from his many years of alcohol and drug abuse.  Like June Carter Cash's labors with her famous singer husband, George's wife exemplified the saving Gospel to his life.
[For an amazing interview with George Jones about his life and faith, see]

Not all country songs are about the tragic dimensions of life and love.  Jones has had several hits that celebrate women.  Songs such as "She's the Rock that I Lean On" and "A Picture of Me Without You" are fine examples of a woman being man's source of stability, a true help-meet.
 God's blessings on dear old George Jones on his eightieth birthday.  I hope he continues to sing on this side of eternity.  I can also hope to meet him on this side as well.

George Jones at age 80--"Still Doin' Time"--on the stage

Jones' marriage to Tammy Wynette resulted in many a fine duo, but that marriage of two great singers did not last.  They sang, "We Gonna Hold On," but they didn't.