Tom Jones: hip or what?

7" EP Made in Singapore featuring “Hard to Handle” (co-written by Otis Redding), “My Elusive Dream”, “Without Love” and “Let It Be Me” (Decca DFE 4033) previously owned by “Gloria” whose handwritten name can be seen to the top right of Tom’s head

Tom Jones sits on the line of the potentially hip, tongue-in-cheek campiness, and effusive dinner-theater-style showmanship. It can’t be denied that the boy has a voice, “the pipes”, and while he’s someone who clearly admired and covered Otis Redding, his career took a far different direction than, say, Janis Joplin. Conversely, he’s not exactly the next Engelbert Humperdinck or Wayne Newton.

It is appropriate to mention him in the same breath as Engelbert Humperdinck as I started collecting Tom Jones 7” records in the confines of Hong Kong. One gets a good idea of the proclivities of the market, in any given era or city, by what is ubiquitous in the secondary market forty years after the fact. Hence, I found a plethora of 7” records by Humperdinck, Cliff Richards as well as Agnes Chan’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game”, which was a huge regional hit in 1971.

One can also, in relation to Tom Jones, mention that other cover-artist, Elvis Presley. Both have/had the voice, sexy white boy good looks, a heap of best selling records, yet both rely/relied on the song writing talents of others. While Jones didn’t have Colonel Tom Parker looking over his shoulder, breathing down his neck, the Elvis comparison is readily evoked in the second line of Jones’ Wikipedia page: “He has toured regularly, with appearances in Las Vegas (1967–2011).”

The clear distinction then, between Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, (or Joe Cocker, for that matter) and Tom Jones is his Welsh origins and the performing axis and career opportunities that afforded. Out in the provinces in 1963, in working men’s clubs and pubs, Jones fronted Tommy Scott and the Senators. Eventually he was singled out, brought to London, and promoted as a solo act, producing his first smash hit, the eternal ear-worm, “It’s Not Unusual” (a number one on UK charts in 1965).

When given the chance to collect the 7” output of Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdinck, I don’t have to think twice. Another appropriate comparison, when trawling the secondary market in Hong Kong, is Lulu, another kind of Caucasian British-Isles semi-soul singer/full-on cover artist who I also began to collect. What seals the deal is when the output of either one comes in a kitschy picture sleeve. That’s what you find below (as well as the one selection at the top of this article) — my dedicated collection of vintage, if banged-up, Tom Jones’s singles as collected in Hong Kong from 2005 to circa 2017.

7" EP Made in England featuring “Promise Her Anything” (Bacharach/David), “It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way” , “What A Party” and “Any Day Now” (released in 1967)
7" EP Made in Hong Kong (Decca DFE 4005) the cover version can guide you to the original Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” and while it seems incongruous to hear Tom Jones singing about “the cotton fields back home” his version is funkier/sparer
Umm, sure, talk about “cover songs” (Decca EP STO 507) Made in Singapore
7" EP Made in Singapore, “Delilah” being one of Jones’s all-time cheezers
It’s also nice to find a single in its original corporate generic sleeve. “Things I Wanna Do” b/w “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”
As well as an original corporate generic sleeve, the original owner wrote his name in the corner and stamped his cataloging system on the label. This always brings second-hand value down, but I always find it fascinating. “A Minute Of Your Time” b/w “Looking Out My Window”

What was not shown here, in my Tom Jones 7” vinyl record collection (in unlabelled generic sleeves) is “Love Me Tonight” b/w “Hide And Seek” (Decca F-12924), “I’m Coming Home” b/w “The Lonely One” (Decca F-12693), and an EP that includes “Sky Boat Song”, “Some Other Guy”, “A Minute Of Your Time”, and “Mohair Sam” (Decca DFE-4021).

Record collecting is an obsession, and once you get on a particular track, it can get stupid, like collecting every international release of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or something. Those with hand-me-down collections or the occasional yard-sale find might think they’ve dug up gold when its actually dirt. Gold can be found, but like I said, my Tom Jones collection is banged-up, maybe a “good +” (at best) rating on Discogs. I was surprised to find the occasional high-priced Tom Jones on Discogs, not that someone is going to buy it, but part of the obsessiveness of record collecting is checking out what the market will bear, like maybe, just maybe, I can pay for groceries this week.

Tom Jones is adventurous in his choice of material, eclectic in his taste, picking schlock, pop, R&B and country, tuning in with a cover of Prince’s “Kiss” and making a come-back with “Sex Bomb” (co-written by Jones) inevitably confused with the Flipper song of the same name; in fact, they both swing in the same kind of way. And while Tom Jones is inevitably imbued with a Las Vegas veneer, he did dip his toes into the hippie waters:

Musical music, historical and cultural connections