My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: George Jones – ‘The Great Lost Hits’

Released in February 2010, The Great Lost Hits chronicles George Jones’ years as a recording artist for the Musicor label, from 1965 to 1972.  Jones had been recording for the United Artist label since 1962, and Musicor was launched as a division of the UA operation. Before his Epic years – the label that took his career to new heights and where Jones recorded for nearly 2 decades – George Jones recorded some of his best-loved hits, and truly developed the vocal style he would become renowned for and that would inspire countless other country singers that have come along since.  Listening to this collection, you can almost hear that legendary singing style come to life, and hear some mighty fine country songs, from arguably the genre’s greatest voice, in the process.

This two-disc collection is a wonderful snapshot into the catalog and career of George Jones up to 1972.  By that point, he was already a long-time country star, having spent nearly two decades honing his craft.  The selections here range from silly to stone-country, from devastating to rib-tickling, and back again.  Most are given very traditional arrangements, complete with crying fiddles, rolling steel guitars, and weeping vocals.  But in a bit of foreshadowing to the layered production of the Billy Sherrill years ahead, we can also hear Jones changing over to the Nashville Sound of the time, apparently willing to adapt his sound accordingly to change with the times.

‘Four-O Thirty-Three’ is a bouncy number that references the house number where the narrator and his little lady have built a happy home.  The acoustic guitar-laden tune found its way to the top 5 in late 1966.  ‘Milwaukee, Here I Come’, another top 20 hit, is a jaunty duet with Brenda Carter.  The pair sing of a man leaving Nashville, heading back to the beer-making capital.  He’s fed up with having to compete with all the Opry stars around town for his lady’s affections.

That’s not to say that all the up-tempo tunes are as enjoyable. ‘I’m A People’, which was released as a single and managed to reach the top 10, resting at #6 sounds very out of place, and stands as a blemish in Jones’ catalog.  Aside from the unsettling vocal from Jones, which often sounds like its one key too high and features shiftless ‘shoobie doobie doh’s’ in the chorus, the lyric to this novelty tune is very strange. George sings here of how he longs to be a monkey in a zoo.  I’ve often fantasized about casting away all my responsibilities too, but I always remained human in my dreams, or at the very least, uncaged.

And The Great Lost Hits isn’t without its adult, sometimes dark, themes that once defined country music. Dallas Frazier’s ‘Say It’s Not You’ is the tale about a man questioning his woman’s faithfulness after overhearing rumors of an affair, and upon hearing his wife’s name, he breaks down and cries, apparently already knowing the truth.  The title track to Jones’ 1969 Musicor album, ‘Where Grass Won’t Grow’ is one of my favorites from the collection.  A simple, lone guitar opens the song with George’s captivating baritone leading the way.  With that voice, he tells us of a share-cropping family, living through the hard times the winter will bring and then the death of his beloved wife, with everything happening on ‘ground so poor that grass won’t grow’. More layers are added to the song as it progresses, but simplicity defines the track more than anything else, and that allows the story to come to life.

‘I Can’t Get There From Here’ tells of a man’s hopeless thinking that he’ll never get over his devastating heartbreak, while ‘As Long As I Live’ is a profession of true and undying love.  Both of these tracks are examples of George’s embracing the then-current Nashville Sound, as prominent backing vocalists accompany him throughout the melodic choruses, and layers of production complete the arrangements.

‘If Not For You’ is another love song, this time fitting into the ‘thanks for standing by me through the hard times’ category.  The rolling steel guitar and barroom melody give it a vintage country sound, and Jones’ vocal is drenched with the drawls and sweeps that make him the greatest singer in country music.  Another excellent example of Jones creating the vocal style that has influenced generations of others, and also from the pen of Dallas Frazier, can be found on ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’.  Here, he takes an okay song, and elevates it to a near masterpiece with his uncanny knack for phrasing.  Likewise, ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’ is the kind of timeless treasure most artists only dream of adding to their catalogs.  For George Jones, it’s just another brilliantly performed, oft-forgotten top 10 hit.  ‘Pieces’ first appeared on a Musicor compilation, featuring songs by Jones and Gene Pitney, and went unreleased on CD until The Great Lost Hits was issued in February.

George Jones, the songwriter, is represented on a couple of tunes in this collection as well.  His own ‘Take Me’ is given its first reading here.  It would later be re-recorded as a duet with Tammy Wynette, and would serve as their first single release as a duo. Jones also co-wrote two more songs on The Great Lost Hits, and the collection features his recording of the Tammy-Wynette-penned ‘Never Grow Cold’.  The gospel-tinged number also features Tammy on harmony.

When she was first starting out on MCA, Patty Loveless recorded and released ‘If My Heart Had Windows’ and had her first top 10 hit with the song.  So, in addition to being the primary influence on her own vocal style, Patty Loveless often credits George Jones with giving her her first hit.  Jones’ own take on ‘Windows’ is slightly less punchy than Loveless’, but both are essential listening for me.

‘Walk Through This World With Me’, George’s biggest hit and only chart-topper for the label, features a memorable guitar lick, and the swaying chorus adds to the romance of the lyric.  For many years, even after he hit it big himself, Alan Jackson featured ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ in his live show.  Listening to Jones’ despairing original recording, it’s not hard to hear why Jackson thought so highly of it.  The man is so deep in his grief after his wife of 3 years left that all he really notices is how great the season has been to the roses in the garden.  It’s the kind of clear and cutting observation that only country music can make, and another classic song in the genre’s history.

On The Great Lost Hits, fans can hear George Jones continue to transform himself from 1950s honky-tonker and rockabilly to a smooth country-politan crooner.  Along the way, Jones developed a style of singing that would come to define country music, and influenced generations of hopefuls and talented youngsters with dreams of Music City.  It’s really tricky to regard any one period in a career as lengthy and celebrated as Jones’ as key or as the artistic high point, but if pressed, I’d have to say his years at Musicor are key.  That’s because it’s during this period I can hear him transforming into the serious artist and vocalist so revered, but also because the material on this set is so very worthy of his immense vocal talents.

Grade: A

The Great Lost Hits is readily available at amazon, and many other retailers. It also comes highly recommended to all music fans.

9 responses to “Album Review: George Jones – ‘The Great Lost Hits’

  1. Occasional Hope July 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    There’s a comment in the notes on one of the Bear Family box sets that George was “grossly over recorded” on Musicor, and the average quality fell from the standard at United Artists imo, although there were some wonderful songs as well, of course. This compilation looks like a pretty good distillation of the period.

    • Razor X July 12, 2010 at 7:53 pm

      I agree that the quality of his Musicor recordings is generally not as high as the UA material — and Jones himself has said so. He was releasing an average of four albums a year during this period, often completing an entire album in three hours. And it often shows on the tunes that were selected for album filler. His voice was often hoarse from singing so many hours nonstop in the studio. Other times mistakes were made that nobody bothered to correct — like the re-recording of “She Thinks I Still Care” where he starts singing the lyrics to the first verse toward the end of the song. George complained about the engineering; often the musicians drowned him out in spots. All of this was because Pappy Dailey had a financial stake in the label and was more interested in producing quantity rather than quality. That was a huge part — along with not being paid all of the royalties owed to him — of Jones’ decision to split with him.

      All of that aside, Jones had many fine moments at Musicor and the quality of the singles he released during that time — as well as the album tracks on this particular collection — were very high. I agree with you about “I’m A People;” I’ve never cared for that song, either. His duet with Melba Montgomery, “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds” is a re-recording; the original version recorded for United Artists is better.

  2. pwdennis July 13, 2010 at 4:50 am

    This collection is a good sampler of George’s output of the late 1960s and the only decent Musicor set issued in the US, although there have been several foreign sets available. I started collecting records in 1968 and it was a daunting task to keep up with the Musicor output, although they made the task somewhat easier with several two-disc samplers (MY COUNTRY, THE GEORGE JONES STORY and COUNTRY HEART) that were priced about the same as a single album and with almost no overlap

    The Musicor hits were mostly great but what made the Musicor years so interesting, were the flotsam and jetsam that filled the albums. George covered almost every big male hit of the era and many female hits (if they weren’t too distinctively feminine) enabling one to hear some different possibilities in some of the songs. In some cases George’s take is better than the hit version, often it is at least as good and only occasionally does he fall flat

    The Musicor years really end at the end of 1970 or in early 1971 but Musicor and Talmadge/RCA continued cranking out album releases through 1974. Any RCA albums on George Jones will be Musicor material .

    There was one big loss for George in moving to Epic and that is that he no longer seemed to have access to the great songs of Dallas Frazier – those songs now went to Charley Pride .

    It should be noted that Billboard was not the undisputed chart giant then that they are now – Cashbox was equally recognized – “I’ll Share My Worlld With You” made it to the top spot on Cashbox and two other records reached #1 on Record World (“A Good Year For The Roses” and “When The Grass Grows Over Me” ).

    The latter song thematically foreshadows “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and I’ve always regarded it as the better song. George recorded many Dallas Frazier songs during his Musicor years and they remain, on the whole, my favorite Jones recordings

  3. Ken Johnson July 13, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    For my money, the United Artists and Musicor recordings represent the pinnacle of George Jones’ recorded catalog. George’s voice was never better and at its expressive best. Even when the material may have been less than first rate, he consistently delivered solid performances. The Billy Sherrill produced Epic recordings of the 1970’s often included too much unnecessary embellishment. When George’s voice was at its prime it did not need to be overpowered with excessive orchestration or choruses.

    The Musicor sessions should be evaluated in the context of the era in which they were made. In the mid-1960’s barroom jukebox cry-in-your-beer stone cold country music was king. Roger Miller’s zany lyrics and infectious melodies became a huge influence on the genre as did the brilliant driving rhythms and twangy guitars from Bakersfield courtesy of Buck Owens. This is where country music was in 1965 as George began his tenure with Musicor. He drew from all of these current influences as well as the elder country stars that he admired as a young man.

    “I’m A People” may sound rather odd today, but in 1966 the folks LOVED it. It fell right in line with other fun, novelty songs released that year such as Bill Carlisle’s off the wall top 5 hit “What Kinda Deal Is This,” Johnny Paycheck’s “Lovin’ Machine,” Jean Shepard & Ray Pillow’s “I’ll Take The Dog,” and Del Reeves’ “Women Do Funny Things To Me.” “May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” by Little Jimmy Dickens from the previous year was still dominating request shows and jukeboxes. I remember turning up the radio whenever “I’m A People” came on. I thought that George’s animated, cartoonish sounding delivery was a hoot! Certainly it was not material destined for the Country Hall Of Fame, but it was a clever, funny tune that interrupted the stream of sad songs that dominated playlists of most country radio stations at the time. Dallas Frazier gets credit (or the blame) for writing that one. Frazier also wrote several solid Jones hits of that era including “If My Heart Had Windows” and “Say It’s Not You.” Frazier also co-wrote my favorite George Jones Musicor recording, “Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong.” The heartbreaking sadness of betrayal that George’s vocal brought to that recording is overwhelming.

    Regarding “Things Have Gone To Pieces,” that song has been issued on numerous George Jones CD’s dating back to “George Jones – 16 Greatest Hits” (Deluxe CD-1012) released in 1986. Matter of fact, at least three previous Time/Life CD collections featured that recording too – the 1965 volume of their “Country U.S.A.” series, the George Jones volume of their “Legendary Country Singers” collection and the “1964-1968” volume of their Classic Country series. Perhaps there’s some confusion with the track “The Honky Tonk Downstairs.” The earlier unreleased shorter version is included on the “Lost Hits” CD.

    Because I already owned the Bear Family Musicor Box sets I passed on purchasing the Time/Life set. However I am told that it suffers from the same fate that adversely affected some tracks on the Bear Family boxes. Because some of the Musicor stereo master and session tapes have been misfiled or lost during the past 40+ years as control of those masters passed through numerous hands, vinyl disc transfers were necessary to resurrect several tracks. “Say It’s Not You” and “If My Heart Had Windows” in particular were mentioned as sounding less than pristine.

    Interesting to note that George was already recording for Epic while still under contract to Musicor. His first duet album with Tammy Wynette, “We Go Together” was recorded during the spring of 1971. He then returned to the studio for sessions on July 7,8 & 9 and again on October 12, 13 & 14 of that year to satisfy the terms of his Musicor contract. The next month he began recording his first solo sessions for Epic which is where this story will continue.

    • J.R. Journey July 13, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks for clearing that up about ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces’, Ken – and for all the other trivia you’ve been adding to this site with your comments. Your wealth of knowledge continues to impress me. I don’t have any of the sets you mentioned, but this Great Lost Hits collection was billed as ‘the first time on CD’ for many of the songs, and since it wasn’t on any of my compilations, I took the label’s words at face value. Surely, it deserved to have been released digitally before February of this year.

      I will definitely agree with you about Jones being in his vocal prime during these years. The one that that struck me while listening to The Great Lost Hits from start to finish is ‘man, he was really a spectacular vocalist’. And he is.

  4. Razor X July 13, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I don’t have any of the sets you mentioned, but this Great Lost Hits collection was billed as ‘the first time on CD’ for many of the songs, and since it wasn’t on any of my compilations, I took the label’s words at face value.

    These recordings were unavailable for a long time due to a legal dispute regarding who owned the rights to them. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but that is the reason given as to why they were not readily available — and it’s why there is nothing from the Musicor era represented on compilations such as The Essential George Jones . However, I have a “best of” collection issued by Rhino Records in the early 90s that covers the years 1955 to 1967, halfway through the Musicor period, and contains some Musicor selections such as “I’m A People”, “Love Bug”, “Walk Through This World With Me” and the Gene Pitney duet “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night.” I’m not sure why that handful of songs was available for licensing but others were not.

    • Paul W Dennis July 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      The Musicor sides were selectively licensed except for the Gene Pitney sides.

      Since Gene’s entire career as a hitmaker was on Musicor, whatever arrangements needed to be made to ensure that his sides were available were made.

  5. Ken Johnson July 14, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Here’s how the journey of George Jones Musicor master recordings unfolded. When George Jones left Musicor for the Epic label, Pappy Daily sold his share of that company to his partner Art Talmadge. In late 1971 Talmadge leased all of George Jones recordings (including more than 50 unreleased songs) to RCA. Over the next four years RCA issued 18 albums of George Jones recordings. George himself was never actually signed to RCA, they only leased the Musicor masters. The very first George Jones RCA album contained all previously unreleased songs plus his final two top ten Musicor singles. Most subsequent releases featured all previously released material, but several albums did include some of the unreleased songs. However, RCA did not issue ALL of the unreleased Musicor sides. RCA also issued eight singles that received only marginal airplay due to strong competition from George’s brand new Epic singles.

    In 1975 the RCA agreement concluded and Talmadge reclaimed the RCA album masters and artwork. He struck a deal with Springboard International to re-release the RCA albums using the Musicor imprint. They basically pasted the Musicor logo over the RCA logo on the album jackets. The following year Talmadge sold Musicor to Springboard International which continued to release additional George Jones Musicor albums before undergoing multiple ownership changes and ultimately going into bankruptcy.

    In 1973 Gusto Records was founded by Gayron “Moe” Lytle and songwriter Tommy Hill. Hill owned the Stop Records label and sold his interest in the company along with the Stop Records imprint to Lytle. In 1975 Gusto acquired Starday-King Records and in 1984 purchased the Musicor catalogue from the bankrupt Springboard International Records. Gusto reissued many George Jones Musicor albums on vinyl using a Musicor/Gusto imprint. Unfortunately Talmadge reportedly divided and sold off the Musicor master tapes to multiple buyers including Gusto which made it difficult to reassemble the complete George Jones Musicor catalog.

    George Jones Musicor recordings were generally available for licensing through Gusto although they had a reputation for being somewhat difficult to deal with. Gusto also controls many of George’s 1950’s Starday masters. Time/Life licensed numerous Musicor recordings for their various artist country collections. Epic included five Musicor tracks in their first “Essential George Jones – The Spirit Of Country” 2-CD set in 1994. Gusto has reissued some of George Jones Musicor and Starday sides on CD via their endless collection of label imprints including Gusto, Deluxe, Federal, Hollywood, Highland, King, Starday, Power Play, Richmond, Tee Vee, Nashville and Musicor labels. Unfortunately Gusto never put any effort into reissuing the George Jones Starday or Musicor recordings on CD in any systematic or meaningful way. Some tracks were reissued repeatedly on multiple collections while other songs never made it out of the vaults. Perhaps that was part of those legal issues that have now been settled and allowed the entire George Jones Musicor catalog to once again be available to his fans.

  6. Pingback: Giveaway: George Jones Starter Kit « My Kind Of Country

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