Every song that George Jones touches turns to gold, and his rendition of Elvis Costello’s “A Good Year For the Roses.” Looking back, we celebrate the day that Jones’ first recorded the classic love song.
Jerry Chesnut and His Tough Year For Roses
Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how Jerry Chestnut’s beautiful song came to life.
The country love song was written by Nashville songwriter Chesnut. The songwriter previously wrote Jerry Lee Lewis’s song “Another Place, Another Time” which was nominated for a Grammy.
The tune was created after Chestnut bought a home on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. He had lovingly planted Hybrid Tea Roses that he had bought to decorate the walkway to his home. He spent much time growing them and hoping they’d blossom into glorious colors.
Unfortunately, when spring began to ruin his beloved flowers as they drowned by rain and bugs came to attack them. It was as though nature was rebelling against his work to create natural splendor. After speaking with others, he had to discover a hard lesson.
“It’s just not been a good year for roses,” someone told him.
A Warning Label
The song was one of the 12 that Elvis Costello covered on his own album Almost Blue. The original record contained a warning to listeners on the album cover.
“This album contains Country & Western music and may cause offense to narrow minded listeners,” reads the warning label.
Surprisingly, it became one of the artists’ greatest hits, and reached #6 across the pond in the UK.
“That was (label boss) Jake Riviera’s idea. He liked to be provocative,” Costello told Q Magazine in a March 2008 interview. “The sticker really made me laugh. I remember early on listening to a tape of country music while The Attractions were on tour when a journalist was about to come on the bus for an interview. Somebody said, ‘Don’t let them hear you playing country.’ They were serious, because they were worried it would pin me down with being something to do with music before 1977. Which was nonsense. But that was the climate back then.”
Chesnut’s Song Blooms Into a Hit
“I started getting telegrams: ‘Congratulations on the Elvis Costello record,'” recalls Chestnut about his reaction to Costello’s cover. I thought it was an Elvis (Presley) imitator, probably. Or maybe (comedian) Lou Costello’s boy. I had no idea who it was. I found out later on. Back then, it made a lot of money. The first check we got in was $60,000, just for airplay in the British Isles. I said, ‘What is this guy?’ They said, ‘He’s punk rock.’ I said, ‘Maybe that’s the direction I want to go in.'”
“I got to thinking about those roses. ‘I wonder if they’d have done good if I’d brought them out here? … What if it’d been a good year for roses, but everything else was going to pot? If the man’s wife was leaving, the baby’s crying, and the dog’s died? The whole world’s going to pot, but the roses are just blooming like crazy.’ I just started writing the song like that,” he continues.
George Jones and Alan Jackson Grow a Hit
In 1994, Jones decides to record the song on his album The Bradley Barn Sessions as a duet with Alan Jackson. He hoped to top the charts like the Elvis Constello version did. Jones recalls recording the song in his autobiography.
“Alan was white-hot on the radio, and programmers wanted his voice,” writes Jones. “But some didn’t want his if they had to take mine. The vast majority of Alan’s other single records have gone to number one. His duet with me was his first not to crack the top 50.”
Their duet became a #2 hit on the country music charts. Jones’ version reached #56 on the charts and won the Music City News Country Award for Vocal Collaboration of the Year.
It might not be a good year for the roses, but it appears to be a great year to create a beautiful hit song.