(“Exploring the Classics” (ETC) is an ongoing series in which I highlight and discuss an album from country music’s past that is of particular noteworthiness due to general acclaim, influence, historical import, commercial success, or some combination thereof. While in many instances I’ll be revisiting albums with which I’ve long been familiar, in others I’ll be experiencing these works for the first time. What albums count as “noteworthy” is obviously highly subjective and determined at my discretion, but I’m not too strict about it. I do, however, feel that these are the works that tell the story of country music and all of its many roots and branches.)
While George Jones was an outstanding vocalist and responsible for many of the most iconic songs in the country music canon, the truth is, unlike some contemporaries such as Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, he rarely excelled at making great albums. He was extremely prolific, typically releasing two or three albums a year at the demand of his labels, and this frequently resulted in the need to record songs that were less than great. He’s pretty much the quintessential example of a “singles artist” whose genius is most apparent on compilations. However, he occasionally did hit upon a great batch of songs, and 1974’s The Grand Tour, released at the height of George’s fame when he was married to Tammy Wynette and charting in the top 10 with regularity, is easily one of the best albums he ever made.
The rest of the album fails to match the two singles, but there’s plenty of quality to be had. The country standard “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)” is revived to great effect and matches George’s voice beautifully. George’s take on Mel Street’s oft-covered cheating classic “Borrowed Angel” also works exceptionally well. “Who Will I Be Loving Now” is a strong heartbreak ballad that George is best known for. Bobby Braddock’s “She Told Me So” is a novelty classic, one of those “if X is true, here’s a list of impossible things that are also true” songs before they became cliche.
The closing track, “Our Private Life”, written by George with his then-wife Tammy Wynette, chastises nosy gossip hounds for prying too much into the personal lives of musicians, a problem with which George and Tammy had firsthand experience. Their troubled and eventful marriage was regular tabloid fodder, much to George’s consternation. This song is a bit goofy and clearly a product of its time, but it makes for an entertaining listen.
The Grand Tour was produced by Billy Sherrill, the one producer who regularly got the most out of George Jones. It’s not my favorite Jones album – I’d probably give the nod to 1980’s I Am What I Am – but it’s easily one of the best entries in a long and storied career, and one of the best records of the 1970s.
Standout Track: Toss-up between “Once You’ve Had the Best” and “The Grand Tour”, both of which I regard as top 10 George Jones songs
Worst or Least Essential Track: George’s voice elevates Ray Griff’s “Darlin'”, but the lyrics are somewhat generic and unmemorable
Best Lyric: The climax of “The Grand Tour” is hard to beat:
As you leave you’ll see the nursery,
Oh, she left me without mercy
Taking nothing but our baby and my heart.
Hidden Gem: “The Weatherman” is a throwback back to George’s days as a raw honky-tonker, and is extremely fun and catchy
Recommended If You Like: Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, George Strait (who covered “She Told Me So”), etc. etc., you know who George Jones is if you’re on this site