Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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George Jones

  • The Best of George Jones [Musicor, 1970] B+
  • The Best of George Jones, Vol. 1 [RCA Victor, 1972] A-
  • The Best of George Jones [Epic, 1975] B+
  • The Battle [Epic, 1976] B
  • Alone Again [Epic, 1976] A-
  • All-Time Greatest Hits: Volume 1 [Epic, 1977] A-
  • I Wanta Sing [Epic, 1977] B
  • 16 Greatest Hits [Starday, 1977]
  • My Very Special Guests [Epic, 1979] A-
  • I Am What I Am [Epic, 1980] A-
  • Still the Same Ole Me [Epic, 1981] B+
  • Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits [Epic, 1982] A-
  • Shine On [Epic, 1983] C+
  • You've Still Got a Place in My Heart [Epic, 1984] B
  • By Request [Epic, 1984] B-
  • The King of Country Music [Liberty, 1984]
  • White Lightning [Ace, 1984]
  • First Time Live [Epic, 1985] B
  • Too Wild Too Long [Epic, 1987] B-
  • Super Hits [Epic, 1987] B-
  • One Woman Man [Epic, 1988] B+
  • Friends in High Places [Epic, 1991] *
  • The Best of George Jones (1955-1967) [Rhino, 1991] A-
  • And Along Came Jones [MCA, 1991] *
  • Walls Can Fall [MCA, 1992] A-
  • High-Tech Redneck [MCA, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • The Bradley Barn Sessions [MCA, 1994] *
  • I Lived to Tell It All [MCA, 1996] *
  • It Don't Get Any Better Than This [MCA, 1998] ***
  • Cold Hard Truth [Asylum, 1999] ***
  • The George Jones Collection [MCA, 1999] **
  • Live With the Possum [Asylum, 1999] Neither
  • The Gospel Collection [BNA, 2003] **
  • The Definitive Collection [Mercury Nashville, 2004]

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Best of George Jones [Musicor, 1970]
Don't take the title too seriously--the clenched jaw and rubberband larynx of honky-tonk's greatest honky have graced more albums than he can count (seventy, eighty, like that), and only the Lord knows how many singles he's put out. This is a fairly nondescript selection of ten of them, including one B side and two I can't trace. As usual, the highest-charted are the blandest, and neither of my faves--the hyperextended deception trope "Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong" and the poor white "Where Grass Won't Grow"--made top ten country. B+

The Best of George Jones, Vol. 1 [RCA Victor, 1972]
"White Lightnin'" isn't the only white lightnin' Jones's longtime but no-more producer "Pappy" Daily passes around--to commemorate Jones's desertion to Epic, Daily has sold all the George he owns to RCA, and the initial result is a hither-and-yon compilation that skips from the high purity of his work with Mercury and United Artists (no Starday stuff) to the tortured midrange of the recent "I'll Follow You" and "A Day in the Life of a Fool." Much too brief, but not a bad introduction. A-

The Best of George Jones [Epic, 1975]
You can hear why people say Billy Sherrill has compromised Jones on this compilation's only great song, "The Door"; Bergen White's strings begin tersely enough, but by the end the usual army of interlopers is sawing away, so that you barely notice how Jones lowers the boom on the two "the"s in the song's final line. Ultimately, though, it isn't the production that makes this acceptable but less than scintillating--it's the conception. Too many of these songs lay out the conventional romantic themes with a slight twist, and there's virtually no room for Jones the honky-tonk crazy, the one who sang "The Race Is On" and "No Money in This Deal." One Epic cut that would help on both counts is the unsarcastic "You're Looking at a Happy Man," in which his wife leaves him. B+

The Battle [Epic, 1976]
One of the artiest cover illustrations ever to come out of Nashville has misled casual observers into the belief that this is a concept album about George and Tammy's marital problems. What it is is a slightly better-than-average George Jones LP marred by a surfeit of conjugal-bliss songs. First by a country mile: "Billy Ray Wrote a Song," about two up-and-coming Nashville professionals, both male. B

Alone Again [Epic, 1976]
Although it sticks too close to heart songs, this comeback-to-basics statement is the best country album of the year and far surpasses the rest of Jones's recent work. I'm getting to like the over-forty Jones as much as the rawboned honky-tonker anyway--what's amazing about him is that by refusing the release of honky-tonking he holds all that pain in, audibly. The result, expressed in one homely extended metaphor per song (the only one that's too commonplace is "diary of my life"), is a sense of constriction that says as much about the spiritual locus of country music as anything I've heard in quite a while. A-

All-Time Greatest Hits: Volume 1 [Epic, 1977]
Jones afficionados may well object to his re-recording his old standards, especially while some of the prototypes remain in catalogue on RCA and Musicor. But though I miss the revved-up boy-man lightness of some of the originals, these are much brighter and more passionate than most remakes, and I welcome the improved sound quality and relatively schlock-free arrangements. Likable at worst, revelatory at best, and recommended. A-

I Wanta Sing [Epic, 1977]
The vocals aren't as intense here as on Alone Again, so the tomfoolery seems a little forced, though I hope he keeps trying. But as long as he's not buried in strings, soul choruses, and Peter Allen songs, I don't think he can make a bad album. Will somebody tell Billy Sherrill to withdraw that call to Australia? B

16 Greatest Hits [Starday, 1977]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

My Very Special Guests [Epic, 1979]
This collection of ten collaborations with outlaw old-timers, country-rock phenoms, Staples, Tammy, and someone named Elvis has low points, as you might expect. But its quality has more to do with what's being sung than with who's singing it where. James Taylor, harmonizing from New York on his neo-classic "Bartender's Blues," sounds fine; Emmylou Harris, chiming in from El Lay on the lame "Here We Are," fares only slightly worse than Johnny Paycheck does on poor old "Proud Mary," which comes complete with made-in-Nashville interaction. Must-hears: "I Gotta Get Drunk," with Willie Nelson, and the amazing "Stranger in the House," which gives an unexpected clue about who taught Mr. Costello to sing. A-

I Am What I Am [Epic, 1980]
Smiling corpse or committed cuckold or drunk peering over the edge of the wagon, a sinner is what he am, and he's never sounded so abject or unregenerate--the twenty-years-in-five thickness of his Epic voice only intensifies the effect. If Billy Sherrill's chorales signify his helplessness, their unobtrusiveness-in-spite-of-themselves prove his triumph. And remember, it was Sherrill who found him these songs. A-

Still the Same Ole Me [Epic, 1981]
Dumb title, appropriately enough, and every word true--just like his lies about lifetime troth in the title number, one of those inane stick-to-the-medulla-oblongata tunes no one will ever do better. And side-openers, the man has side-openers--a brand-new honky-tonk classic and a brand-new wages-of-honky-tonk classic. Nothing else stands out except for the intrusion of young Georgette Jones (Wynette?) (surely not Richey?) on "Daddy Come Home," which even George can't get away with. But it all stands up. B+

Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits [Epic, 1982]
Sure he's inconsistent and self-destructive, but he's such a natural that all his insanity goes into the mix, and such a pro that the greatest performance on all four sides, "He Stopped Loving Her Today," was recorded with a year between the first verse and the bridge. Note also that it was completed in 1980--the strictly chronological sequencing clarifies how he and Billy Sherrill grew into their collaboration. As countrypolitan evolves into country-pop, yielding a standard country best-of on the first two sides, Sherrill gives up on forcing Jones into the mold, instead encouraging his prize to be what he is, the greatest country singer in history--not so much with arrangements, though they do get sparer, as with increasingly hyperbolic and goofy material. Jones's Starday and Musicor best-ofs are as essential as Jimmie Rodgers or Robert Johnson. Side four--ruminative, mannered, dripping with pain--cuts them. A-

Shine On [Epic, 1983]
Charley Pride couldn't get away with the lucky songs Billy Sherrill's stuck George with this time, and though the unlucky songs are better, superstar guilt and second-convolution cheating just don't suit him. Granted, "Ol' George Stopped Drinkin' Today" is a near-perfect fit. But when it comes to "Almost Persuaded," I'll take the original--by David Houston, Tammy's first singing partner. C+

You've Still Got a Place in My Heart [Epic, 1984]
This not-great George Jones record should reassure anybody who was worried he'd never make another decent one without hitting the bottle again. First side leads off with messages to wives of various periods, second with a Jones-penned chestnut that happens to be the title of his new bio, a great pseudofolksong (or maybe it's real, which is what makes it great), and a very cheerful explanation of why he'll never hit the bottle again. We believe you, George. B

By Request [Epic, 1984]
At least there's a rudimentary honesty to the title--this compiles the legend at his most broad-based, and while I'd request half of it myself, only the Ray Charles duet can't be found in more exciting company. B-

The King of Country Music [Liberty, 1984]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

White Lightning [Ace, 1984]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

First Time Live [Epic, 1985]
If it's amazing that this inexhaustible record machine has never resorted to a live quickie, it's doubly amazing that he's never dared one. Less amazing is the career moment it captures, the period of sobriety that's turned his never-ending stage fright into shtick. "No Show Jones" opens the show, naturally, and this being country music it kicks off with his guitarist's Merle Haggard imitation. Elsewhere there's a set-down-a-spell band feature, a get-it-over-with medley, and the usual quota of you-had-to-be-there cornball, which Jones, whose stage fright isn't altogether irrational, delivers pretty clumsily for a thirty-year-man. And on top of it all there's irrefutable proof of how instinctive his tricks and mannerisms are--you've heard these vocal grimaces and bursts of prose poetry before, but never in just these heart-stopping places. Definitive: "He Stopped Loving Her Today." B

Too Wild Too Long [Epic, 1987]
As per recent habit, "I'm a Survivor," "One Hell of a Song," and "Too Wild Too Long" adduce his legend without justifying it. "The Old Man No One Loved" is as pointless as anything he's ever walked through, "The U.S.A. Today" not as bad as you'd fear. But "The Bird" is gloriously silly, and he hits "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" on the noggin. As for "Moments of Brilliance"--well, "Moments of Brilliance" is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. B-

Super Hits [Epic, 1987]
Four of these undeniably super tracks are on Epic's essential Anniversary--Ten Years of Hits, two more on Epic's near-essential All-Time Greatest Hits: Volume 1. Included is the mawkishly obvious "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes." Omitted is the tragically obscure "Don't Leave Without Taking Your Silver." B-

One Woman Man [Epic, 1988]
Less than no way to tell this is his best album since I Am What I Am nine years ago--Billy Sherrill himself doesn't know, not with two cuts previously released and one of those nothing special. The other, however, is the homicidal "Radio Lover," which I first heard on the makeshift By Request. Points of interest include veteran honky-tonk, shameless tearjerk, and the impossible "Ya Ba Da Ba Do (So Are You)," about three icons sitting around talking--Elvis Presley, Fred Flintstone, and George Jones. B+

Friends in High Places [Epic, 1991]
friends wherever he can find them, some inspired (Randy Travis, Vern Gosdin), some otherwise (Ricky Van Shelton, Buck Owens) ("A Few Ole Country Boys," "All That We've Got Left") *

The Best of George Jones (1955-1967) [Rhino, 1991]
You never know with George. On Starday's 16 Greatest Hits, which I purchased for $3.88 in 1978, are Jones originals called "Eskimo Pie" and "No Money in This Deal" that I've always loved. Now I check Joel Whitburn and discover that neither was ever a hit, great or otherwise. These were--they constitute as complete a tour of Jones's early best-sellers as has ever been conducted. That doesn't make "Tender Years" half the record "No Money in This Deal" is--Nashville hits are often cornier than city folks prefer. But he isn't the greatest country singer in history for nothing. Let a dozen compilations bloom. Just watch out for duplications. A-

And Along Came Jones [MCA, 1991]
and along came Tony Brown too ("I Don't Go Back Anymore," "You Couldn't Get the Picture") *

Walls Can Fall [MCA, 1992]
The cassette-bound are advised to fast-forward to side two, CD investers to program, oh, 6-4-7-8-9-10-1; there's no true filler here, but "Wrong's What I Do Best" is far more thematic than "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," in which 10 suburban cowpeople sing the praises of 61-year-old youth, and which I conceive as a coda. George has been hitched and on the wagon since well before he cut his late-'80s dreck, but he can still sing the likes of "Drive Me To Drink" (if she can't be his wife she can be his chauffeur) and "There's the Door" (if she can walk out of the house maybe he can walk out of the bar) as if he does a lot of listening at 12-step meetings. His problem wasn't authenticity--it was Billy Sherrill. A-

High-Tech Redneck [MCA, 1993]
"The Visit" Choice Cuts

The Bradley Barn Sessions [MCA, 1994]
did someone say duets with America's greatest living vocalist? ("Bartender Blues," "Where Grass Won't Grow") *

I Lived to Tell It All [MCA, 1996]
a drunkard's prayers ("I'll Give You Something To Drink About," "Tied to a Stone") *

It Don't Get Any Better Than This [MCA, 1998]
old faithfuls ("Wild Irish Rose," "It Don't Get Any Better Than This") ***

Cold Hard Truth [Asylum, 1999]
Begins with two all-time keepers and a fine novelty, after which the songs need more than the scratch vocals he was stuck with after he ran into an abutment playing his stepdaughter the tape ("Choices," "Cold Hard Truth," "Sinners & Saints") ***

The George Jones Collection [MCA, 1999]
Too obvious too often ("Wild Irish Rose," "Golden Ring"). **

Live With the Possum [Asylum, 1999] Neither

The Gospel Collection [BNA, 2003]
The Possum, Billy Sherrill, and a great American songbook plus ringers ("The Old Rugged Cross," "In the Garden") **

The Definitive Collection [Mercury Nashville, 2004]
As music, this collection of 22 remastered early recordings is magnificent even if you believe, like most nonpurists, that the greatest country singer ever was just getting started in his straight honky-tonk period. It's terse, unsentimental, and soul deep, Jones's voice a marvel and mystery long before its fathomless maturity. Moreover, Jones sounds maybe a quarter quantum clearer and younger in this mix. Note, however, that 1994's two-disc Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years covers the same ground, and its 29 additional cuts are as worthy as all but a few highlights here. With artists of Jones's calibre, sometimes more is more. [Blender: 3]

See Also