George Jones

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John Pareles, "His Life Was a Country Song", NYT 4/26/2013:

George Jones, the definitive country singer of the last half-century, whose songs about heartbreak and hard drinking echoed his own turbulent life, died on Friday in Nashville. He was 81.

His publicists, Webster & Associates, said he died at a hospital after being admitted there on April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.

Mr. Jones's singing was universally respected and just as widely imitated. With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string, he found vulnerability and doubt behind the cheerful drive of honky-tonk and brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.

In his most memorable songs, all the pleasures of a down-home Saturday night couldn't free him from private pain. His up-tempo songs had undercurrents of solitude, and the ballads that became his specialty were suffused with stoic desolation.

When I was in the army, I had several friends who spent a lot of their recreational time in bars, drinking and feeding quarters into the jukebox to play sad country ballads about failed relationships. And nobody did a failed-relationship ballad like George Jones: "The Girl I Almost Knew", "Things Have Gone to Pieces", "I'm Finally Over You", "I Can't Get There from Here", "There's Nothing Left for You". My friends were not otherwise depressive types, so this seems to have been an effective form of therapy.

The platonic ideal of the failed-relationship ballad is "He stopped loving her today". I was surprised to learn that this song came out in 1980, because I swear I heard it a hundred times in bars in 1969. Anyhow, it seems like the right way to remember George Jones:

He said I'll love you 'til I die
She told him you'll forget in time
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she'd come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single I love you

I went to see him just today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him smile in years

(Chorus)
He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today

(Spoken)
You know she came to see him one last time
Oh and we all wondered if she would
And it kept running through my mind
This time he's over her for good



18 Comments

  1. Daniel Ezra Johnson said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 9:04 am

    How many songs for a quarter back then?

    [(myl) I was trying to remember that myself, since the price changed by a large proportion over time. The approach that I describe involved dumping a bunch of coins into the jukebox and lining up a bunch of songs, which doesn't foreground the per-song cost. Back in the 1950s, I think it was a nickel for a song, but Jimmy Gately's 1966 song Nickels, Quarters, and Dimes says:

    I just took my last ten dollars from my pocket
    I said I'd like some change if you don't mind
    The bartender asked me how I'd like it
    I said nickels quarters and dimes
    I spread my silver out across the table
    I said money get her off my mind
    I thumbed the cash in all of my old mem'ries
    With these nickels quarters and dimes
    Nickels tip the waitress dimes play the jukebox
    And quarters buy me wine wine wine

    And Buck Owens' 1988 song Put a Quarter in the Jukebox says:

    Somebody put a quarter in the jukebox
    Somebody play that certain hurting song
    That one about forever that one about no never
    That one about the good love that's gone wrong

    I'd tell our friends I'm doing fine without you
    I'd tell our friends I never am alone
    But I'm afraid they'll know it
    Yes I'm afraid I'll show it
    'Cause all I ever play's that same ole song

    So I'm sitting here a staring at the jukebox
    Hoping that somebody comes along
    Somebody who for starters
    Will have a pocket full of quarters
    And who'll play that love gone wrong song all night long

    I think that around 1970 it might have been something complicated, like one song for a dime or three for a quarter.]

  2. Neal Goldfarb said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    Based on the quote from the obit, I was expecting a phonetic analysis of bluesy slides and the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.

    [(myl) that would be a term project that could fit in a number of different courses…]

  3. Gav said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

    My recollection of "Truck drivin man" had "… put a quarter in the jukebox" but apparently the original 1954 version had "… put a nickel in the jukebox". There's inflation for you.

  4. GeorgeW said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

    My memory from the 50s & 60s in diners (and an occasional honkytonk) is three for a quarter.

  5. cameron said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    An early scene in the 1945 film noir classic "Detour", the main character goes up to the counter at a roadside diner and delivers a line that, while perfectly grammatical and easy to understand, would be hard to imagine anyone saying today: "hey buddy, you got charge of a dime?"

    and yes, he wanted a nickel for the jukebox.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    The Joan Jett version of "I Love Rock and Roll," with the lyric "put another dime in the jukebox, baby" reached #1 on the Billboard charts in spring of '82. I have a very vague memory that the pricing may have seemed a bit off (i.e. jukeboxes I was patronizing at the time were pricier per song), but that memory is vague enough it may not be an accurate sense of my reaction in '82 but the result of post-'82 inflation. I expect if the pricing seemed too low I would have written it off at the time as poetic license, but the matter is further complicated by the fact that the song was not brandnew but a remake of one originally recorded in '75 in England (a version which very few people in the U.S. had heard). The English band had an American expat or two in its membership, but I assume that regardless of that they would have made an aesthetic and/or marketing choice to reference US currency rather than say "put five new p in the jukebox" or whatever UK pricing would have been at the time, and how accurate their sense of 1975 actual US jukebox pricing may have been seems subject to question. One could do some corpus research on references like that, but I wouldn't rely on the folk-knowledge contained in song lyrics etc. to match up with the sort of more reliable contemporaneous pricing data that you might find if you looked in back issues of relevant trade magazines. (One of Billboard's old competitors as a record-industry trade journal was named Cashbox, and I think the original name may have been an attempt to cater to jukebox owners trying to figure out what the revenue-maximizing selection of records for their machines should be this week.)

  7. CuConnacht said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

    Teresa Brewer's 1949 hit "Music Music Music" starts "Put another nickel in/In the nickelodeon" but it's clear from the context that by "nickelodeon" means juke box. By the early 1960s it was ten cents for one song, a quarter for three. Some juke boxes also had a few albums for 50 cents.

  8. Paul Mulshine said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    One of the most poetic lines I ever heard was attributed to Jones during an English tour. The waiter brought him a drink with tiny bit of ice in it and he told the guy: "Waiter, bring me more ice. I've woke up in cricks colder than this!"

  9. John said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    I recall a nickel/song, with six for a quarter. That would have been in the 50s-60s. Next time I looked, it was a quarter/song, with six for a dollar.

  10. zythophile said,

    April 28, 2013 @ 3:03 am

    In the very early 1970s the cost per song on the jukebox in the student bar at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England was six (old) pence, or 2.5p – the sixpence piece, or tanner remained legal tender after decimalisation in 1971 until 1980. It was three songs for a shilling/5p, IIRC. At the then exchange rate of between $2.40 and $2.60 to the £, that would make one play six cents or so.

  11. Bill W said,

    April 28, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    In 1970-71, our messhall jukebox was constantly playing a song with the refrain "The green, green grass of home." Something about a prisoner returning home after incarceration.

  12. michael farris said,

    April 28, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    Something about a prisoner returning home after incarceration…

    After execution, actually….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Green_Grass_Of_Home

  13. Andy Averill said,

    April 28, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    Yeah, I also remember three for a quarter c. 1969. In a diner that stayed open after the bars closed, and you could order something called a jitterbug, which I know included french fries with gravy and I forget what else. Not poutine though.

  14. Mr Punch said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    Three for a quarter in the '60s, certainly, though older songs refer to a nickel. The great wave of inflation was roughly 1968-82.

  15. Brian T said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    I noticed that "The Green Green Grass of Home" shares its gimmick of the surprise downer ending with "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and ever since then I think of the latter song as ending: "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams … because I'm being executed at dawn."

  16. William Berry said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    Back in the day, it was understood that "He stopped Loving Her Today" was his "don't you feel sorry for me— I mean really, really sorry?" ballad to Tammy Wynette, who had stopped lovin' him, when she decided she could no longer put up with his cheatin', druggin', boozin' ways.

    She married one of her band members, twenty years or more her junior, as I recall, and moved with him to Malden, MO, where I lived at that time. Her new hubby went by the last name "Ritchie"; his Malden family was actually Richardson. Tammy used some of her millions to buy the Rowe Ford dealership in Malden, of which she very generously gave half to her father-in-law. The dealership was renamed Richardson-Wynette.

    Tammy became quite a fixture in Malden, even giving a number of free concerts at the old airbase.

  17. Mike Maxwell said,

    April 29, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

    You'd best be careful, linking that song here. If Bubba could get away with shooting the jukebox because it was playin' a sad song, he might come 'round here and take a pot-shot…

  18. Chris C. said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:35 am

    I wasn't a great aficionado of jukeboxes, but I remember when pinball machines were a dime for 1 play and 3 plays for a quarter. Inflation was a horrible thing.

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