After last night’s game between Detroit and Minnesota, I anticipated that I would be writing today about the start of the baseball playoffs, but on the ride into work, I quickly got tired hearing about Brandon Inge and the pitch that grazed his uniform with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th. This was not the deciding factor in the game. Jim Leyland’s decision to keep Fernando Rodney in the game to pitch in the bottom of that same inning after already pitching three innings is why Detroit lost. Rodney had never pitched more than two innings all year, and the last time he pitched more than one inning was back on August 16. And guess what, he lost that game. So Detroit, stop you’re whining.
But enough of that, as I was bouncing around the radio dial trying to find something to listen to, I was stopped dead by a song I had not heard in some time. This happens to me quite often, but usually it is one of those embarrassing songs that you don’t want anyone catching you listening to. For some reason the Andy Kim song Rock Me Gently comes immediately to mind. This is one of those songs that I crank up on the radio and sing along with as soon as I hear it. I do this for two reasons, one because it is a song I just enjoy singing, and second it brings back fond memories of my college days and my apartment hidden in the basement of a converted old home. I had a crappy little turntable for a stereo in those days, basically just one step above a Close-N-Play, and during any number of parties that I had hosted there, an old 45 version of Rock Me Gently was bound to be played.
But the song that stopped me this morning was one that I think would garnish a more universal acceptance. It was the late 80’s Art of Noise cover of Prince’s Kiss featuring Tom Jones. I have been a long time fan of Tom Jones, dating back to my very early childhood. I think it would be safe to say that my mother had a healthy obsession with Tom Jones back in the day, and it is through her that I was introduced to his musical styling. Back in those days, we lived in Villa Park, and our home contained what used to be known as a stereo cabinet. It looked a lot like a cross between a coffee table and a dresser, and as I recall it was a prominent piece of furniture in our front room. By today’s standards, with I-Pods and all the various portable digital docking stations, this thing was a monstrosity. Even by the 80’s Boom Box standard, this thing was big. Years later when we moved to Wheaton, it was eventually banished to the basement, but it was this behemoth that first introduced me to Tom Jones.
My mom had what I recall was a live album containing versions of many of Tom Jones best songs. Delilah, Green Green Grass of Home, Help Yourself, and of course It’s Not Unusual, just to name a few. I seem to recall it being a live album because the cover had a picture of Mr. Jones singing on stage in front of a giant light up prop of his name. This was also what I remember being the backdrop for his TV variety show back in the early 70’s. I don’t remember a lot about that particular show, but I do recall he would often do duets with beautiful young up and coming female stars like Lulu (think To Sir With Love) or Dusty Springfield (Son of a Preacher Man). And of course there would be comedy bits with the likes of Phyllis Diller or Jo Anne Worley.
As time went on, my mom did not break out the old Tom Jones record as often as she used to, but I do remember that if she did, perhaps as background music while cleaning the house or getting ready for guest, she always had a little bounce in her step as she listened. It wasn’t so much a dance as it was a tapping of her toes or swaying of her hip. I had heard just enough of the songs over the years to have them tattooed into my memory. As I got older, his songs would pop up in the most unusual of places. (Pun Intended.) Back to those college years and my basement apartment, I could very often be heard asking my friend Linda “What’s New Pussycat?” And she would of course respond back with the appropriate “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.”
After the late 80’s revival of Kiss, Tom Jones once again disappeared from my life, only to re-emerge in a series of movies in the mid 90’s. At the time I was working as a manager for a chain of movie theaters, and I got to see a lot of movies back then, and Tom Jones showed up in three very different films during that time. The first was the Jackie Chan film Supercop. Supercop was actually an older film that was filmed in China and then dubbed in English. It was actually the third in a series of films, the original title in Chinese was Police Story 3, but to capitalize on the growing popularity of Jackie Chan in the United States at the time, the film was re-named and shipped off to our local Cineplex. To go along with the new English title and misaligned lip syncing, a hip American soundtrack was added. This is where Tom Jones comes in. His remake of the 70’s classic Kung Fu Fighting was featured in the film as well as over the credits, where if the audience stayed they got to see some of the failed stunts that were performed during filming. This was actually the best part of the film, and I got to see it several times as we opened the doors to let the sparse crowd out. The second was the closing scene in what I can honestly say is one of my all time favorite films, The Full Monty. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, first of all, shame on you. It’s a great film. Run out to Blockbuster tonight and rent it. And second, I don’t feel any guilt at all spoiling the ending by telling you that the Tom Jones version of You Can Leave Your Hat On is the grand finale when the group of unemployed workers finally bares all.
Tom Jones played a much larger role in the final film, where he actually got to act, playing of all things, a Las Vegas singer named Tom Jones. The film was of course the widely misunderstood dark comedy Mars Attacks! by even more widely misunderstood director Tim Burton. The film had an all star cast including Glenn Close (sorry, Marney, two n’s), Jack Nicholson, Michael J. Fox, and Sarah Jessica Parker among others. But for me, the two actors that stole the show in this film were Jim Brown and Tom Jones. In both cases, these two had a lot of fun making fun of themselves, Tom Jones even more so since he was essentially playing himself. The film ends with Tom and a group of survivors in the desert, and of course he finishes the film breaking into his signature song It’s Not Unusual.
It had always been a hope of mine to see Tom Jones perform live, and I finally got the chance to do so a few years ago. Well, kind of. When we first started dating, Maureen decided to take me up to Ravinia for my birthday to see Tom Jones perform. Having never been there and being less than punctual, we finally managed to make it into the park in time to hear about five songs. And if you have ever been to Ravinia, you know that unless you are one of the first people there, you cannot get a lawn seat with a view of the pavilion. But that is sort of the beauty of Ravinia. It is more of like attending a party with music rather than an actual concert. In preparation for the concert, I re-acquainted myself with the music, and Maureen, being far more technical than I am, burned me a copy of Tom Jones 1999 album Reload. Similar to the Frank Sinatra album Duets, Reload is a collection of duets featuring Tom with various artists, but unlike the Sinatra album, Tom Jones steps out of his safe zone and crosses over into several different musical genres ranging from the traditional slavery anthem Motherless Child to the Ultra Club Mix Sexbomb. Also unlike Sinatra, I believe Tom was actually in the room with the people he was recording with, or he had a much better production crew, because with these songs there is an actual connection between the artists. For me, the best tracks were the cover of the INXS hit Never Tear Us Apart with Natalie Imbruglia and the duet Sometimes We Cry with one of my other all time favorites Van Morrison.
When I look back at the history of music, Tom Jones may not be up there with some of the all time greats like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Elvis Presley, and he certainly was not as influential as the likes of the Velvet Underground or Bob Dylan, but his longevity and his ability to entertain have placed him on my list of unforgettable artists. I will have to go back to that box of old CDs from my apartment and try and dig him up again.