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Music Memories: Happy Birthday, Tom Jones!

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Welsh singer Tom Jones

Tom Jones was born on June 7, 1940. The Welsh singer became a star in the mid-1960s with a series of cheerfully bombastic pop songs, and continues to tour and record new material after more than 50 years in the spotlight.

Jones began singing as a young child, performing at family gatherings, school concerts, and other public events. He developed tuberculosis when he was twelve, and spent most of the next two years confined to bed. That gave him a lot of time to listen to music, and he especially enjoyed the early R&B music that he heard from singers like Solomon Burke, Elvis Presley, and Brook Benton.

In the early 1960s, Jones began performing in the clubs of South Wales where he was discovered by manager Gordon Mills. Mills took the singer to London and changed his name to “Tom Jones” —he had been born Thomas Woodward—hoping to cash in on the popularity of the 1963 movie Tom Jones.

It didn’t take long for Jones to catch on with the public; his second single was “It’s Not Unusual,” a #1 record in the UK and a top ten hit in the US. He followed that up with a pair of movie theme songs, “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Thunderball.”

Jones’s streak of hits continued into the early 1970s, and he specialized in grandly melodramatic tales of broken-hearted lovers such as “I (Who Have Nothing)” and “Delilah.”

3 tom jones album

In 1967, Jones made his first appearance in Las Vegas, where his willingness to play up his sex appeal in tight pants and unbuttoned shirts helped to make him a popular attraction. Jones enjoyed live performance more than he did recording, and club appearances became a regular part of his touring routine. He played at least one week in Vegas every year through 2011.

He took to television in 1969, hosting the variety show This Is Tom Jones. The show was produced in England but aired in the United States on ABC. It ran for three seasons and featured guest appearances from a wide assortment of singers, comics, actors, and other guests. A typical episode found Jones playing host to The Hollies, Cass Elliot, Charles Aznavour, and Dick Cavett.

By the mid-1970s, though Jones was still a popular touring and nightclub act, he was no longer getting much airplay at radio. The 1976 song “Say You’ll Stay Until Tomorrow” was an exception that brought success in a new venue for Jones, hitting #1 on the country charts, and pointing the way to the next phase of Jones’s career.

By the early 1980s, Jones had made himself into a country singer. That wasn’t an entirely surprising move; he’d always had a fondness for the genre, and as early as 1967, had released an album made up largely of country standards. But he threw himself into country full force in the 1980s, and landed a dozen hits between 1981 and 1985; the biggest successes were “Touch Me” and “I’ve Been Rained On Too.”

Jones made his last appearance on the US pop charts in 1988, teaming with the British synth-pop band Art of Noise for a cover of Prince’s “Kiss.” He continued to make the British charts occasionally into the mid-2000s, having particular success with the album Reload, a collection of collaborations with pop stars—Robbie Williams, The Cardigans, Van Morrison, Portishead—some of whom were thirty years younger than him.

3 tom jones album

Most recently, Jones has released a loosely-linked trilogy of albums made up mostly of covers of blues, gospel, and R&B standards. These albums—Praise and Blame, Spirit in the Room, and Long Lost Suitcase—have received some of the best critical response of Jones’s career.

In addition to the albums and songs linked above, more of Jones’s music is available at Hoopla. (Be warned that some of those search results are for music’s other Tom Jones, the musical theater composer best known for The Fantasticks.) Jones’s 2015 autobiography is called Over the Top and Back (e-book | e-audio | print | audio).