Tom Jones

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
LucilleOn Stage EP Decca DFE8617
Green, Green Grass of HomeGreen, Green Grass of Home
Detroit CityGreen, Green Grass of Home
DelilahDelilah
Kiss45, China CHINA 11
Carrying A TorchCarrying A Torch
Baby It's Cold OutsideReload
Did Trouble MePraise And Blame
Evil45, Third Man TMR 106
Dimming Of The DaySpirit In The Room

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Let’s start with a great big “What? No …” And it’s an unusual one. I’m not going to pick It’s Not Unusual. In all the years of singers and arrangers lining up to praise it, I have to say I loathed the jerky nature of the song and loathed the tune the very first time I heard it, and time has not mellowed my feelings. So Tom’s greatest hit is not in my Toppermost. But he did it way better than anyone else ever did, and it’s his “breakthrough” moment too.

Ah, but have you seen him sing it live? I hear you ask. Yes. Twice a night, six days a week for six weeks. I did limelights on the Tom Jones show, then when the regular guy returned (after injuring himself) I got moved to paying out Tom’s microphone cable, lying behind the curtains. So I have seen him live, and also just as he became a megastar after his first Las Vegas gig. He had an absolutely first class band live too, and I can attest that he radiated charisma at an Elvis/Beatles hall-filling level. He also has a unique voice and style. I can’t say I’ve ever had a conversation with the man, but attitudes to stage hands vary widely among stars, and he was one of those to smile and nod in a friendly way, especially when he had just torn it up with a rocking rendition and there was just me and him behind the curtain and he’d look as if to say “What do you think of that?” as I was the only one, apart from his horn section, with long hair.

I can’t say I’m a completest, nor that my knowledge is wide or deep. I did get the early LPs, because I had seen him at close quarters so often. What I have become interested in, is his recent work. I wrote down my ten favourite tracks at speed, aware that I was leaping straight from 1968 to 1988, missing out myriad TV duets and performances of any number of popular music standards. But any performer should be pleased to see acclaim for now, not “then”.

I have always thought a Toppermost shouldn’t willfully ignore the hits or best-known tracks, so this is a departure for me, but when you have fifty prolific years to cover, the ten finally selected are only ever the tip of an iceberg. So it’s a nod in passing to his greatest hits: It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat, Thunderball, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, I’m Coming Home, Help Yourself, Daughter Of Darkness, Puppet, She’s A Lady, Till, A Boy From Nowhere, Burning Down The House, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Sex Bomb. A few of those were bubbling under. I’d never realized how good What’s New Pussycat was until I heard k.d. lang take the piss out of it, Daughter Of Darkness is magnificently over the top, I nearly chose She’s A Lady, and his Mama Told Me Not To Come is extremely good … but Eric Burdon wins that competition by sounding by far the most stoned.

I wanted something early, and considered the Joe Meek produced Little Lonely One … Tom had to make his excuses and leave after Joe got too friendly. But it really looks forward to his MoR work a few months later.

Lucille is from the 1965 EP Tom Jones On Stage and is credited to Tom Jones & The Squires. I’m sure the live audience is canned, but Decca often recorded bands “live” (i.e. single take) in the studio and added audience. It’s a bit more than The Squires from Pontypridd too, as there’s a full horn section. But this stands up as great British R&B with any of the other mid-60s contenders like Chris Farlowe. The EP adds Bama Lama Bama Loo for another Little Richard take, and an urgent, soulful I Can’t Stop Loving You. I chose this to show Tom Jones as an authentic and credible R&B / soul singer just at the point when his success as an MoR singer was to leave this behind … though there is always a glimpse of it live. Lucille narrowly beat the others, but the whole EP is an example of British R&B at its best.

Green, Green Grass of Home was a number one hit in 1966. This country death row classic drips sentimentality, but it works for me now, just as it did standing right next to it being performed back in the sixties. The send-up (It’s good to smoke the green, green grass of home … was a popular folk club routine, and I wish I could remember the words). The song came to Jones via the Jerry Lee Lewis version (in itself a cover of Porter Wagoner). They duetted on the TV show and DVD of Jerry Lee’s Last Man Standing Live in 2007, though the duet is not on the 2006 CD.

Detroit City (aka I Wanna Go Home) was a Bobby Bare hit in 1963 … Bare had also recorded Green, Green Grass Of Home before Tom Jones, and both songs are on the same 1966 Tom Jones album, and Detroit City was also the subsequent single. There are many versions of the song, but Tom Jones used Bare’s spoken section too. Perhaps the two songs are too similar for a highly selective Toppermost, but when I go back to the live shows, it was the song I loved most of all every night.

Delilah well, you can’t have a Tom Jones list without a mighty, roaring over-the-top song and none fit the bill as well as Delilah, bellowed out as a UK #2 hit in 1968. I suppose it’s a 60s showbiz take on the murder ballad, sung by the murderer. I can’t remember whether he ever did this directly followed by Green, Green Grass Of Home. There’s a narrative continuity there! It’s a gift to karaoke as seen in American Hustle in 2013 when Christian Bale as the con man, and Jeremy Renner as the mayor, do a touch of drunken male bonding singing along to it.

Kiss fast-forwards twenty years to 1988. It was not in the first couple of drafts but this single with The Art Of Noise was Tom’s attempt to leap forward to a new audience. I ignored it at first because I prefer the Prince version, but it would have been another mighty “What? No …” if I’d missed it out. It loses points for Tom’s somewhat naff dancing on the official video, but I did see him gyrate it much better on TV a few times. The YouTube version live in 1989 at Hammersmith with soulful backing singers and a large horn section is better than the single for me. The moves are better too. He redid it on Reload.

Carrying A Torch Four tracks on the Carrying A Torch album in 1991 were produced and written by Van Morrison, who apparently was pals with Tom Jones and The Squires when both Them and Tom Jones had arrived in London from the Celtic fringes. In 1991 it seemed a surprise association, but Van Morrison has also worked extensively with Georgie Fame from the same place and time, and also with Cliff Richard. All four tracks were contenders, the others being Some Peace Of Mind, I’m Not Feeling It Anymore and It Must Be You. Van Morrison plays guitar on all four. This is the point where I started paying serious attention to Tom Jones again. Following the Van Morrison association, the duet on Sometimes We Cry from Tom Jones’s Reload album was in the first drafts of my ten. It only went because I must stop squeezing Van Morrison collaborations into Toppermosts (see Cliff Richard Toppermost #156). It’s probably a better song too.

Baby It’s Cold Outside (with Cerys Matthews). Reload, the duets/collaboration album, came in 1999, and had three hits: Baby It’s Cold Outside, Mama Told Me Not To Come with Stereophonics and Sexbomb with Mousse T. I bought the album after hearing his duet with Cerys Matthews. The list of stars who have duetted on this is long, and Reload started me seeking more. It was a major hit for Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton in 2004. Norah Jones and Willie Nelson did it too, but the one I like most is by Ray Charles and Betty Carter from 1961. It’s become a profitable Christmas standard, though that’s not actually in the lyrics. But it was the Tom Jones version that really turned me on to the song, so it’s in.

Did Trouble Me gets us into the Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Glen Campbell, Neil Diamond territory of songs of the third age. It’s from Praise And Blame in 2010, produced by Ethan Johns. It’s following that Rick Rubin/Johnny Cash “Now I face the final curtain …” ambience, and the bare, stripped down production was critically acclaimed. I was torn between his cover of Bob Dylan’s What Good Am I and Did Trouble Me (after eliminating Burning Hell and Didn’t It Rain), but Did Trouble Me gets the place. Ethan Johns plays banjo on the track.

Evil. Few have the voice to do Howlin’ Wolf, but Tom Jones does, recorded with Jack White for Third Man Records in Nashville as a 45 in 2012. This takes us back to Tom Jones On Stage and investigates what it would have been like to continue that direction, working with a fluid band of brilliant musicians with freedom from tight arrangements. They fade right out at one point before coming back for a further minute. Jack White’s production and guitar are a major factor, but Tom can sing it, and he can roll with what’s happening. The B-side, a highly dynamic Jezebel, makes the single a bargain.

Dimming Of The Day comes from 2014’s Spirit In The Room. It is the Richard Thompson song from Pour Down Like Silver and always a favourite song, but sung by a man of Tom Jones’s age, it takes on a deeper dimension. The original Richard and Linda Thompson was about a day. This version is about a lifetime. The album includes an excellent Tower Of Song too, but Leonard Cohen did it better. The album does Paul Simon (Love & Blessings), Bob Dylan (When The Deal Goes Down) Tom Waits (Bad As Me), Paul McCartney (I Want To Come Home), Blind Willie Johnson (Soul Of A Man).

 

Tom Jones official website

Tom Jones biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #315

3 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Jul 14, 2014

    I saw Tom Jones at the Sydney entertainment centre, I’m guessing in the late 90s. Great shows, the only time I’ve seen a support act get booed (the chant went up: we want tom, we want tom). They were not bad by any standards. And having been to Guns and Roses, Metallica, ZZ Top etc, I was shocked at how hostile the crowd was… Everyone knows you sit quietly through the support act. Need I say I was one of the youngest there, and a minority, being male?

    So much can be said about him… My what no? Is actually from the Reload album, ‘Sometimes we cry’ with Van Morrison, which, in that van Morrison way is sublime, without ever defining why. And in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, there’s a great scene where Tom and Jeff Beck duet… If anyone had doubted Tom’s blues credentials, those doubts were dispelled.

  2. Ilkka Jauramo
    Jul 15, 2014

    ‘Delilah’ seems to inspire people. My favourite is a version of Leningrad Cowboys featuring Russian Army Choir. The singing cowboy may be skinny but the Choir is masculine as any.

  3. Peter Viney
    Jul 17, 2014

    My review of Tom Jones at the Larmer Tree Festival, Dorset, Wednesday 16th July is here.

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