When twenty four year old Tom's first hit single came out in mid February 1965 it seemed to take everyone by surprise. It entered the chart on the week of its release and a month later, the magnificent, 'It's Not Unusual' was at No.1 in the UK. Interviewed while it was topping the charts Tom said, in answer to a question about him copying P.J. Proby, "I am what I am. I have never tried to be what is popularly conceived as a modern sex symbol." As true then as it remained throughout his career; musically Tom has often seemed at odds with what was considered popular at the time, but he has always found an audience that is totally on song with his choice of material.
Tom had released a single at the end of 1964 but it had failed to excite the record buying public. At the time he was living in Wales and it was Gordon Mills who co-wrote 'It's Not Unusual' with Les Reed who persuaded Jones he should move to London in order to break through. In April 1965 'It's Not Unusual' was released in America and it made No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – no mean achievement. This early transatlantic success was repeated throughout much of Tom Jones's career.
To capitalise on the success of the single, Mills and Reed rushed Tom into the studio to record an album. The appropriately titled Along Came Jones came out in June and as well as his debut hit it comprised of judiciously picked covers, including a song written by one of the two men that Tom claimed at the time as his favourite singers, Brook Benton (the other was Jerry Lee Lewis). It wound up making No.11 on the LP charts.
The follow-up to 'It's Not Unusual' was 'Once Upon a Time' a Gordon Mills original taken from the first album – it became a disappointing No.32. 'With These Hands' a cover of an old Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald song quickly followed and it did better, but failed to make the Top 10 in Britain. Before the year was out Tom did have another hit when he recorded the title song to the movie What's New Pussycat – a Burt Bacharach song. Somewhat surprising, considering how many people associate this song with Tom, but like 'With These Hands' it could only make No.11 on the charts.
'What's New Pussycat' made No.3 in America where Tom's records were released on the Parrot label and many of his albums were given slightly different track listings and running orders; A-Tom-ic Jones his second album came out in early 1966 and opened with 'Thunderball' the theme to the James Bond film which Tom recorded in late 1965 – a sure fire hit or so everyone thought. In the event the single only made No.35 in the UK and in truth it was not a classic Bond movie song. A-Tom-ic Jones with no hits singles on it sold poorly and failed to chart – although why no one thought to release the LP's opening track as a single is a mystery. 'Dr. Love' is pure Tom!
'Once There Was A Time' and 'This and That' were very modest hits in 1966 and Tom's third album, From The Heart was definitely more mainstream than pop charts – Gordon Mills had decided to reinvent Tom and despite the lack of chart success Tom was voted 'Best British Singer of 1966' in the Melody Maker poll, a feat he repeated the following year in the NME's poll. It was all a prelude to one of Tom's biggest hits and another example of Mills' strategy proving to be the right one. 'Green Green Grass of Home' was pure country music and it topped the charts at Christmas 1966. The album of the same name got to No.3 in the summer of '67.
Tom's debut single of 1967 was 'Detroit City' and it reached a disappointing No.8 on the UK charts, a few months later 'Funny Familiar Forgotten Feelings' could only manage one place higher. At the height of the Summer of Love, 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again', although out of whack with the vibe of the moment made it all the way to No.2, proving you can't keep a good song down – it was only kept from the top spot by Scott MacKenzie's, wannabe Hippie's anthem 'San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair)'. Before the year was over 'I'm Coming Home' also made No.2 on the singles chart. On the album chart Tom ended the year with 13 Smash Hits crashing into the charts at No.9, eventually climbing to No.5 before staying on the best-seller list for a year.
In the spring of 1968 Tom had his third No.2 in a row with "Delilah", the album of the same name made it to No.1 on the charts during the summer. The follow-up album, Help Yourself was also the title of a single, this one made No.5 on the singles chart and No.4 on the album chart. It was from the end of 1968 that singles were much less relevant to Tom's career. It wasn't until 1970 that he had another bit hit single, when 'Daughter of Darkness' made the Top 5. The following year 'Till' made No.2 and the follow up, 'The Young Mexican Puppeteer' got to No.6. That was it as far as hit singles was concerned Tom Jones did not have another Top 10 single in Britain until 1987.
This is Tom Jones, the album that came out in the summer of 1969 was also the title of Tom's TV series; it was another that just failed to top the charts, making No.2. Also during the year Tom had another album at No.2, this one a live one recorded in Las Vegas where he was proving to be a force on the Billboard Hot 100. 'I'll Never Fall in Love Again' made No.6, 'Without Love' got to No.5 and a number of other records cracked the American Top 20 before 'She's A Lady', a Paul Anka song got to No.2 in 1971 and become Tom's biggest Stateside hit.
In the UK the two 1970 album releases, Tom and I Who Have Nothing did well enough, while 'She's a Lady' as a single made a disappointing No.13 on the charts, which contributed to the fact that the album of the same name made only No.9. It was Tom Jones's last Top 10 album, barring greatest hits packages in Britain until 1999. One of Tom's most interesting albums of the 1970s was Memories Don't Leave Like People Do which has much more of a soul feel about it, Motown producer Johnny Bristol wrote five of the tracks as well as overseeing the making of the record in North Hollywood.
For a comprehensive look at Tom's career check out Greatest Hits Rediscovered.
Tom Jones return to the top of the UK album charts could not have been more spectacular. His 1999 album, Reload won plaudits from just about everyone. The album of fifteen carefully chosen tracks, all recorded as duets, resurrected his career; it also had two original tracks including the fabulous, 'Sexbomb' – a duet with Mousse T that went to No.3 on the UK singles chart in 2000, becoming the most successful track on the album that also spawned a string of hits. 'Mama Told Me Not To Come' recorded with the Stereophonics made No.4, while 'Baby It's Cold Outside' with Cerys Matthews of Catatonia made No.17.
The 2002 follow-up to Reload was Mr Jones, an album of mainly originals written by Tom, himself, Wyclef Jean and Jerry Wonder Duplessis made No.26 before in 2010 his Praise & Blame album took him to No.2. Produced by Ethan Johns, the son of Glyn Johns who worked with so many bands including The Rolling Stones, Praise & Blame could not have been a more different album. It included mainly devotional and gospel covers, a major departure from what many people thought of as 'Tom Jones territory'. His love of the blues and gospel music has been well documented so people should perhaps not have been too surprised – a Big Bill Broonzy record was one of his Desert Island Discs.
Tom's 2012 release, Spirit In The Room was again produced by Ethan Johns and included covers of Tom Waits' 'Bad as Me', Odetta's 'Hit Or Miss', Vera Hall Ward's 'Travelling Shoes' and 'Charlie Darwin' by Low Anthem as well as songs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Paul McCartney amongst others. The fifth track on the album is a cover of blues legend, Blind Willie Johnson's 'Soul of A Man'. It tells you everything you need to know about Tom Jones. He is a singer who whatever he sings he does from his soul. You cannot have a 50-year career without having musical sincerity and integrity – Tom Jones has an abundance of both… and of course – 'The Voice.'
The Goldies label is dependable for one thing: you never know what you're going to get. This compilation by Tom Jones is a case in point. While there are some of his classic songs here such as "Delilah" and "She's a Lady," they are not the original versions. They're recorded with a big studio band with a funked up bassline and some cheesy keyboards with a bigger than God horn section and a doubled up female backing chorus. But those aren't the biggest surprises. Those come later, making this an almost indispensable collection. Some of the other cuts on this set are a killer -- if overblown -- version of the hard soul nugget "Knock on Wood," and that's just the beginning. Over a total of 14 cuts that all feel as if they were somehow recorded for television (since there is no info you'll never know), you get versions of the Beatles' "Let It Be," John Lennon's last single "(Just Like) Starting Over," the Eagles "Take It to the Limit," Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally," and Eddie Cooley's R&B classic "Fever!" But that's not all. "Let Your Love Flow," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love," Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose," and Ronnie Bell's "Celebration" are here, too. This is an utterly surreal and vocally fantastic set of Tom Jones performances. His voice is in powerful form, and the arrangements for all their bombast are not all that distracting or out of line with what he's trying to put across. If you've already got the hits and wonder if there is anything else worth having, this baby is it.
Words: Thom Jurek
With Green, Green Grass of Home, Tom Jones began to abandon his teenage pop audience to concentrate on a more mature, middle of the road group of listeners. Although he did include uptempo R&B numbers like "Kansas City," and the album's strongest moments occurred when he concentrated on standards and country tunes like the title track, "My Mother's Eyes," and "That Old Black Magic," or when he turned in laidback soul songs like "Any Day Now." The album was still inconsistent, as Jones over-sang several of the tracks, but it was easily the best album he had recorded to date.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It had been six years since Tom Jones released his last stateside record, but this one scored big in England and on the Continent, for good reason. Ultra-modern and topical, Reload suggests you can easily ignore Jones' "What's New Pussycat?" past. Not only does Jones deliver one of the more invigorating workings of modern pop here, his selection of material and choice of mates prove that in addition to his routinely extraordinary performances, he's still recording quite potently, thank you. Like 1994's underrated "The Lead and How To Swing It," a lesser seller from the Interscope label, "Reload" finds Tom in collaborative mode. But where The Lead stressed original tunes and producer chops (everyone from Teddy Riley to Flood to Trevor Horn weighed in), Reload focuses on contemporary artists and cover songs. The artists are a motley, and very talented, crew indeed. Jones more than holds his own, turning the tunes into unusually personal and expressive vehicles. Jones launches the disc with Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House," working it brisk and funky with the Cardigans and lending David Byrne's opaque lyrics a fresh vigor. Then, with Stereophonics, he resurrects Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," refreshing the Three Dog Night chestnut with unexpected lasciviousness. The selections are as peculiar as they are successful, spanning "Sometimes We Cry" (a sparsely arranged duet with Van Morrison), a sharp interpretation of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" with Chrissie Hynde's Pretenders, and a fruity, truly bizarre take on the George Baker Selection's "Little Green Bag" with Barenaked Ladies. Jones probably doesn't do knee drops anymore, but he sure as hell does vocal swoops; check out "Ain't That a Lot of Love" with Simply Red's Mick Hucknall or his resurrection of Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy" with Zucchero for throat acrobatics. Jones is in the uncomfortable position of being a retro novelty, and although he may not ignite the U.S. charts anymore (his last notable effort here was his great collaboration with the Art of Noise on the Prince tune "Kiss," in 1988), his music is as contemporary and driving as ever.
Words: Carlo Wolff
Named after one of Jones’ best-known songs – the smash hit ‘Help Yourself’, it went to No.4 in December 1968 and is one of the most popular releases from the Tom Jones catalogue. Highlights on the album include the stunning and stirring ‘If You Go Away’ written by the legendary Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen and a lesser-known Bee Gees’ written track ‘Let There Be Love’. This album also includes a bonus track not available on the original LP, which was written by Jones himself. ‘Looking Out My Window’ is a full steam ahead rocker, which shows off Jones’ voice at its powerful best.
"Released in 1994 this album sees Jones team up with the coolest record producers around. Collaborations with Trevor Horn, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, Youth, Teddy Riley and Flood give the album a modern edge. The upbeat ‘If Only I Knew’, a powerful duet with Tori Amos – ‘I Wanna Get Back With You’ and the club hit ‘A Girl Like You’, bring Jones successfully to a 90s audience.
Although it isn't the revelation or surprising, extraordinary achievement that his 2010 record Praise & Blame was, Spirit in the Room is another solid, very welcome set of stripped-back interpretations from Tom Jones, produced once again by Ethan Johns, making those comparisons to Johnny Cash's late-period recordings with Rick Rubin all the more fitting. Know that the songbook has changed from classic (spirituals, blues, and traditional numbers) to more contemporary (Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, the Low Anthem, and others) and that Jones and Johns are both in top form and you've got the picture, along with that same frustration that no matter how fun "What's New Pussycat?" and "Sex Bomb" were, a couple more albums like this along the way would have been rich and rewarding. Jones joins the ranks of singers who have really "felt" Cohen's words in "Tower of Song," here in one of its most naked of performances, but as the dark carnival of Tom Waits' "Bad as Me" gives way to a frail, delicate, and lonely Richard Thompson song, it's obvious this one doesn't have that last one's purposeful layout, at least not until the fourth quarter. Exiting with the off-kilter and brittle "All Blues Hail Mary" (Joe Henry) and the spiritual/secular strangeness that's "Charlie Darwin" (Low Anthem) makes for a compelling suite, and while Spirit in the Room matches its predecessor on a track-by-track level, it's only in those last moments that the whole package seems as thematically sound and well designed.
Words: David Jeffries
Tom Jones' greatest strength is as a showman, making Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas one of his strongest records. As he tears through his well-constructed show, the vocalist works the reserved crowd into a near-frenzy, which makes him sing stronger and more dramatically. However, Tom Jones is at his best when he is at his most melodramatic, so this isn't a flaw. Jones' impassioned performance and the absence of weak material make Live in Las Vegas one of his most consistent records. Not surprisingly, it was also his biggest hit, peaking at number three on the American album charts.
For those who think Tom Jones is nothing but kitsch, camp, and sex appeal, this rootsy, poignant, and highly spiritual album will come as a shock. On the other hand, for those who have kept up with his recent activity, Praise & Blame seemed inevitable with Sir Tom’s appearance in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues being the big clue. In the PBS documentary, Jones displayed a shockingly deep knowledge and deeper love of the American songbook, just as he does here. Perfectly chosen numbers from John Lee Hooker (“Burning Hell”), Rosetta Tharpe (“Strange Things”), and Jessie Mae Hemphill (“Lord Help”) support the album’s rite-of-passage theme as the now-70-year-old Jones rages and regrets throughout this selection of hallowed material. Producer Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne) is right in tune with Jones, helming gutsy band performances that are either a barroom punch in the gut or a dustier version of the Daniel Lanois sound. The best example of the latter is the incredibly bold opener “What Good Am I?”, a Dylan song performed with surprising restraint in what is arguably the singer’s most poignant performance to date. All of the ballads are naked, raw, and haunting in the most Scott Walker-like way imaginable, and while the guitar-driven blues rave-ups offer relief, it takes repeated listens to smooth out the drastic changes between the two styles. Of course, rich albums often demand return visits to reap all the rewards, but Praise & Blame goes beyond, and could be considered a life partner that yields new truths -- often painful truths -- as the listener grows older and wiser. The second half of the set is filled with adaptations from Jones and Johns, and if you don’t believe that it stands up to the first half, it’s just because you haven’t heard it. It does because these men were well above inspired, they were possessed, and Praise & Blame winds up an undeniably excellent album that you’re either ready for or you’re not. Much had been made of the leaked pre-release memo from Island’s vice-president, which called this masterpiece a “sick joke.” Just another example that there are tin ears at the top of the music business, but more than that, the statement is proof that high-rise living can suck the life out of you and that the meek -- of which Jones is now officially a member -- shall win in the end.
Words: David Jeffries