He's one of Britain’s best-known singers and has enjoyed an extraordinary career spanning six decades. His single It’s Not Unusual made No 1 in 1965 – and his 2010 studio album Praise And Blame hit No 2.Now, in a unique CD for Mail on Sunday readers – that will be FREE inside next week’s paper – Sir Tom Jones has selected 14 of his favourite numbers from across the years, including many of his biggest and best-loved hits. Here, he tells the stories behind these brilliant songs...
Delilah I remember when I first heard Delilah, I thought: ‘This is just a comedy record.’ My manager said: ‘Yes, but we want you to do it seriously.’ When you first hear it, you think it’s a rip-roaring, we-are-the-champions kind of number. But it’s actually about a man killing a woman. It’s recorded in the style of an old drinking song – you can imagine all the tankards waving in the air in an old pub. Delilah is always great to perform on stage – when the crowd hears the brass at the beginning, they start going for it before I even open my mouth. It’s Not Unusual I did the demo on this song when it was being offered to Sandie Shaw. I was just starting out and, God bless her, she said: ‘Whoever’s singing this, it’s his song.’ Finding great new songs is never easy, and back in those days, finding one that would fit me – the way I felt and sang anyway – was difficult. I’m indebted to Sandie for being so generous. I got to know her and we became friendly. She’s a hell of a girl, a very strong-willed woman, which was great, especially in those days. She’s fantastic-looking. She looked like a model, she was so tall – that’s one of the reasons she didn’t wear shoes. Sexbomb This song just appeared at the end of the sessions for the Reload album – we had more than enough stuff but I heard a demo of this and I said: ‘I’ve got to do this.’ I changed a few words that made it work better. It ended up being the biggest song on the album, and we almost missed it! Green Green Grass Of Home I used to collect anything Jerry Lee Lewis recorded, and still do. I was in New York in 1965 when I bought his country album Country Songs For City Folks. Green Green Grass Of Home stuck out. Again, I think the lyrical content is important here. The guy in the song is really in a jail cell, but you don’t know until the end. That got to me. Good God, it paints a picture and yet a lot of people who love Green Green Grass Of Home don’t even realise that. This is about a man who is going to be hanged and he’s just reminiscing on the precious parts of his life. I got on well with Jerry Lee. I did have a bit of a dust-up with him one night in Vegas, but most of the time, we got on great. He came over to do a British tour in 1966 and I had just recorded the song. He told me he’d love to hear it, so I played it to him in his hotel room. He was knocked out with it and said: ‘You’ve done something different here, the arrangement is great. It sounds like a No 1 to me.’ I said: ‘I hope you’re right.’ He was. It made me think of Wales when I recorded it – ‘the old home town looks the same’. When I went back to Pontypridd in those days, getting off the train from London, those words would ring true. It seems like a lot of people relate the sentiment to their home too. Mama Told Me Not To Come This is from the Reload album and features the Stereophonics. In the studio, the band’s singer Kelly Jones was in one booth and I was in the other one, and we were looking at each other as we were singing it. I loved it because I felt as if I was singing with somebody who was like me when I was young. It seemed that nothing had really changed in South Wales. There’s a sense of humour in South Wales that’s different from the rest of Britain and I was happy to know that it’s alive and well and living in the Stereophonics. Stuart (Cable, the late drummer for the band), God bless him, used to swear all the time. When I was growing up in Wales, you would never swear in front of women. I think the women are swearing more now than the men are.
I’ll Never Fall In Love Again This wonderful song was co-written by Lonnie Donegan. I did some shows with Lonnie and we became friends. He was one of the first British guys I heard singing rock in the Fifties. One night he said: ‘Look, I have this song, you’d sing the pants off it. I’ve recorded it, but I can’t really sing it. It’s a sort of a rewrite of a song from the Thirties when the Depression was going on, called I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering.’ I knew that song, because a lot of guys used to sing it in pubs in Wales. I went to his house in Virginia Water, and he got this record out to listen to. It was the B-side of one of his hits. With the big chorus on it, it sounded fantastic. He was singing it Lonnie Donegan style, completely different from the way I did, like somebody busking. This always goes down a storm live.
He’ll Have To Go I used to do this lovely Jim Reeves song in the dancehalls, pubs and clubs in Wales. It was always a big song for me, because everybody knew it. But I loved Solomon Burke’s version – he put a whole new slant on it, and our take on it was influenced by Solomon’s. I knew Solomon very well. He died suddenly last year. My son Mark and I went to the funeral in LA.
You Can Leave Your Hat On This was in the film The Full Monty and we recorded it in an afternoon on a day off when I was on the road on a UK tour. Composer Anne Dudley was doing the music. They had Joe Cocker’s version of You Can Leave Your Hat On, but the director thought his performance was a bit too serious. Who knew that this film would do what it did? It was supposed to be a low-budget, small British film, but it became a worldwide smash, so I was thrilled be a part of it.
Thunderball This was made with John Barry, a great guy who passed away a few days ago. I met him for the first time at the recording of Thunderball but I’d heard about him because he had a band called The John Barry Seven. His bass player had an electric bass which in the Fifties was rare – especially in England. And there was a connection because Les Reed, who wrote a lot of my big songs, was John Barry’s pianist. 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. 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. If He Should Ever Leave You This lovely song is from the album 24 Hours from 2008. The producers – two English fellas who called themselves Future Cut – heard a song I recorded in the Sixties called I’ll Never Let You Go. They were diggin’ the brass riff on it, so they sampled it and we set about writing a new top line with a young LA writer, Nicole Morier, who was writing with Britney Spears at the time. It’s a classic Tom Jones-style song because of the brass riff. The lyric is not quite what you expect – it has a lovely, almost melancholy mood, but the setting is quite breezy and very appealing.
Give A Little Love Another from the 24 Hours album. Future Cut talked about capturing the flavour of the things I did in the Sixties and Seventies. They particularly liked the brass sounds. We worked towards sounds and lyrics that were a bit different but reflected the spirit of some of the tracks I recorded before. The song touches on what’s happening in the world today: ‘a world of plenty, running on empty’. But the thing that comes through it all is love, of course. ‘If you haven’t got anything to give, give a little love.’ If I Only Knew I did a charity performance with Sting for his Rainforest Foundation in Carnegie Hall. The night was very successful and everybody thought it went well. Jimmy Iovine, a music producer and label boss, called. He had apparently heard about my performance and soon I was signed to Interscope Records. Jimmy knew about If I Only Knew, which was by a new group called Rise Robots Rise – they were obscure then, and I think they still are. Nice bunch of fellas, though. They were a white rap group, but it was the big brass riff in there that Jimmy loved and we wanted to make more of a song of it. Trevor Horn was producing it but he knew we needed a melody. He offered to get Lol Creme (from 10cc) to write it but I said that I could do it – and that melody just shot out of my head. I should have had a writing credit but I didn’t because this group were struggling, and I didn’t have the heart to say that I wanted part of the royalties. What Good Am I For my latest album Praise And Blame, I wanted to do some spiritual-type songs, but I wanted to do them in a rootsy way. We were very fortunate to have Ethan Johns on board to produce it. He told us how he likes to record – very naturally, with just a rhythm section. We kicked around some songs and recorded everything live. Great! I like darker songs and this one is right to the point. We had a bit of difficulty in finding the right path for this song. After several hours, Ethan said: ‘We’re not getting it. Let’s break for dinner and have a glass of red wine, then have another go.’ I said: ‘I don’t really like to sing under the influence. I prefer a clear head.’ He said: ‘Maybe it’ll just loosen you up, we’ll try it.’ When we got back into the studio, Ethan asked me to think about a few things, and to try not to sell the song. I just sang it to myself as quiet and restrained as possible, which is different for me. Then, all of a sudden, there it was. The song came to life, in a different way to anything I’d ever done before. Hard To Handle When I first did Hard To Handle in 1968, it was a new song and Otis Redding had just had a hit with it. I met Otis in 1967, not long before he died in the plane crash. He was playing at a club on Oxford Street – there is a picture of us together in the dressing room when we met. I was telling him the songs that I loved him singing and what a great singer he was. I said I had been influenced by so many soul singers, and he said, ‘We’re influenced by you. Your first album, we tried to get as good as that. You’re the greatest soul singer in the world.’ On my life, he said that! I was looking around the room, thinking: ‘Did anyone else hear this? Or am I imagining it?