Apr 27, 2013

Tom Jones: It's Not Unusual

Tom Jones was another performer that adults in the 1960s loved, an antidote to the "horrible hippie music" that the teens were listening to.  The Welsh coal miner's son had a string of hits beginning in 1964, the same year as the Beatles, his jazzy pop style hitting a chord with the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin school: "It's Not Unusual," "What's New Pussycat?", "Thunderball."  Many of his songs were not gender-specific, so they drew middle-aged gay and straight fans.

When rock started getting socially conscious in the late 1960s, he countered with songs about working-class angst: "Detroit City," "Sixteen Tons," "I'm Coming Home."  With gay symbolism:

Here’s to the damned, to the lost and forgotten
It’s hard to get high when you’re living on the bottom
We are all misfits living in a world on fire

  But soon he was back to jazzy love songs: "She's a Lady," "Have You Ever Been Lonely," "Delilah."

Meanwhile he was everywhere on tv, performing on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Music Scene, The Engelbert Humperdink Show, Sonny and Cher (dig the hair on Cher), Donny and Marie, The Tonight Show, and two programs of his own, Tom Jones! (1966-67) and This is Tom Jones (1969-71).

The teen magazines mostly ignored him, but there were ample beefcake shots elsewhere.  Tom had no qualms about displaying his muscular, hairy chest and beneath-the-belt gifts, selling sex as well as charm to audiences composed primarily of middle-aged gay men and heterosexual women.

During the late 1970s, Tom's hits started dropping off the charts, but he continued to record and perform for his royal fans.  In 1997 he reached a new audience by singing the sultry "You Can Leave Your Hat On" during the final strip-tease number in The Full Monty.  The male voice accompanying the male performers gives the scene a decidedly homoerotic feel.

Tom tried his hand at acting: in 1979 he starred in Pleasure Cove, the pilot for a prospective series about a Fantasy Island-style seaside resort.

In 1984 he appeared on the real Fantasy Island, as legendary outlaw Dick Turpin.

And in 1991 he starred in The Ghosts of Oxford Street, a British tv movie about the music industry.