Introducing yourself to the greatest country singer of all time is one of the more complicated tasks a music lover can undertake. George Jones's catalog encompasses dozens of regular-release albums, but the best-ofs are where things get really involved. Hits packages abound, from truck-stop quickies to semiboxes like the two-CD The Essential George Jones: The Spirit of Country (the most comprehensive overview) and the three-discs-that-would-fit-on-two 50 Years of Hits (nice to have, though larded with remakes). Still, you'll have a far easier time if you jump in with Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits, originally a double-LP released in 1982, now a single CD.

The "ten years" in question cover Jones's first decade with Epic, the label of his then-wife Tammy Wynette and the home of producer Billy Sherrill, who masterminded everything on Anniversary. Like Jones, Sherrill had a weakness for corn, though here it's pretty ripe, as with "Her Name Is..." (three guitar notes finish the title phrase) and high-stepping goofs like "Old King Kong" and "Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad as Losing You)" ("I've had my pelvis ruptured by an angry kangaroo/But nothing ever hurt me half as bad as losing you"). There are loads of strings, too. But nearly two decades from the beginning of his recording career, Jones had just started to dig in as a singer, his bottomless-blue timbre and upright diction ensuring that when Jones got hold of a great song, few singers in America could touch him.

There are great ones all over Anniversary, and the best of them are the most devastated. There's "The Grand Tour," about the house he once called home (objects are the way "she left them when she tore my world apart"). There's the self-explanatory "These Days (I Barely Get By)" and "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)." And then there is "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

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It's 1980. Jones has had it. His albums are tanking, no one will book him (his nickname is "No-Show Jones"), and he's boozing and snorting his way to oblivion. His wife hides the car keys so he can't go to the bar, so he rides there on a lawn mower. (Beat that, Amy Winehouse.) So he makes the record of his life. "He said I'll love you till I die," the sudden drop on the last word cuing guitar and steel pedal; strings, loads of them, come later. High drama that skirts and evades camp, it's the most iconic of country singles, sung by the medium's greatest practitioner.

George Jones plays at the Paramount Sun Oct 7.

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