Behind the Heartbreaking Reality of George Jones & Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Bright steel strings make love to a steadfast beat in George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Golden Ring,” but there is a heartbreaking reality that exists behind the 1976 country ballad.

The tune follows the life of a pawn shop wedding ring, a golden circle that sees a couple through love, marriage, and eventually divorce. The song meets an unhappy ending, mirroring the real lives of the husband-wife country duo.

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Meaning Behind the “Golden Ring” Lyrics

“Golden Ring” was written by Rafe Van Hoy and Bobby Braddock, the latter of which was inspired to write the song after seeing a television drama that followed the life of a gun, depicting the changing of hands and the different consequences unfolding throughout. Braddock thought he’d write a similar story with a wedding ring.

In a pawn shop in Chicago, the song begins, setting the scene for bright beginnings, On a sunny summer day / A couple gazes at the wedding rings there on display / She smiles and nods her head / As he says, Honey, that’s for you / It’s not much but it’s the best that I can do.

The song opens with a couple very much in love and full of hope for the future. The chorus plays, Golden ring with one tiny little stone / Waiting there for someone to take it home, then shares a sage, almost foreshadowing adage that will echo through the rest of the song: By itself it’s just a cold metallic thing / Only love can make a golden wedding ring.

The song chronicles the couple’s next chapter. In a little wedding chapel / Later on that afternoon / An old upright piano / Plays that old familiar tune / Tears roll down her cheeks / And happy thoughts run through her head / As he whispers low “with this ring I thee wed.”

The chorus plays, shifting only slightly to mirror what’s happening in the newlyweds’ lives. Golden ring with one tiny little stone / Shining ring now, at last, it’s found a home / By itself it’s just a cold metallic thing / Only love can make a golden wedding ring.

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The next verse sees the couple in a make-or-break stage of their relationship, and the song fluctuates to show a marriage on the rocks. In a small two-room apartment, the tune continues, As they fight their final round / He says, You won’t admit it / But I know you’re leavin’ town / She says, One thing’s for certain / I don’t love you anymore. / And throws down the ring / As she walks out the door.

The chorus is altered once more: Golden ring with one tiny little stone / Cast aside like the love that’s dead and gone, playing the same warning again. By itself it’s just a cold metallic thing / Only love can make a golden wedding ring.

The song comes to a close with the ring back where it began: In a pawn shop in Chicago / On a sunny summer day. And another couple stops to admire the ring on display.

The Heartbreaking Reality

Jones and Wynette gave “Golden Ring” an unmatched authenticity because they too had just witnessed their tumultuous marriage meet its bitter end. They divorced fourteen months before the song’s release in May 1976.

[REALITY: The Clever Meaning Behind “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette]

Teaming up with Wynette again after their separation was not easy for Jones. “That wasn’t my idea,” he recalled in his 1996 memoir, I Lived To Tell It All, “In fact, I hated to work with [Tammy]. It brought back too many unpleasant memories, and when some fans saw us together, they got it in their heads that we were going to get back together romantically.”

And who could blame them? George Jones and Tammy Wynette had an undeniable chemistry in which the flame that once burned between them flickered when they performed together.

Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images

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