George Jones’ landmark 1960 recording “The Window Up Above” was the apex of his years with Mercury Records. It marked his transition from a singer of honky tonk barn burners to a Nashville Sound ballad crooner. By 1962, he made the switch to United Artists Records and continued to perfect his craft. This collection, released in 1997 by Razor & Tie, focuses on his tenure with United Artists, which lasted from 1962 until 1964. Though his stint with the label was a short one, it yielded 151 recordings, including a handful of true classics that are the best of his career prior to his period with Epic Records (1971 to 1991). Twenty-two of those 151 recordings were released as singles, and twenty-one of them are represented here; the sole omission is 1963’s non-charting “Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do.”
United Artists at the time was a fledgling label that had been started primarily to release soundtrack albums of UA films. It later branched out into jazz, and when Mercury executive Art Talmadge was recruited to start a country division, Pappy Dailey and George Jones joined him. They hit paydirt straight out of the box with “She Thinks I Still Care”, his first release for the label. It was his third #1 hit and the biggest record of his career to date. Originally intended as a pop ballad, it was pitched to Jones by former Sun Records producer Jack Clement, who altered the melody to make it sound more country. It has been covered many times by artists such as Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, and Patty Loveless.
George’s next few releases — all released in 1962– didn’t fare quite as well. “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” reached #17, “Open Pit Mine” peaked at #13, and “You’re Still On My Mind” petered out at #28. His fortunes turned around by year-end, with “A Girl I Used To Know”, a #3 hit written by Jack Clement that is better known in its slightly re-tooled duet version. As “Just Someone I Used To Know”, it has been recorded many, many times, most notably by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1969. Jones closed out 1962 with “The Big Fool Of The Year”, which peaked at #13. He greeted 1963 with the somewhat similar sounding “Not What I Had In Mind”, a somewhat forgotten and definitely underrated number that reached #7 on the charts.
In 1963, Jones was paired with another Pappy Dailey client, Melba Montgomery, for a series of successful duets, seven of which are represented here. The best known is “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”, which Melba wrote, but all of the Montgomery duets included in this collection are worthwhile. Melba’s raw bluegrass harmonies matched Jones more polished vocal style quite nicely on tunes such as “She’s My Mother”, “Let’s Invite Them Over”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “What’s In Our Hearts.” All of the Jones-Montgomery duets were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, and George reportedly considers them to be the best duets of his career, trumping even his better-known later work with Tammy Wynette.
After “She Thinks I Still Care”, the best known record from Jones’ UA period is “The Race Is On”, an upbeat number that reached #3 and has also been covered many times by artists such as The Grateful Dead and pop singer Jack Jones (no relation). In 1989 the song revived the flagging career of Sawyer Brown.
In addition to the aforementioned big hits, this two-disc collection is rounded out by some religious songs and a few covers of other artists’ songs, most notably “Faded Love”, which was included on Jones’ 1962 Bob Wills tribute album.
Only a small handful of Jones’ recordings from the United Artists era are considered essential, but it’s my favorite phase of his career from the pre-Epic years. This particular collection is currently out of print. Used copies are available from third-party sellers on Amazon, but they are quite expensive. Bear Family Records released the entire UA catalog in a five-disc box set called She Thinks I Still Care: The Complete United Artists Recordings: 1962-1964, but it too is quite expensive and only of interest to diehard fans. More economical is a single-disc, ten track 2003 collection released by Capitol, also called She Thinks I Still Care. Like the Razor & Tie collection, this one is also out of print, but cheap used copies are available. The song selection on the Capitol disc is meager and there some glaring omissions such as “The Race Is On” and “A Girl I Used To Know.” It’s difficult to find a decent compilation of the United Artists years without breaking the budget, but any money used to purchase any of these recordings is money well spent.