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There are lots of iconic country songs — “Crazy,” “Ring of Fire,” “Friends in Low Places,” “Amarillo By Morning,” “Fancy” and “Jolene” — the list goes on and on, but there’s one country song that has topped multiple lists as the best country song of all time. And that song became one of George Jones’ biggest hits, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

The funny thing is, George didn’t even want to record the Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman-penned smash. He thought it was much too morose for country radio and country music fans.

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Released in 1980, the song went on to become George’s signature song, delivered tenderly with unique voice. It also went on to top the country singles charts that year of its release, earned the CMA song of the year award two years in a row, and is now preserved in the Library of Congress with the National Recording Registry.

The song left such an impact, it became sacred. Few country stars would even attempt to cover it, although Alan Jackson did perform it at George’s funeral in 2013 and then Alan and George Strait performed it together during the CMAs later that year.

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“He Stopped Loving Her Today” was an obvious choice for Forever Country’s Cover Series, but who on earth would want the responsibility of it?

Billy Ray Cyrus stepped up and instead of even trying to replicate George’s chilling version, he gives the song a simple and straightforward approach with a gritty vocal and acoustic accompaniment. You can hear the respect in his voice.

Don’t forget to tune in to the 50th Annual CMA Awards on Nov. 2, broadcasting live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on ABC.

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