Deep Album Cuts Vol. 6: George Jones

I just did the first mix in this series for a country artist, Brad Paisley, a couple weeks ago, and I figured at the time that I'd revisit the genre later down the road -- possibly with some more contemporary acts, and maybe, eventually, my favorite country singer of them all, George Jones. But then The Possum up and died the other day, breaking my heart and sending me to pore over his huge, daunting discography, and here we are.

With these mixes, I like to try and familiarize myself with all the available album tracks, which of course is not too hard if the artist has a dozen or fewer albums. George Jones, however, had over 60 solo studio albums, along with dozens of collaborative albums. Even just listening to the 20-something albums of his on Spotify (not counting compilations) would take forever. But then it occurred to me that I'd always been curious to look more deeply at George Jones the songwriter, rather than just George Jones the singer.

Obviously, George Jones was a singer, first and foremost, and any auteurist or rockist argument that most of his hits being written by others would diminish his accomplishments as an artists is bullshit. In fact it's a testament to his skills as an interpreter that he was able to own and inhabit those songs so deeply, that so many of them mirrored his life and his voice so perfectly. After a while, of course, that may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy -- once he was country's most famous alcoholic and one of its greatest balladeers, of course every writer in Nashville was happy to save their best drinkin' songs and heartbreakers for Jones. But it still speaks to his power as a vocalist that it really doesn't matter that he didn't write "He Stopped Loving Her Today" or "White Lightnin'."

Of course, George Jones did write some of his own hits -- most of the early ones, including his first, "Why Baby Why," along with a handful of other stone classics any fan would know, like "Tender Years" and "These Days (I Barely Get By)." But the compilation that fostered my love of Jones's music, Essential: Spirit of Country, a 44-track double disc set that as far as I know is the only comp that covers all eras, all the major hits, is a good illustration of the ratio -- only 9 songs written or co-written by Jones, 8 of which are on the first disc that runs chronologically up to 1974.

But for the most part his work as a songwriter was relegated to albums, where his own compositions would sit in the shadows of the smash hits -- often several per album in the first decade or so of his career, and after that just one or two per album, if any. The rest often came from frequent collaborators like Earl Montgomery and George Richey, or Jones's longtime producer Billy Sherrill, or from other Nashville pros, or even covers of standards and hits by his contemporaries. But amid the thousand or so songs that George Jones the singer recorded are a few dozen works by George Jones the songwriter that warrant attention.

So after culling the songs written or co-written by George Jones from his albums that are on Spotify, minus the singles, this is the resulting Spotify playlist:

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 6: George Jones

1. That's The Way I Feel
2. Gonna Take Me Away From You
3. A Hard Act To Follow
4. A Drunk Can't Be A Man
5. You're Looking At A Happy Man
6. Ain't It Funny What A Fool Will Do
7. Never Grow Cold (with Tammy Wynette)
8. Our Private Life
9. I Don't Want No Stranger Sleepin' In My Bed
10. Life To Go
11. You Done Me Wrong
12. Ain't Your Memory Got No Pride Got No Pride At All
13. Wandering Soul
14. Touching Shoulders (with Tammy Wynette)
15. It's So Sweet (with Tammy Wynette)
16. Help The People (with Tammy Wynette)
17. Giveaway Girl
18. Don't Do This To Me
19. If You Loved A Liar (You'd Hug My Neck)
20. Flame In My Heart
21. Jesus Wants Me
22. Wine (You've Used Me Long Enough)
23. Things Have Gone To Pieces
24. Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me

Tracks 1, 10, 13, 17, 18, 20, and 21 from White Lightning And Other Favorites (1959)
Track 6 from Songs From The Heart (1962)
Tracks 2 and 23 from Mr. Country & Western Music (1965)
Tracks 7 and 15 from We Go Together (1971)
Tracks 14 and 16 from Let's Build A World Together (1973)
Tracks 5 and 22 from Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You) (1973)
Track 8 from The Grand Tour (1974)
Tracks 4 and 24 from Alone Again (1976)
Tracks 9, 12, and 19 from Bartender's Blues (1978)
Track 3 from I Am What I Am (1980)
Track 11 from And Along Came Jones (1991)

What these songs confirm for me that if George Jones ever had behaved like a capital-A artist -- taking his time to write entire albums himself every couple years, instead of cranking out platters every few months of whatever songs were around -- he still would've been one of the great ones, if a very different George. The songs he wrote often had all the emotion and humor and intelligence of his best known hits, and if he hadn't become such a magnet for songwriters maybe more of his own songs would've been hits.

Even though Jones often told the story of his life in songs written by others, it's still fascinating to hear the words that come direct from him pen. The most pointed moments come from Alone Again, the album recorded shortly after he divorced Tammy Wynette -- "A Drunk Can't Be A Man" is a brutally self-lacerating song for a guy whose frequent songs about his most famous vice tended to be merely bittersweet, if not outright celebratory, and "Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me," though a story-song written in character, is still an epic of self-pity. "Our Private Life" from 1974 is perhaps the first example of a recording artist ranting at the tabloids in song, and sounds genuinely bitter and angry (unless "The Ballad of John and Yoko" counts, I guess?).

Through it all, though, it's all about the voice. I always loved seeing George Jones sing, because sometimes he'd kind of grit his teeth and swing his head slightly, in this way that made me feel like he had the song caged in his mouth and it was fighting to get out. I still picture that whenever I listen to him. Just like some artists in this series, like Madonna, all but demand that I come back for a second volume somewhere down the line, at some point I definitely want to return to George's catalog, for another mix that won't focus just on songs he had a hand in writing.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
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