This three-disc collection of extracts spans the show's three series. With sharp comic timing and enough ebullience to overcome even the naffest stage concepts, Tom Jones was a natural in front of the camera. Indeed, he was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1970 nomination for best TV musical/comedy actor. There's a charming naivety throughout, from the fashions (no skirt too mini, no tie too paisley) to the choreographed set pieces designed to spruce up the singing. There are more than a few sartorial howlers on display, though the prize goes to Jones' high-waisted orange flares and matching frilly shirt, worn while he enthusiastically belts through We Can Work It Out. Although the collection is subtitled Rock 'N' Roll Legends, it's oddly skewed towards soul singers. The endlessly talented Stevie Wonder performs an extended medley with Jones and plays a drum solo, Aretha Franklin offers a sublime reading of I Say A Little Prayer, and Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker gamely try to outsing The Voice.
The comic interludes are mostly dated, though a Cleese and Chapman-penned Peter Sellers sketch hits the mark, as does Richard Pryor, who hilariously touches upon birth control, religion and race.
It's a fascinating period piece, from the dolly birds draping themselves across the lascivious Jones in the opening episode, to a lengthy and somewhat earnest skit with Anne Bancroft about women's liberation. "First we eat and then we picket Hugh Hefner!" she exclaims; sadly, avowed ladies man Jones remains out of shot.
But the best moments are often when the host takes centre stage. Each episode ends with an extended performance from Jones, performing standards, favourites and songs he made famous. His piledriving vocals, which effortlessly breeze through Kansas City, bring soul to Danny Boy, and deliver a breathtaking performance of I (Who Have Nothing), are always abetted by the programme's great musical arranger Johnnie Spence.
The second episode, here in black and white with slightly degraded picture quality, forgoes the variety performances in favour of out-and-out musical virtuosity: The Who perform Pinball Wizard, and Jones sings four songs.
Containing just a fragment from the This Is Tom Jones archives, this collection will be loved by Tom's fans, and should be investigated by anyone with more than a passing interest in 1960s pop culture. And if you're ever tempted to think of Tom Jones as a washed-up has-been, put this on and remember how he was once untouchable.
Words: Joe Goodden
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