The story behind the song is quite interesting. At the peak of his career, Jones was among the more troubled country singers. He was battling drinking and drug problems and was famous for his missed appearances and alcohol-fueled rages. And the Grand Ole Opry was bankrupt and homeless.
Author Jack Isenhour documented the session, which Jones barely got to, in his book He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time. The recording was difficult: Jones couldn’t get it done in one take and kept forgetting the melody. In fact, he kept singing it to the melody of the Kris Kristofferson song, “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”
The spoken word section was the most difficult for him, however. He kept slurring the words. Jones would have to rely on producer Billy Sherrill to splice together the best moments of several takes for this three-minute song. At first, Jones hated the song, allegedly saying “Nobody’ll buy that morbid son of a bitch.” But, in the end, it was a masterpiece, a song many believe to be the best country song of all time. It’s soaring pedal steel only adds to the emotional intensity. It was released as the lead single from I Am What I Am.
Jones was back on top with a song he hadn’t expected would succeed. He later said that the three-minute tune salvaged a four-decade career. Little wonder: Jones’s life at the time he recorded it made him the ideal person to deliver the sorrowful tale.
When George Jones died at the age of 81, close friend Alan Jackson performed a rendition of the song at his memorial service. Now, decades later, many country fans still say that “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is truly the greatest country song of all time.