Welsh singer Tom Jones had a string of top ten hits in the 1960s, including It’s Not Unusual, What’s New Pussycat?, Green, Green Grass of Home & Delilah. A full-throated, robust baritone (AllMusic), he could slip from a rasp to a croon “with a voice as husky as it was pretty” (NY Times). For many, he was one of the more wholesome acts of the time.
For all his massive, cross-generational appeal, by the mid-70s Tom Jones was often dismissed as a hairy-chested novelty act; a sex symbol for housewives approaching his sell-by-date. The rehabilitation of Tom Jones into the beloved singer and national treasure that he now is started with his singing on the Art of Noise’s cover of Prince’s Kiss.
The 1988 release of the excellent Prince cover with Tom backed by the cutting-edge synthpop band Age of Chance made Tom Jones genuinely hip and introduced him to the MTV generation. Tom Jones hasn’t looked back, and the affection for the man, and the appreciation for his singing, have only grown. Jones was awarded an OBE in 1999 & was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 for his services to music. To list his musical achievements would take several pages.
The more his public profile has grown in the twenty-first century, and the more he has appeared on television, including as a mentor on The Voice UK, the more likable Tom Jones has become. In this context, the surprise 80th birthday greeting for Tom Jones that Stevie Wonder recorded is touching and delightful. Interestingly, the heights that Stevie Wonder reached on the stunning run of records he released up to and including Hotter than July (1980) seem to have receded from popular memory.
That was a 1974 live version of Living for The City, from when Stevie Wonder was as musically innovative, socially conscious, and “of the moment” as any major popular musician has ever been. To get an eightieth birthday greeting from Stevie Wonder is a big deal! To receive one as special as the message Stevie Wonder recorded for Tom Jones is a great honour. No wonder Tom shed a tear.
All this has got me wanting to hear Tom Jones sing. There are a great many songs to choose from, but I’m going to have to go with Kiss.