George Jones topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “He Stopped Loving Her Today” on July 5, 1980. The tune is widely regarded as one of the best country songs of all time, if not the best. However, there was a time when nobody wanted to record it.
Legendary tunesmiths Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman co-penned “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Of course, Braddock and Putman famously combined their songwriting talents to give us Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in 1968, as well as Autry Inman’s “Ballad of Two Brothers,” among others.
After Braddock and Putman penned the tune circa 1977, it basically sat around for a couple of years until Johnny Russell cut the song on his 1979 album, Perspectives.
“Curly says I brought him the idea for this song, but I don’t remember,” said Bobby Braddock to Country Weekly in 2000. “We sat around and did this dark-humor sort of stuff before we actually got serious about it. Then I took it home and finished it. But nobody wanted to record it. The song kind of laid around for three years. Finally, Johnny Russell—the one person who believed in that song—cut it.”
George Cuts a Classic
After Johnny Russell cut the song, it reached the ear of producer Billy Sherrill, who had been working with George for about a decade. Billy’s collaborations with George began in 1971 when George moved over to the Epic label. Billy produced George’s first No. 1 with the label, 1974’s “The Grand Tour,” as well as George’s 1976 classic duets with Tammy Wynette, “Golden Ring” and “Near You.”
Sherrill’s interest was piqued with Russell’s version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” but he wanted Braddock and Putman to write an additional verse in which the ex-wife came to the funeral.
“So Curly and I got [back] together and wrote five or six different versions,” added Braddock. “We kept sending them to Sherrill until there was one that he really liked.”
While Braddock and Putman’s final effort please Sherrill, George Jones was another battle. George believed the song was too morbid. It took Sherrill months to get the singer in the studio to cut it, which he finally did.
George released “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in April 1980. Less than three months later, it topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on July 5.
And the Winner Is…
George’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” became an awards show darling.
The tune earned Single and Song of the Year at the 1980 ACM Awards. Likewise, the composition earned Single and Song of the Year at the 1980 CMA Awards, as well as a repeat of Song of the Year in 1981. In addition, George won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance – Male for “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“Good God, he just sang it so good—all the emotion that he put into it, along with Sherrill’s production and arrangement,” added Bobby Braddock. “I don’t know if the song was better than I thought, or whether it took production and that performance to bring it to life. I just know I didn’t have that much interest in it until Billy played me George’s version.”
With the chart-topping tune, George had secured No. 1 singles in four different decades (1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s).