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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > This Is Tom Jones - Rock 'n' Roll Legends

 

This Is Tom Jones

Rock 'n' Roll Legends (1969-1971) (Time Life Home Video-2007)

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Copyright ©2007   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 17, 2007.

No hippies in this crowd – the only freaks here are the high-hairdo'd housewives in the studio audience of the 1969-1971 crowd-pleasin' This is Tom Jones

The Welshman sings, grinds and gyrates himself into a sweaty, dizzy ratings winner – and you better like his hit "It's Not Unusual," because he sings it. And sings it. A lot. No worries, though: you'll never, ever get tired of it. 

Jones is a natural choice for TV variety, the genre ruling the airwaves for only a few years more before it goes hopelessly out of style. When ABC offered this up as their idea of hip and "now," the emphasis was on the music, which was just fine. Jones rocks out, and you are there. End of story. Don't be absent. 

The ambitious son of a humble Welsh coal miner (and he won't let you forget it), he is talented beyond belief and comfortable in his own skin. His act is over-the-top intense, but his vibe is casual; like all good TV hosts, he invites you over and persuades you to stay, in a way that most men of that era would not or could not ever successfully get you to RSVP. 

Like James Bond with tighter pants, he pulls off not his pants but the unlikely feat of being both a man's man and a woman's naughty fantasy. 

The birds in the studio audience, more older than younger, are on their best behavior – no panty throwing, only seat wetting. 

Yeah, this is the Age of Aquarius, but this isn't Woodstock or Altamont – this is Vegas, baby, and here we get a peek at the rarely appreciated flip side of the sixties (happily mixing both rocking and swinging, with occasional swiveling). 

You'll also foresee a Nostradamus-like coming attraction of the seventies (irreverent group-sketch comedy with The Ace Trucking Company and The Committee, predecessors to Saturday Night Live. Look for a very young Fred Willard, a very long-haired Howard Hesseman, and a funny-voiced Patty Deutch, who would not live up to her original promise and instead go on to be a regular on The Match Game). 

The comedy is mildly topical (Women's Lib is as far as they go, with Anne Bancroft appearing in not one but two bafflingly unfunny sketches about the inequality of the sexes. No, you're not having a freak-out: that's really her, in Stepford-Wife mode, plucking a chicken.). 

Even special guest star Bob Hope gets into the spirit of "today," wisecracking that Jones is "ABC's answer to Women's Liberation," and musing that "black is so beautiful that everybody has a series except Slappy White." 

This Is Tom Jones is unique in that it was essentially filmed twice, to accommodate cultural differences: once for English audiences (in colour!) and once for the Americans. You can easily differentiate the two versions by the lighting (British lighting is less warm and comfy due to a different camera system); as well, the distinction is also made, of course, by the degree of bawdiness in the humor and performance (Americans are presumed to be prudes and may get the vapors if Tom gets carried away by the music that's welling up inside of him that yearns to get out). 

You'll also dig something else you'll never find anywhere today: a fully staffed and classy orchestra, backing up the unlikely likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker and even Janis Joplin (Jones has to explain who Joplin is: "if you like blues as much as I do…"). 

Unfortunately, most musical numbers feature an obligatory troupe of Broadway-style dancers, just before the concept was forever dismissed as out of touch and scorned as even cheesier than Jones' act. 

Another agonizing moment in the series comes with the fabulous guest Burt Bacharach, who wrote some of the most intensely genius songs of that era (including Jones' own "What's New Pussycat"). We cheer him as a super songwriter, but alas, Bacharach personally can't sing a note (and yet this somehow never stops him). 

As a nation, we pray to our Lord that Burt won't choose to sing this time, and after a tense few moments of banter and Jones' crooning, we almost have our prayers answered. Then, to our horror, Bacharach insists on warbling "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," and America runs – as fast as they can – to the fridge. 

Even The Who make the scene, tearing it up with "Pinball Wizard." At the time of the broadcast, the band wouldn't release the album Tommy for another three weeks. And Richard Pryor is new on the radar, politely doing a gig about growing up black and Catholic. American television was on the verge of great change. See some of it reluctantly morphing here. 

You may be horrified or baffled, but you won't ever be bored. In the current commentary intros (Jones still looks good, even at 800-years old), he entreats us to "do it. Dig it." Can do. 

Give him credit: Jones really sells it, and works hard for your ratings point. He offers up guests and music and a good time that you won't soon forget. By today's niche-obsessed standards, this beautiful mix may seem unusual, but it's not unusual.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 17, 2007.