Classic Album Review-George Jones “The Race Is On”
The name George Jones is synonymous with country music. He’s one of the genre’s greatest singers, placing more songs on the country top forty than anyone, with a staggering 145 appearances between 1955 and 2005, and he’s the only artist who can say he’s made at least one appearance in six different decades. Amazing!
Ask George’s biggest fans when his greatest period of music-making was, and you are likely to get many opinions; his early ’60′s work? The late ’60′s Musicor years? His time in the ’70′s and ’80′s with producer Billy Sherrill? It’s a great debate, with valid arguments for each period, but many would point to his ’60-’64 work with Mercury and United Artists, as his greatest period, and judging from the hits of that time, it would be hard to argue, as this was the era of classics such as “Tender Years”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, and the title cut of today’s Classic Album, “The Race is On”. “The Race Is On” is a spring, 1965 release, that UA put on the market to capitalize on the success of the single. The album is made up mostly of cuts from earlier releases, as George had left the label, by this time. “The Race Is On” would peak at number three on the album charts, at that time George’s highest charting album effort.
The album starts with the title cut, a huge hit from the fall of 1964, and one of George’s biggest hits. It is my opinion that George’s version is still the signature version of this classic. A true classic, and one of his best.
Like most albums of the day, this one has several “covers”, including George’s version of “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes”. Not a bad recording, but I think it could have been better, largely by lowering the key a bit. George sounds a bit strained in places. It should be noted, though, that most of his recordings in this era tended to be in a higher key, and at times, it would sound as though he was struggling a bit to hit the highest notes.
Up next, a great ballad, co-written by George, “I’ll Never Let Go Of You”. This is one of those singles that should have been. I think it’s one of his best cuts of his United Artists time. Why this never made it to the a-side of a 45???? It’s classic Jones.
“She’s Mine” is an interesting cut. Again, we are hearing some of George’s best vocal work. The song starts out leading you to believe that he’s talking about a girlfriend that he knows he will lose, thanks to lyrics such as “There’s someone she can’t forget I know she never will” and “She’s mine and yet I know someday I’ll lose her”. However, what we find out, is that it’s not a girlfriend, but rather a little girl, a father and daughter who’ve lost a wife and mother.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, here. “Three’s a Crowd”, classic Jones. Great mid tempo, good lyrics, a great melody, all melded together by that classic voice of George Jones. Again, a song that easily could have been a hit single.
Like most country singers of his era, George was strongly influenced by the legendary Hank Williams. Here, George brings us one of Hank’s songs, “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me”. It’s an alright cut, but doesn’t do much for me, then again, it’s not one of my favorite Hank Williams songs, either. But George’s performance of the song is good.
With side one in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to side two, which begins with another Jones hit, “Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was On The Right)”. A fun, up tempo tune, with a formula that George used successfully many times; a clever lyric (and in this case, title), up tempo, and great melody. It’s certainly one of George’s more underrated hits.
“Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do” is next in line. Another song in which George shares writing credit, this one is a decent ballad, not the best on the album, but it’s a good track, that I’m sure plenty of his fans have thoroughly enjoyed over the years.
I think another of the album’s better tracks would have to be “It Scares Me Half To Death”. Once again, we have a good beat and great melody, with some decent lyrical content. If it were me, though, I would lose the Roy Acuff-style guitar, though, it really distracts from the rest of the track.
“World’s Worse Loser” is one of those songs that are rather average, but can be made better by artist performing it, and that’s exactly the case, with George’s version. Let most other artists cut this track, it’s nothing more than filler, and average filler at best. George’s style, though, adds some quality and content enough to make one want to keep listening all the way through. This was eventually released as a single, in 1966, after George had left the label, but failed to reach the top forty.
Earlier, I mentioned the tendency to have George sing a little too high on some of his work of the era; here’s another example, the Bob Wills classic “Time Changes Everything”. Had it been cut a lower key, I think it would have been a much better cut. As it is, too many spots where, again, it sounds like he’s straining to reach the high notes.
The album wraps with Jones’ version of the Boudleaux Bryant-written “Take Me As I Am”. Again, a little high for me, which is unfortunate, as you have a great song and a great vocalist. Drop it about one key, he would sound more comfortable, and I think you’d potentially have a classic. This is the same song, by the way, that would later become a hit for Ray Price (1968), and also see life as a country top forty single for Bobby Bare (1981).
While it’s not difficult to find the hit singles on this album on various Cd’s, the album, itself, has never been re-released on CD or MP3 download. However, I did find some used copies, online, most around $10.
Overall, it’s a good album, with just a couple of areas that could have been a bit better. I rate it a 4 out of 5.
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