Terence Blacker: It's not unusual to act your age

Tom Jones's record company don't want want him to sing about the reality of being 70

Share
Related Topics

A record company executive has just achieved an unlikely feat. He has made a man whose career has largely been based upon a bulging crotch and tight trousers seem dignified and wise.

Sir Tom Jones is in trouble with his new record label. At the age of 70, he is not as sexy as the marketing men would like him to be. In what must have been a slightly odd family conversation, he had agreed with his son and manager Mark that the time had arrived to shift the public's focus "three foot up from his waist and on to his voice".

It was a brave and radical decision. Years of marketing endeavour had gone into that "waist"; since the 1980s, it has become one of the most famous "waists" in show-business. For a generation of women, Jones was more than a great voice. He and his "waist" represented an idealised figure of lustful fantasy. He was manly and direct in his sexuality, with none of the gender ambiguity or unspecific moral dodginess associated with others stars of his generation.

He meant something to men, too. "In my head, I'm still 25," he has said, and, unlike other male dreamers, he was prepared to play it on stage. It was his son who made him aware that it was time to get in touch with the "real me" and start singing moodier, quieter, older songs. The model for the grandpa makeover is country singer Johnny Cash, whose image and career were revived by a series of recordings made when he was seriously ill at the end of his life. Unlike the man in black, Tom Jones has reached his eighth decade looking particularly perky.

All the same, it was decided that, for his new album, he should move away from the trouser-straining repertoire and sing the gospel and blues songs that suit his voice so well. Instead of "Sex Bomb", and "You Can Leave Your Hat On", there would be "Lord, Help the Poor" and "Needy and What Good Am I?"

It was a sane enough move but record companies tend not to be interested in personal or musical growth. At Island Records, which had invested £1.5m in the project, the firm's vice-president David Sharpe was, according to a leaked email sent to an unnamed colleague, unimpressed.

"Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office this morning to hear hymns coming from your office – it could have been Sunday morning," he wrote. When he discovered that he had been listening to a new Tom Jones recording, he detected "a sick joke". He had not "invested a fortune in an established artist for him to deliver 12 tracks from the Book of Common Prayer... For god sake what are you thinking about when he went all spiritual?"

The problem, of course, was not so much that Jones was an established artist, but that he was a product, created by the music business. Songwriters, from Dylan to Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson, are expected to reflect the experience of growing older but, when the singer's talent is only part of a package, and the other part is a manufactured image, there is a problem.

The last thing that Tom Jones's record company – and the vast majority of his fans – want him to do is to look into his ageing heart and sing about the reality of being 70. He is in the fantasy business. His bulging lunch-box, like Kylie Minogue's bottom or Tina Turner's thighs, is inescapably part of the image.

The vulgar and grammatically challenged recording executive was right. People do not listen to Tom Jones to be depressed. They are buying into the illusion that, while the rest of us are falling apart, Tom is still the prancing, potent Welsh stallion he was 40 years ago.

It is not an easy thing for a singer to do, and may well become self-parodic and absurd over time, but an important part of the act that is Tom Jones (or Cliff Richard or Mick Jagger) is to imitate his young self in order to reassure his ageing fans.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there