George's Gems

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Why George Jones? There's a case to be made that it's he, not Sinatra, Franklin, Holliday or any of those other pretenders, who is American popular music's premier talent. Matt Diebel explains here; below is another exhibit in the Case for George Jones:

"Three's a Crowd" (Track 1, "The New Favorites of George Jones")

In January 1962, Jones and producer Pappy Daily moved from Mercury to United Artists, and by the end of February they had recorded and released Jones' first album for the new label (no messing around in those days). "Three's a Crowd" is the opening track — and it should be. It's a dandy. If this song doesn't send shivers through every part of your person, then you're as cold as Australian beer. No matter that the song — written by Jones' frequent collaborator Darrell Edwards and another — is often clichéd and doesn't always make sense. "I've been looking through the window of the past," moans Jones in the first verse, "and I've seen the reason why our love can't last. You've been seeing him, and this I won't allow. Don't you know that two's a marriage and three's a crowd." Hey, George! If it's only just occurred to you that your marriage is in trouble because your gal is seeing another guy, then you must have been drinking some pretty strong whiskey.

As I said, no matter — Jones' plaintive vocals (and the song's telling melody) get the message across. In his never-equaled way, he drifts across the languid honky-tonk beat; almost talking at points, he never fails to surprise with a speeded-up phrase or a well-placed drawn-out note. At the same time, he never makes mush of the lyrics; one of his great assets is that the listener understands every word. Moving to the new label seems to have reinvigorated Jones, who is at his vocal peak on this and the several albums that followed over the next couple of years. He also receives just the right amount of studio support. On "Three's a Crowd," in particular, there is great piano and pedal steel work as well as a judicious use of backup singers. This is exactly the right amount of lushness for Jones — just enough to create atmosphere and not too much to overwhelm him. If you like this period in Jones' career, you should check out "She Thinks I Still Care: The United Artists Years," a 40-song compilation released in 1997 by Razor & Tie, a New York City–based reissue specialist. For some unfathomable reason, "Three's a Crowd" isn't included, but there are plenty of great tracks, good reproduction and some nice liner notes. As for "The New Favorites," it was re-released in 1995 on Liberty Records. I'm not sure if it's available any longer — I couldn't find it at a couple of my local Internet stores — but you may have some luck in the bargain racks. (By the way, both albums contain "She Thinks I Still Care," which was to become Jones' biggest hit of the early '60s. If you ever get to see early footage of him doing this signature tune (it's on his "Golden Hits" video), look out for one of the backup singers — he's the spitting image of Al Gore).