I dare anyone over forty to listen to Tom Jones’ “Its Not Unusual” without singing along to the chorus and attempting a brief Joneslike hip swivel. The song is the ultimate example of the swaggering pop schmaltz that briefly flourished in the late 1960s. Tom Jones might not have been as cool as Bob Dylan or as controversial as the Rolling Stones, but for a brief period he was more popular than either of these more respected artists.
After Jones initial success with “Unusual” he recorded two blatant imitations with the title songs to “What’s New Pussycat” and “Thunderball.” Neither is as catchy as “Unusual” and “Thunderball” has some of the most ridiculous lyrics of any hit single in history, but both capture Jones in full bombastic voice and for that reason they work in their own quirky way.
After these initial successes Jones backtracked into a country period which is well documented in this collection. Jones’ voice is incredibly unsuited for country and the tracks here are strange mutants of twanging guitars and Jones’ brassy baritone. “Green, Green Grass of Home” was actually one of Jones’ biggest hits but 30 years after its release the song remains unbelievable trite and the stylistic clash between the country-style production and Jones’ voice is disconcerting.
Fortunately Jones’ fling with country was short-lived and he re-emerged in full pop voice after the debut of his variety series This is Tom Jones. The series emphasized Jones’ sex appeal and featured the over-the-top pop songs at which he excelled. “Daughter of Darkness” and “She’s a Lady” are excellent examples of this period of Jones’ career. Both songs are dependent on Jones’ vocal swagger to make them palatable. It is the ultimate complement to Jones that it is hard to imagine anyone else attempting or even wanting to sing these songs. For better or worse they work only because of the image and style of Tom Jones.
Jones’ career faltered after his series was canceled but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in all things Tom Jones. This career revival probably has more to do with ‘60s nostalgia than it does with the quality of his recording career but to his credit Jones keeps singing at full blast and fitting into those impossibly tight pants. For that at least he should be given some credit. For those who are just discovering Tom Jones this collection is an excellent introduction to his best and most remembered recordings.
// Notes from the Road
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