George Jones – Tennessee Whiskey (September 12, 1931 – April 26, 2013)

George Glenn Jones (September 12, 1931 – April 26, 2013) was an American musician, singer and songwriter who achieved international fame for his long list of hit records as well as his distinctive voice and phrasing. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of country music. Country music scholar Bill C. Malone writes, “For the two or three minutes consumed by a song, Jones immerses himself so completely in its lyrics, and in the mood it conveys, that the listener can scarcely avoid becoming similarly involved.” Merle Haggard wrote in Rolling Stone magazine that “His voice was like a Stradivarius violin: one of the greatest instruments ever made.” During his life, Jones had more than 150 hits during his career, both as a solo artist and in duets with other artists.

I used to spend my nights out in a barroom
Liquor was the only love I’ve known
But you rescued me from reachin’ for the bottom
And brought me back from being too far gone

Meaning

The speaker of Tennessee Whiskey begins his story by telling the listener about his life before he met his lover. He says “I used to spend my nights out in a barroom” implying that he wasted his time drinking not only on the weekend, but every night of the week. He then states, “Liquor was the only love I’d known” signaling to us that the speaker felt there was nothing besides liquor to give him the comfort and support he craved, so he falsely mistook those feelings for love. In the following the line the speaker claims that his lover “rescued” him “from reachin’ for the bottom.” Here “the bottom” refers both to the bottom of the bottle as well as to the low point in his own life. He goes on to say that, not only did she rescue him, but she also brought him “back from being too far gone.” This line suggests that before the speaker met his lover, he did not believe that he could escape his cycle of alcoholism and that he was too far gone to matter or to be loved by another person. It is also interesting to note that being “too far gone” is also an expression commonly used to mean someone is too drunk.

In the following stanza, the singer introduces the chorus that will go on to be repeated three times over the course of the song. In the chorus, he uses liquor imagery to describe his lover. He says “You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey/ You’re as sweet as strawberry wine/ You’re as warm as a glass of brandy.” The words he uses to describe his lover are words associated with intimacy and love when used to describe a person, but when used to describe alcohol they complement the alcohol on its taste or qualities. It is interesting that the language used to praise an alcoholic drink can also be used to praise and describe a lover. Furthermore, the speaker’s inability to separate or conceive of love in terms outside of alcohol show that the feelings of addiction to alcohol and the addiction to love are very similar in his mind. Because he has no experience with human love he supplements that lack of experience and vocabulary with those of a kind of “love” he is familiar with. He continues his use of liquor imagery by stating in the last line of the chorus “I stay stoned on your love all the time.” Since the effects of real alcohol are temporary, in a way he is attempting to praise his lover because she allows him to maintain that calm, drunk feeling he craves at all times. In another sense, being in a constant state of disorientation is not necessarily desirable although the speaker seems to think it is. In addition, we do not learn much about the other person because he does not love her for her, he loves her for the high/drunk feeling he is giving him.

You’re as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You’re as sweet as strawberry wine
You’re as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time

In the next stanza, the speaker reiterates the story of how his lover rescued him from his alcoholism but peppers it with more liquor imagery. He tells us that he “looked for love in all the same old places” but found that “the bottom of a bottle’s always dry.” These two lines reiterate the fact that before the speaker met his lover he only searched for love in liquor, yet after the bottle was finished so was that false sense of love. In continuation of his liquor imagery, he tells us that his lover “poured out [her] heart.” While this is a common phrase, it’s similarity to the action of pouring a drink takes on a whole new meaning in this song which relies heavily on liquor imagery. The speaker also reiterates that her love is better than alcohol because “there is nothing like your love to get me high.” Again, he conflates the high associated with alcohol and addiction with feelings of love.

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