Of the four judges on the UK edition of The Voice (which, judge us as you will, we here at MVD will admit to being big fans of) the only one who would actually stand a chance as a contestant on a show like this is the man himself Sir Tom Jones, or STJ as he’s become known.
In fact ‘The Voice’ seems like a pretty apt nick-name for him. His presence on the show adds a certain gravitas to the judging panel. Here is a man who, as he seems to find a way to remind us every week, has met, befriended and sung with just about every single one of the great pop vocalists from the last 50 or so years.
A fair number of these duets occurred as part of This Is Tom Jones, a TV show produced between 1969 and 1971 in the UK, but which was also very successful in the US where the network ABC aired its 65 episodes to great acclaim. For Jones himself the show represented him at the peak of his fame, having established himself as a chart regular on both sides of the Atlantic in the preceding five years or so with signature songs such as ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and ‘Delilah’.
It also highlights what a unique performer Jones actually was. Possessed of a roaring, full-chested baritone and a super-male, sexually-charged stage demeanour it’s no surprise that female audience members (and maybe some male too) used to regularly bombard him with underwear, phone-numbers and hotel room-keys.
And his appeal has not diminished over the years either. To see him on The Voice is to see a man who still has a twinkle in his eye when it comes to the ladies, and who still exudes a very macho charm. When he gives a female contestant a wink and an ‘alright love’ you can almost literally see them melt. I’ll be honest, if he gave me that kind of treatment I think I would probably melt too, such is the force of his sexual charisma. That said, I have always imagined, unfairly I’m sure, that Tom Jones reeks of some pretty strong and musky aftershave so if I’m right it could be simply that overpowering people and not his aura after all. If I’m ever lucky enough to meet him I’ll hope to be proved wrong….
STJ’s odour aside, what I really want to do is take a look at just three of these famous duets which, I think, show not only different sides to his talent but also illustrate how his show really did pull in the big names from all areas of the musical world….
Jerry Lee Lewis
“They thought that if I hosted the show I´d be able to do duets with more or less anybody because my repertoire was so big. I was always pushing for rock´n´roll people to be on the show…. I said to the producers, If you want Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeanie on the show then I want Wilson Pickett and I´ve got to have Jerry Lee Lewis. And they said, Jerry Lee Lewis? But he hasn´t done any TV in years and I said, I don´t care!”
Since he’s been a judge on The Voice the question ‘who are your favourite singers?’ has, as you would expect, been asked a fair few times. Every time he answers he never hesitates to include ‘The Killer’. The ultimate rock n’ roll hollerer and bawler, Lewis had been largely absent from British TV screens since his 1958 tour of the country ended in scandal when the tour was cut short amid a press frenzy and moral outcry over his 13 year old bride (who he also happened to be related to). Jones’ insistence on having him on the show was a chance to show the people what they had been missing, and in this clip his showmanship and sheer force of personality are palpable. Jones is beaming throughout, as befits a man being paid to tear up a medley of rock n’ roll hits with one of his idols.
The stature of guests that This Is Tom Jones attracted was actually quite staggering, as all of these clips show, and here we have him with no-less than one of the greatest jazz singers of all-time performing one of the sweetest love songs of all-time. Not a bad combination. Fitzgerald was in her 50’s when this was recorded but was still one of the world’s major singing stars and at this time in her career had moved in to a variety of musical areas recording everything from soul and country & western influenced records, to hymns and Christmas carols. Frankly, Ella could sing anything and make it sound effortlessly amazing, she was the queen. What I love about this clip is once again, the sense of pure enjoyment pouring out of Jones, as if he can’t quite believe his luck…
“I wanted to be able to have people on the show who I actually wanted to see perform, or to sing with… like Janis Joplin, she knew what kind of singer I was, and she looked forward to singing with me.”
Although Jones himself was always very separate from the hippy counter-culture and drug-fuelled music scene of the late 60’s, his show actually included performances from a fair few of that scenes greatest singers, including Mama Cass, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and this thrilling, fiery encounter with maybe the greatest female rock singer of them all. That said, both singers were heavily influenced by R&B and soul music and you can hear it in this performance. Plus, there is some truly magnificent dancing going on here, the kind of shapes the youth of today wouldn’t know how to throw…
Jones often likes to namedrop during The Voice, to the point where it has now become something of a running joke. It’s no joke though, he truly did share stages and songs with some of the greatest singers of the last 60 years. And you know what else? He’s actually pretty great himself.