When George Jones delivered the finished vocal on “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in February 1980, he rather famously bet producer Billy Sherrill the song — which he branded as “morbid” — had no chance at reaching No. 1.
Not only did it top the country charts that summer, it’s now been certified among the most important aural moments in history with its entry into the National Recording Registry.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” is one of 25 audio moments that will be officially announced Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, as an entry into an archive overseen by the Library of Congress. In addition to commercial recordings, the vault — first established in 2003 — preserves significant broadcasts, speeches, live performances and sounds of nature.
The new recognition for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is hardly the first time the song has been honored. Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, it claimed Song of the Year from the Country Music Association in both 1980 and ’81; took Song and Single Record of the Year from the Academy of Country Music; and won a Grammy for George. It was named one of the 500 greatest country singles of all-time in the Country Music Foundation’s 2003 book Heartaches By The Number, and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
Other country-related material being added to the Registry this year includes the Kingston Trio’s folk hit “Tom Dooley” and the Stanley Brothers’ bluegrass classic “Rank Stranger.” “Tom Dooley” was not promoted as a country release, but it won the very first Grammy for Best Country Performance in 1959. “Rank Stranger” was recorded by the Stanleys in 1960 and used as background material last year in a Barack Obama radio ad featuring Ralph Stanley that ran in Virginia.
“Rank Stranger” joins Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” as the only bluegrass recordings enshrined in the Registry. Other country material added in previous years includes Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” and Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball,” among others.
This year’s inductees also include Etta James’ “At Last,” the original cast recording of West Side Story, The Who’s “My Generation,” the 1946 speech by Winston Churchill that introduced the phrase “the Iron Curtain” and sounds produced by an ivory-billed woodpecker.