By: Craig Shelburne
Last year I attempted to make a playlist encompassing George Jones’ career in country music, but despite numerous compilations and box sets at my disposal, I couldn’t track down his signature hits from the late 1960s and early 1970s when he recorded for the Musicor label. Later I learned that perpetual lawsuits have kept those tracks from being reissued over the years. However, the fine folks at Time-Life have somehow figured out a way to make everybody happy – especially me – by acquiring the rights to 34 sides from that era for a new double-disc set, George Jones: The Great Lost Hits.
Jones notched 17 Top 10 hits during his tenure at Musicor and they’re all collected here. Some of the most famous titles in that bunch are “Walk Through This World With Me,” “A Good Year for the Roses,” “Things Have Gone to Pieces” and “When the Grass Grows Over Me.” Loretta Lynn earns a writing credit on “World of Forgotten People,” while Tammy Wynette pulls double duty as composer and harmony vocalist on “Never Grow Cold.” The liner notes by Colin Escott offer a keen perspective on this time in Jones’ life, just before he married Wynette and recorded with producer Billy Sherrill at Epic Records.
Because of the spare production, the Musicor recordings don’t feel dated. Instead, it’s sort of like discovering a stash of sterling demo tapes. And the topics here are certainly timeless – cheating, drinking, dying, lying and (occasionally) loving. Some of these songs became famous later, such as Emmylou Harris’ soothing hit version of “Beneath Still Waters,” Patty Loveless’ emotional take on “If My Heart Had Windows” and George Strait’s boisterous rendition of “Love Bug.” But on these original versions, Jones proves himself as one of the most expressive vocalists that Nashville has ever known.