The Guardian Welsh singer set to knock Eminem off top spot with 40th studio album, Praise & Blame, but hints at collaboration with rapper
It's not unusual to be loved by anyone, as Wales' favourite crooner has been reminding us for a good 45 years. It is, on the other hand, slightly out of the ordinary to be loved by so many that you manage to chalk up a number one album in your 70s, as Pontypridd's finest may achieve this Sunday with his 40th studio album Praise & Blame.
Sir Tom Jones, who was today sitting at number one in the midweek chart sales, is on course to become the oldest male musician to have a number 1 album this Sunday, if he knocks Eminem off the top spot.
What may be more unusual still is a thinly-veiled suggestion from the septuagenarian sexbomb that he would be like to collaborate with the Detroit rapper currently in pole position. "I couldn't be more proud of this album and I'm really blown away by the response from everyone," he said. "It's great to be top of the charts with Eminem, maybe next time we could be top together."
Although the link-up may appear incongruous to some, Jones is likely to be unfazed. As a young man he worked with legends such as Elvis, Stevie Wonder and the Beatles and in recent years has hooked up with artists as diverse as Robbie Williams, Van Morrison and Cerys Matthews.
Speaking on the telephone while touring the UK to promote his new album – a critically-lauded collection of gospel and blues-infused songs – Jones, who turned 70 last month, said he had no qualms about being the oldest artist to top the charts.
"For me that would be the icing on the cake," he said. "It's great to see the album doing so well in the midweeks but if I don't get to number one, I don't get the record – and I do want it."
Jones previously held the record when his 1999 album, Reloaded, went to number one. But he lost the crown to Bob Dylan – just a year younger than Jones – when last year's Together Through Life took the top spot.
He is proud of the album – which some are calling his "Johnny Cash moment", a reference to the country star's late, reflective American recordings – although Jones rejects any suggestion that he might be on his last legs.
"I've always been a god-fearing person. This album is spiritual but it's not like I'm coming to the end and seeking redemption," he said.
His long-standing enthusiastic lady fans, some of whom may these days struggle to throw a pair of knickers any great distance, will be relieved to hear that he feels in good fettle. "Physically I'm fine. I don't have plastic hips or knees."
He does admit, however, that his performances have become less "frantic" as he has matured. "When I was young I was just exploding all the time, whenever there was an instrumental, I never thought of letting the guitar player take a solo – I used to hammer every song."
The advice to tone it down on stage was not given recently, but did come from a decent source. "I hate to namedrop," said Jones, in his luscious and still distinctly Welsh voice. "But Frank Sinatra told me that you didn't have to push that hard all the time. I've learnt to let the songs speak for themselves instead of ramming them down people's throats. Maybe I should have done that before, but I was full of vinegar or whatever."
Praise & Blame also gained column inches recently after David Sharpe, a vice president at his label Island Records reportedly criticised the album in a "leaked" email to colleagues, dismissing the songs as "hymns" and not the "upbeat tracks" the label had wanted.
The email began: "Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office this morning to hear hymns – it could have been Sunday morning. My initial pleasure came to an abrupt halt when I realised that Tom Jones was singing the hymns! I have just listened to the album in its entirety and want to know if this is some sick joke????"
But music writers and PR experts have questioned the veracity of the leaked email story, pointing out that the email handily came to light the same week as the record's release, not when it was written on 19 May. Jones insists that the first he heard of it was on a flight from LA to London. "I was frightened that it would put people off before they had even heard the album. I've still had no explanation."
Asked if he thought the email was a PR stunt he said: "It sounds like it, it could have been. Why would anyone say that about wanting their money back – I just don't understand it."
Island made no direct comment on the email yesterday, but in a statement Ted Cockle, co-president of Island records, made a nod to the brouhaha. "This was always the record that Island records and Sir Tom wanted to make," he said. "Its hugely satisfying that the album has been such a massive success with the critics and public alike. Island are delighted to part of the latest chapter of such a legends outstanding career."