As lamented last week in this space, recent events continue to force pop music fans into facing the frequently denied mortality of our musical heroes. The April 26 death of country music legend George Jones - while not entirely unexpected given his age, recent health and long-time courtship with hard living - silences a major American music figure. Still, our sadness is tempered by the realization that Jones has left behind a tremendous number of quality recordings that will always (barring a dystopian tragedy of culture-erasing proportions) keep his one-of-a-kind, whiskey-laced lonesome vocals widely available to us all. As it happens, this sweeping statement applies to Jones' activity during the '80s almost as much as any other era in which he worked so tirelessly across six decades. Influential to almost every artist working within genres even marginally related to country (including Americana, roots rock and the modern commercial country Jones himself often disdained), this consummate interpretive singer enjoyed a remarkably consistent career filled with moving performances. And though Jones' absence will be felt deeply by those who appreciate music at its most primal and vulnerably human, his death will likely generate as much celebration and commemoration as outright pain. After all, if anyone lived a full, bursting-at-the-seams life, it was certainly The Possum.
To kick off the '80s, Jones scored a top U.S. country hit with what many observers still see as the greatest country song ever recorded, the immortal "He Stopped Loving Her Today." And while that tune's focus on mortality, heartbreak and the inseparable relationship between those two concepts will continue to receive justified attention for as long as these issues continue to grip our emotions, I'll choose a slightly different way of remembering the majesty of Jones. 1981's "Still Doin' Time" may be another one of Jones' three No. 1 country hits of the '80s, but outside of country music circles it remains a relatively little-known commodity. That's a shame - if not a surprise - and probably results from the fiercely honky-tonk sound and themes found here, which Jones made a career of exploring. Without resorting to cliches on any level, Jones takes a song co-written by a Nashville songwriter in his twenties at the time (Michael Heeney) and imbues it with grizzled life experience, all the while directly treating archetypal country music topics like drinking, prison, cheating and (last but probably least recognized) self-loathing. It's a classic, just like Jones' immortal voice and his enduringly towering impact on American pop culture.
- Sample or download "Still Doin' Time" here.
- Compare prices on George Jones CDs here.
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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Epic