Coming off his successful reunion tour with ex-wife Tammy Wynette, Jones reunited with producer Norro Wilson to record his sixth album with MCA Nashville. While Jones remained committed to "pure country", he worked with the top musicians and songwriters of the day and the quality of his work remained high, even though his age kept him off mainstream country radio. Earlier in the year, Jones released his autobiography I Lived To Tell It All with Tom Carter and the irony of his long career was not lost on him, with the singer writing in its preface, "I also know that a lot of my show-business peers are going to be angry after reading this book. So many have worked so hard to maintain their careers. I never took my career seriously, and yet it's flourishing." He also pulled no punches about his disappointment in the direction country music had taken, devoting a full chapter to the changes in the country music scene of the 1990s that saw him removed from radio playlists in favor of a younger generation of pop-influenced country stars. Despite his absence from the country charts during this time, latter-day country superstars such as Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and many others often paid tribute to Jones while expressing their love and respect for his legacy as a true country legend who paved the way for their own success.
Jones promoted the album heavily and it rose to 26 on the Billboard country albums chart, a respectable showing considering his lack of radio support. He also made a music video for "Honky Tonk Song" which lampooned the infamous episode when Jones rode a lawn mower eight miles to the liquor store after his wife had hidden his car keys (Jones also performed the song on The Late Show with David Letterman). The album contains the novelty single "Billy B. Bad", a sarcastic jab at country music establishment trendsetters (unsurprisingly, it did not chart), and "Hello Heart", which was co-written by Jones's former 1960s duet partner Melba Montgomery.
AllMusic calls I Lived To Tell It All "a surprising return to form" for Jones, enthusing, "There are honky tonk raveups, there are heart-tugging barroom weepers, and, best of all, there are several novelties that rank among the most clever and self-deprecating that Jones has ever recorded." In a Rolling Stone article at the time of the album's release, Chuck Dean wrote that Jones was "...blessed with the best set of lungs this side of the cosmos..." Alana Nash of Amazon.com writes that, even when going through the motions, "Jones remains the kind of singer who inspires awe and wonder..."