Despite more than 40 years of recording in various genres and styles, Tom Jones is inextricably tied to his persona as the Swinging Sixties alpha-male par excellence, no matter what he's done since the days of Nehru jackets and gold chains. Jones had a 1980s club-music comeback, teaming with Art of Noise for a campy cover of Prince's "Kiss," and an even later electro-cover version of "Black Betty." His 2010 album, Praise and Blame, eschews flash for gospel and blues, but Jones knows what his fans want: "It's Not Unusual," "What's New, Pussycat?" and his other signature hits.
A reminder of how good — and how versatile — Jones is can be found on This Is Tom Jones, his 1969 TV-variety series that ran for three years at the height of his Vegas-style popularity and has now been issued on two DVD sets. There's a lot of fun to be had admiring Jones' sideburns (so long they extend past his jawline), Cuban-heeled boots and lace-front shirts straining to contain a manly corona of chest hair. But though his style may have been pure lounge, he was a respected recording artist of the time with a discerning ear, and many of the guests he showcased on This Is Tom Jones were some of the biggest names in rock and soul: Joe Cocker, Dusty Springfield, Stevie Wonder, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Moody Blues, the Who and many more.
Jones manages to keep up with Janis Joplin on a duet of "Raise Your Hand" where it's hard to tell who's having more fun. There's a piano singalong with Aretha Franklin (in a bold-soul-sister Egyptian outfit) where she sings "It's Not Unusual" and he counters with her classic, "See Saw." But the biggest mix of surreality and sheer talent comes when Jones teams with Little Richard, who's wearing what looks like an inch of makeup on his face, a gold church-choir gown and a bouffant wig worthy of Ronnie Spector. As the two men proceed to slay "Jenny, Jenny," "Rip It Up" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly," Richard ends up drenched in sweat, visibly dripping onto his piano — but Jones, who keeps up with him note for note, remains miraculously bone-dry. So if Tom Jones, age 70, doesn't even break a sweat at the New Orleans Fair Grounds on a sunny May afternoon ... well, it's not unusual.