The Mega-Hit Song George Jones Almost Refused to Record

George Jones is rightfully hailed as the greatest country singer to ever live. One would be hard-pressed to listen to classic country artists who came after him and not hear his influence on their vocal delivery. Jones’ voice was only half of his legend, though. A combination of what would now likely be called acute anxiety disorder and substance abuse made him unpredictable at times. Jones was also famously stubborn. That stubbornness almost stopped him from recording one of the biggest songs in his catalog.

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“She Thinks I Still Care” is one of Jones’ biggest hits. He released it in 1962 as the first single from his United Artists contract. It went to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and stayed there for six weeks. It was also added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

[RELATED: The Best George Jones Collaborations–That Aren’t With Tammy Wynette]

 The song was so popular that its B-side, “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” became a top-20 hit, peaking at No. 17. However, Jones wanted nothing to do with the song when he first heard it.

The Origins of “She Thinks I Still Care”

Dickie Lee and Steve Duffy co-penned “She Thinks I Still Care” as a pop song. They originally imagined it as an upbeat tongue-in-cheek song to be played for laughs. However, Duffy and Lee were under contract with Cowboy Jack Clement’s publishing company. Clement had a different vision for the song.

He knew that if he got someone to sing it as a slow country song it would pull all the humor out of it and replace it with staying power. It just so happened that Clement and Jones were friends.

Clement and Bill Hall opened Gulf Coast Recording Studio in Beaumont, Texas in 1961. It was a short drive from Jones’ ranch in Vidor. As a result, the “He Stopped Loving Her Today” singer would stop by to hang out with Clement and Hall when he was in town. Spending time at Gulf Coast with his pals kept him out of the local bars and kept his wife happy.

As the story goes, every time Jones showed up, Clement would pitch him the song. However, instead of playing Lee and Duffy’s demo, he would take out his guitar and sing a countrified version of the song. When this happened, Jones would start asking about an old beat-up tape recorder they had in the room.

This played out several times. Clement would play the song, Jones would inquire about buying the tape recorder, and they’d get nowhere. Finally, Hall told him he could have the recorder if he’d just cut “She Thinks I Still Care.” He finally agreed to record the song.

Why George Jones Didn’t Like “She Thinks I Still Care”

According to Bob Allen’s 1996 book George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend, Jones didn’t like the lyrics. “I don’t like it too much,” he reportedly told Clement. “It’s got too many damn ‘just becauses’ in it. I don’t think nobody really wants to hear that sh–, do you?”

To his credit, Jones had a point. Nearly every line of the song’s verses starts with the phrase “Just because.” Take the opening verse for example. Just because I asked a friend about her / Just because I spoke her name somewhere / Just because I rang her number by mistake today / She thinks I still care.

On the other hand, once Jones recorded the song, everybody wanted to hear it.

In his 1996 autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All, Jones reflected on the song’s success. “For years after I recorded it, the song was my most requested, and it became what people in my business call a career record,’ the song that firmly establishes your identity with the public,” he wrote.

The Unintended Impact of “She Thinks I Still Care”

To illustrate just how much Clement wanted Jones to cut the song, he agreed to give up not only the old tape recorder but also half of the song’s publishing rights. He signed a 50% share of the song’s earnings over to Jones’ producer and unofficial manager Harold “Pappy” Daily.

At the time, this didn’t seem like that big of a loss. According to podcaster and country music historian Tyler Mahan Coe in his series Cocaine and Rhinestones, people used to say that once Jones sang a song, it “stayed sung.”

Few artists would want to cut a song that Jones had done because they didn’t want their version to be compared to the man who was already billed as the greatest country singer to ever set foot in a vocal booth. If they did, they waited years to do so.

That all changed when he recorded “She Thinks I Still Care.” United Artists released Jones’ cut of the song in September of 1962. Connie Francis recorded it as “He Thinks I Still Care” and released it as the B-side to “I Was Such a Fool (To Fall in Love with You)” the same month. Her version peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard chart. Between 1962 and 1965, several artists including Bill Haley & His Comets, Cher, and Del Shannon, among others cut the song.

Later, artists including Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Glen Campbell, John Fogerty, Anne Murray, Elvis, James Taylor, and many more put their stamp on “She Thinks I Still Care.”

However, none of those covers, no matter how good, could hold a candle to the vocal prowess or the cultural impact that Jones’ original cut would have.

Featured Image by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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