Sir Tom Jones has been a constant presence in music since the 1960s, and even now, in his 80s, he’s still scoring number one albums and touring the world. While many people his age would rather put their feet up, Jones belongs on the stage, and he continues to defy logic.
His voice still sounds as mighty fine as it did when he first caught the public’s imagination all those decades ago. In his career, he’s had countless hits, several residencies in Las Vegas, a television show broadcast in the United States, and a knighthood, but his love for his craft has never dwindled.
“Songs are more important to me now, and they take on a different meaning when you’ve lived a long time,” he told Far Out in an exclusive interview last year. “And you’ve lived through things, you read more into lyrics than you do when you’re young.”
He also said: “When people used to say to me, ‘How long do you think you’d want to be on stage?’ I said to them about 97. Now, I don’t know why I came up with 97, but I did. I want to sing as long as I can. A lot of old people lose the flexibility, especially with their vocals.”
Here’s hoping Jones manages to carry on performing until he reaches 97 and keeps on adding to his legacy. Let’s take a moment to chronicle his career through six of his best songs.
Tom Jones’ six definitive songs:
‘It’s Not Unusual’ (1965)
As first hit records go, Jones’ is one of the most iconic. However, ‘It’s Not Unusual’ was almost never his song. The success changed his life overnight, although he’d spent years working to no avail behind the scenes and playing in clubs. ‘It’s Not Unusual’ raced to number one, and he had to fight hard to make it is.
Initially, Jones was only asked to record a demo version by the label before sending it to Sandie Shaw. After he heard it, Jones knew it was destiny for him to sing ‘It’s Not Unusual’, and so did Shaw. Despite executives’ attempts best efforts to take it away from Jones, Shaw intervened after hearing his wondrous take, and life’s never been the same since.
‘Green Green Grass Of Home’ (1966)
Following the success of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, Jones instantly became a household name, and the challenge facing him became staying at the top. However, for almost two years after the release of his debut hit single, he’d yet to have another track truly take off.
While he’d had songs such as ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘With These Hands’ do relatively well in the chart, neither broke into the top ten. At the end of 1966, he released his version of ‘Green Green Grass Of Home’, which stayed at the top spot for seven weeks and showed Jones wasn’t going to let himself become a one-hit-wonder.
Over the next couple of years, Jones managed to crystalise his position at the top of the pop game, and ‘Delilah’ marked another milestone in his extraordinary career. Despite being just three years on from his debut single, Jones had already seen off many of his contemporaries and had built up quite the canon.
If you listen to the lyrics carefully, it’s a dark and eerie murder ballad which defies the conventions of a traditional pop song. However, despite the haunting subject matter of ‘Delilah’, it proved to be a hit, and Jones truly proved that he could lend his sweet tones to anything. Furthermore, the song earned its writers, Les Reed and Barry Mason, two Ivor Novello wins.
Towards the mid-’70s, Jones’ profile had begun to slide, and he was no longer dominating the charts. For a while, he was treading water, and his art suffered as a result. In 1980, the Welshman bizarrely ventured into making country music and turned his hand to acting.
Surprisingly, in 1986, Jones got his first UK top ten single for 15 years with ‘A Boy From Nowhere’, which seemed to help him regain his confidence following his dry spell. A year later, he teamed up with Art of Noise for an experimental dance version of Prince’s ‘Kiss’, and it marked the start of a new, exciting era for the singer, who began to follow his heart once more.
‘Stoned In Love’ (2007)
Over the next twenty years, Jones said yes to a variety of ideas and began to become more open to the idea of collaboration which collided with his resurgence throughout the ’90s. He’d returned from Vegas and somehow regained relevancy against the odds.
In the ’00s, Jones continued to ride this wave, and in 2006, he enjoyed another hit single with trance DJ, Chicane. It was an unlikely pairing, but the Welshman showed with this effort that his voice could enhance everything from murder ballads to Ibiza floor fillers and also move with the times fluently. Jones had successfully found a way to resuscitate his career, and despite being in his mid-60s, ‘Stoned In Love’ became a club classic.
‘Talking Reality Television Blues’ (2021)
In 2021, Jones returned with his new record, Surrounded By Time, which made him the oldest recording artist to secure a number one album in the UK, and deservedly so. The most riveting track on the record was ‘Talking Reality Television Blues’, which, if it wasn’t for his delivery, one could believe it was a Radiohead track.
It’s a hypnotic effort, which sounds like nothing else he’s done before, which is exactly the trajectory you’d expect from Jones, who always seems to make the move you’d least expect. It’s a startling look at the decline of humanity in the modern age, and through the lens of a man who has seen the world in many variations, it’s truly soul-stirring.