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At 80, Tom Jones' Voice Is Still Going Strong On His New Album 'Surrounded By Time'

Legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones. (Rick Guest)
Legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones. (Rick Guest)

Legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones is back with a new album, "Surrounded By Time."

In the 1960s during the British invasion, Jones stormed the U.S. from Wales and unlike the boy bands at the time, he put on an old school show with hits like "It’s Not Unusual" and "What’s New Pussycat?"

Over the next five decades, he sold over 100 million records and starred in hit variety TV shows in the U.S. and the U.K., most recently sharing his musical wisdom as a coach on "The Voice UK."

At 80, Jones hasn't slowed down. "Surrounded By Time" features covers from The Waterboys to Bob Dylan’s "One More Cup of Coffee" — which comes more than 40 years after Jones first heard the Dylan hit.

"You see, when you get older, you start to listen to things in a different way to what you do when you’re young," he says.

These days, Jones says he's less concerned with overblown vocals and more focused on finding the meaning within lyrics. But don't let that fool you — his youthful voice still sounds as vibrant as ever.

His voice is "alive and well and living in an 80-year-old man," he says. "But my voice is about 30."

Watch on YouTube.

The importance of time came into perspective for Jones after the death of his wife — the two had been married for 59 years — in 2016 and when the world came to a standstill because of the pandemic. Humans are confined by time, "whether you like it or not," he says, so "you've got to make the most of it while you're here."

Jones hopes he'll be back on stage performing in front of crowds sooner rather than later.

"I live on stage, you see," he says. "To me, all roads lead to the stage and the audience [is] dying for us to get up there."

Interview Highlights

On tweaking the lyrics of "I'm Growing Old" by jazz composer Bobby Cole

"When I first heard it, I was only in my 30s and Bobby Cole came in the dressing room and he said, 'I’ve got this song, what do you think?' And I said, 'I don’t think I’m old enough to sing it yet, but maybe when I get to 80, if I get there, then I will definitely do it.' So I am 80 and so now I’m doing it. All the words in this song are true except for one line that I’ve changed since I recorded it. There’s a line in there that goes, 'And though I save a lock of hair, I seldom dream about my wife.' I flipped it."

On the meaning behind "I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall," the death of his wife, and how she wanted him to keep singing

"That’s exactly what she said not to do, because she had terminal lung cancer and she knew she was dying and I was with her for the last 10 days and she said, 'Look, I got to go. You know, there’s nothing I could do about it, but don’t you fall with me. You’ve got to get up on that stage and you’ve got to sing.' And I said 'I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do it,' because if I get too emotional, you can’t be that emotional and sing, you see, because it gets stuck in your throat. So she said, 'Well, just think of me laughing,' because she loved it when I would tell her a joke, if I came off the road, she’d say, 'Have you heard any new jokes lately?' and I would tell her one and she would laugh. So she said, ‘Think of me like that when you get on a stage. Don’t think of me like I am now.’

"But she was the coolest person in the room. Myself and my son, we were basket cases, and she said, ‘You two got to mentor one another now.’ So, yeah, I’ve got her ashes with me in my bedroom on the chest of drawers with a picture above it. So she’s the first person I talk to in the morning and the last person that night."

Watch on YouTube.

On being a young, trained singer up against huge bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in the 1960s

"Well, first of all, I could sing. A lot of those fellas — I’m not putting anybody down here — but in the '60s, there were not many singers around. There were a lot of bands fronted by people that expressed things, but they weren’t necessarily singers. So I’ve always been a singer of songs, you see. All kinds of songs, though. Like, for instance, on my first album I did 'Autumn Leaves,' but I also did 'Memphis Tennessee.' I mean, with "It’s Not Unusual," because I did that, I did 'What’s New Pussycat' for Burt Bacharach because he said we need a strong voice on this thing. We need somebody that’s singing it like it was midnight hour."

"I always thought I was ahead of the game, not behind it. I was only 24 when I recorded "It's Not Unusual." I was the same age as John Lennon, but I didn’t look like a boy. I looked like a man, you see, with a busted nose. I came out of South Wales and they said that macho s*** went out with Elvis Presley, and I said, 'I don’t think so.' So that was it.

"I was up against it from the beginning, you see, because trends, you get The Beatles and the Stones, you know, people like that, looking like boys and well, singing like boys actually. But anyway, it’s like that. So when I signed, they thought I was an older person until I got to the [United] States and then they thought I was Black and they were playing "It’s Not Unusual" on Black radio. They couldn’t quite understand, though, why I was singing, as they put it, like a Black man and looking like a white man. So they thought I was passing."

On singing "The Windmills Of Your Mind"

"When I first heard it, when Noel Harrison recorded it because we were on the same label, I loved it right away and I still don’t know whether that’s a literal translation of the French lyrics or not, because in English it’s fantastic. And, you know, life to me is like a circle anyway. You know, it goes ’round. What goes around comes around. It’s never-ending or beginning on an ever-spinning reel, really. It’s like it goes on forever."


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.