Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tom Jones

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Sir Tom Jones

1
Which comedy double act played you and Dame Shirley Bassey in a sketch about an argument over who has “the range” to sing a James Bond theme?

“I know that sketch, but you’ve caught me by surprise!”

WRONG. It’s David Walliams (who plays you) and Matt Lucas (Dame Shirley).

“David Walliams’ real name is Williams and I know him and his mother and father, so I should have remembered that! I thought it was hilarious. Dame Shirley and myself are proper singers – and in Wales, it’s important to have the raaaa-nge!”

Not only did you sing the theme to the 1965 Bond film Thunderball, you were also once considered to play 007. Would you have made a good James Bond?

“Yes. (Laughs) When I was mentioned to play him, the producer Cubby Broccoli said that people wouldn’t accept me as James Bond because I was too well-known as Tom Jones – my image was too powerful.

“After she had a big hit with ‘Goldfinger’, Dame Shirley was upset that she wasn’t picked to sing ‘Thunderball’. When she performed on my TV show This Is Tom Jones in 1970, filming ran late and she left before she could record the third song she wanted to do. She was annoyed and held me responsible, and on the way out she defaced the poster of me in the studio hallway, putting red lipstick on my lips and writing: ‘Tom Jones is a [old-fashioned insult insinuating someone’s gay]’. But I thought it was funny and we remained friends after that.”

2
You appeared as Carlton’s guardian angel in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When he expresses surprise that his protector isn’t Black, which singer do you say you knew?

Otis Redding.”

CORRECT.

“It was improvised because there was no response to [Carlton] in the script to explain why I was white. At first, we thought it would be funny if I said ‘well, it was either me or Michael Jackson!’ because his skin was famously getting lighter. But we thought that was too close to the bone, so instead I said: ‘Well, I knew Otis Redding!’. When I met Otis in ’67 at a club in London, he said to me: ‘All of us try to do what you do. You’re the greatest soul singer in the world’. That was the biggest compliment anybody could give me!”

3
Which indie-disco floorfiller did you cover at the Concert for Diana in 2007?

“‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’.”

CORRECT. Ever receive any feedback from Arctic Monkeys?

“No. The only feedback we got were the reviews which said we’d ruined it! (Laughs) We were going to release it, but the reviews were so bad we thought better of putting it out!”

Around that time, there were murmurings that you were set to collaborate with The Killers

“I’d written a song in 2004 called ‘Baptism by Fire’ with Jools Holland. I was on his show with The Killers, who were just starting out, and they said: ‘We love that song – we’d love to record it’. I replied: ‘Well, go ahead!’. Then they suggested we do it together. It didn’t happen, but I got friendly with Mr [Brandon] Flowers and the band. I was out drinking with their drummer [Ronnie Vannucci Jr.] who again said: ‘We’d love to do something with you’. But it hasn’t happened yet!”

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4
Which metal band said they wanted to create a concept album with you about a mythical monster visiting a Welsh pit village?

“Oh! Black Sabbath.”

CORRECT. Would you be up for it?

“Yeah! It started out as a joke in a paper and then we both got fan-mail about it saying it was a great idea. I also said I was going to take over from Ozzy Osbourne as Black Sabbath’s lead singer. I talked to them about it and doing something with them, but it never came to be. It could still happen!”

5
When recording with you in 1963, what did producer Joe Meek do when he thought you were singing too loudly and standing too close to the microphone?

“Er… I don’t know what’s been publicised, but in his book he says: ‘Tom Jones sang so loud, he didn’t have to be in the studio. He could have sang from Cardiff and I could have recorded it!’”

WRONG. He pulled a gun on you.

“Sorry, yes! He told me to get back from the microphone, and fired a gun at me. I clutched my chest and thought he was really shooting me. It turned out to be a starting pistol and he laughed at my reaction. He was a practical joker.”

6
Which recent track of yours was described by NME as ‘Radiohead-esque’?

“Christ, I can’t think! But I remember the comment. Was it ‘No Hole In My Head’?

WRONG. It’s your reworking of Todd Snider’s ‘Talking Reality Television Blues’ from your new album, ‘Surrounded By Time’.

“Really?! That doesn’t sound like a Radiohead song to me! Whatever you want to compare it to is fine as long as it’s a compliment! (Laughs) ‘Talking Reality Television Blues’ is first of all about television and the influence it’s had on everybody. We had the first television on our street in 1952, because I had TB as a child and my mother and father bought it to keep me happy. I knew everybody that’s referenced in the lyrics, like American presenter Milton Berle who had Elvis Presley on his show. And I knew the ‘man with the comb-over’ – Donald Trump – ‘cause I was singing in his hotels and I had to introduce him from the stage every night when he came to my shows and he wanted a spotlight put on him. He just seemed like a playboy. And then Michael Jackson’s referred to, and I knew him from when he was a kid in The Jackson 5. He used to drop by my house in Bel Air, California on his way to see [his producer] Quincy Jones, who lived around the corner. Every song on the album refers to some part of my life.”

Unusually for you it’s a spoken-word song, when you’re known for belting ‘em out…

“It’s the same with my version of Tony Joe White’s ‘Ol’ Mother Earth’, which is even more relevant now than when he wrote it in the ‘70s because of global warming. We need to save the bloody planet! That’s my statement. I first tried singing it, but we realised that sometimes the spoken-word can be just as powerful because often people listen to the way you’re singing instead of the lyrical message.”

7
An easy one: Which icon once took a dump in your toilet while you were in the shower?

“Elvis Presley, of course!”

CORRECT. He wanted you to record a song with him, and, like some melodic Norman Bates, opened your shower door and sang it to you – before you walked out to the sight of him with his leather trousers and pants around his ankles wiping his arse with a washcloth.

“It was a shame Tom Parker [Elvis’ manager] wouldn’t let him sing with anybody. We tried covertly recording us singing together in my hotel suite in Hawaii, but Joe Esposito [Elvis’ road manager] saw it and stopped it. I always regretted not duetting with Elvis of course, but we did sing a lot together – either in my hotel suite or his. One night, we kept singing Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Why Me’ [later titled ‘Why Me Lord’ by Elvis] until about noon the next day, and I kept trying to get away because I had to get my customary eight-hours sleep before my show. As I’m halfway out the door, he said: ‘Tom…?’ and I said ‘Yeah?’ and he goes: (Sings) ‘Why me Lord, what have I ever done?’. I thought: ’Oh shit! Here we go again! I’ve got to sing!’ You can’t walk out on Elvis if he’s halfway through a song! So I had to close the door and sing with him. I wish to Christ we’d recorded it, but we couldn’t.”

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8
Which two of your hits are mentioned in the lyrics of Space’s 1998 single ‘The Ballad of Tom Jones’?

“I know that song well. Erm… I imagine it would be ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and… ’Delilah’?”

CORRECT. Impressive! Space‘s Tommy Scott and the track’s guest vocalist, Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews, both later appeared on your star-studded 1999 duets album ‘Reload’. You once said you regretted not making a ‘Reload 2’….

“It was recorded for Gut records and V2 put it out worldwide. Richard Branson wanted to release it in the US, but with some bands that were more well-known in America. James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers [who duets on a cover of Elvis’ ‘I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone’] had told me: ‘Tom, I love singing with you, but the real reason I’m doing this is you can open the door for the Manics in America’. Anyway, we’d planned an extra track with The Chicks, but Gut wouldn’t do a deal with V2 for America so it was pulled and the album was never released there.”

Who would you like on ‘Reload’ if it came out today?

Celeste, Anne-Marie who’s on The Voice with me, Michael Kiwanuka – I reimagined his song ‘I Won’t Lie’ on my new album. I’d love to have Bob Dylan on there, and hopefully I could finally make something happen with Paul McCartney, who originally wrote ‘The Long and Winding Road’ for me that I couldn’t do because I had another record coming out. Around ‘Reload’, he told me he’d written another song for me – about me being in jail, inspired by ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’ – but I was only doing duets. I asked him to sing it with me, but he saw it as a solo song for me. Then he asked me again when we were both at Buckingham Palace, but I was doing the hip-hop album, ‘Mr Jones’, with Wyclef Jean.  I hope I haven’t missed my chance!”

9
What did John Lennon once alter the lyrics of your 1965 chart-topper ‘It’s Not Unusual’ to?

“Instead of ‘It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone’, he went (Sings in John Lennon’s Scouse accent) ‘It’s not a unicorn, it’s an elephant’.

CORRECT. Did you get a kick out of it?

“No, he almost did! (Laughs) We were both doing a TV show and I sat in the audience watching the Beatles rehearsal. John Lennon came out and sang ‘it’s not a unicorn, it’s an elephant’ and then insulted me! (Laughs) Paul McCartney told me afterwards he wouldn’t have taken the piss if he didn’t love the song. John Lennon and I later became great friends and I did the last TV show he was on in New York with him before he died. I asked him why he lived in New York and, ironically, he told me: ‘I feel safer here than in London’.”

10
Where was the only place you could buy a special multicoloured vinyl of your 2012 Jack White collaboration ‘Evil’?

“Oh, in [record shop] Spillers in Cardiff.”

CORRECT.

Jack White‘s fantastic. We did everything at his studio in Nashville – he was making the records there as well as he has his own pressing plant, and we shot the pictures there as he has his own photography studio.”

The verdict: 7/10

“Not bad! There was a cartoon in NME in the ‘60s of me in a castle with a crown, Elvis tied up in the dungeon, my publicist counting the money and Engelbert Humperdinck creeping up behind me with a knife. I had the original drawing and lost it. I wish I had a copy!”

Tom Jones’ latest album, ‘Surrounded By Time’, is available now

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