In his autumn years, swivel-hipped belter Tom Jones has become a huggable icon of ’60s kitsch. One of the many pleasures of this three-disc compilation of material from his 1969–71 variety show is its confirmation that Jones’s talent was no joke. In an era when lip-synching was king, many of the songs were performed live, and each episode ended with a big number designed to let Jones be Jones: a beefy playboy switching gracefully between good-time-Charlie swagger and flesh-rending heartbreak, but always remembering to shake his moneymaker.
This set also reveals that Jones was a superb collaborator who bent to suit the personalities of his guests, a parade of talent that includes the Who, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin (whose solo rendition of “Little Girl Blue” might be definitive) and Burt Bacharach. As he tears through a medley with Little Richard, Jones’s finger-in-a-light-socket delivery mirrors the master’s own; he’s equally fine singing a slow-groove “Somewhere” with Leslie Uggams, shifting into gospel-blues mode for a medley with Franklin and matching Joe Cocker growl for growl on “Delta Lady.”
The eight episodes here represent a tiny sample of Jones’s TV work, and unless you’re a devotee of Nixon-era slang and set design, you might get restless during the sketches and banter (don’t skip it, though; there are some lively moments, and Jones’s nonsinging guests include Richard Pryor, Anne Bancroft, Bob Hope and an amazingly young Fred Willard). But the music makes this set well worth any pop fan’s while, and the menus allow you to watch whole episodes, the musical segments only or just Tom’s numbers. Groovy.