When Tom Jones steps into a recording studio, he pours his heart and soul into every vocal take, making his delivery so lavish. However, this level of commitment comes at a cost, and he once nearly passed out as a result.
Every artist dreams of singing the theme tune for a film in the James Bond franchise, but only a select few have the pleasure of putting on their curriculum vitae. Jones was tasked with the honour in 1965, following the success of his debut single, ‘It’s Not Unusual’, and he wasn’t prepared to let the opportunity slip.
The titular track for Thunderball had originally been recorded by Jones’ compatriot Shirley Bassey. Unfortunately, there was an issue with the length of her version which didn’t align with the title sequences.
She was unable to re-record the track, and instead, they called upon Dionne Warwick. When Bassey caught wind of their plans, she threatened to sue the producers, and ultimately, both versions of ‘Thunderball’ were scrapped as a result.
They needed an entirely new song to avoid a legal dispute, and Tom Jones was tasked with providing vocals. Time was of the essence, and alongside composer John Barry, and lyricist Don Black, Jones got to work.
Black later recounted: “With ‘Thunderball’ the first thing I did was look it up in the dictionary. So I scratched my head and used it as a code word, you know, ‘He strikes like thunderball’. The thing I remember most is Tom Jones’ recording of the song in which he fainted on the last note. He got a head rush or something. The Bond songs I describe as the lure of the forbidden. It should have the whiff of a boudoir about it.”
His version of events match up with Jones’, and the Welshman admitted he was on the verge of passing out after the recording. “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning,” he later recalled.
Speaking in more depth about the recording of the track, Jones told The Daily Mail in 2009 about being overawed at the opportunity and the almost nightmarish result. “I was thrilled to bits when they asked me to do ‘Thunderball’. I thought, ‘Oh my God, a song for a James Bond film’. The most memorable thing about the session was hitting that note at the end. John told me to hold on to this very high note for as long as possible.
He added: “I hit it but I had to hold on to the wall of the sound booth to steady myself in case I fell down. Thank God, I didn’t. I knocked off the recording pretty quickly. I think John and I became very good friends, simply because he didn’t have to spend long on my part.”
Listen to Jones’ recording of ‘Thunderball’ below to hear for yourself how much blood, sweat, and tears he poured into the track.