When 24-year-old Tom Jones released his second single for Decca Records in February 1965, it seemed to take everyone by surprise. It entered the chart on the week of its release and a month later on March 13, 1965, the magnificent, “It’s Not Unusual” was at No.1 in the UK.
Interviewed while it was topping the charts – in answer to a question about him copying PJ Proby – Tom stated plainly: “I am what I am. I have never tried to be what is popularly conceived as a modern sex symbol.” As true then as it remained throughout his career; musically Tom has often seemed at odds with what was considered popular at the time, but he has always found an audience that is totally in sync with his choice of material.
Tom had released a single at the end of 1964, but it had failed to excite the record-buying public. At the time he was living in Wales and it was Gordon Mills, who co-wrote “It’s Not Unusual” with Les Reed, who persuaded Jones he should move to London in order to break through. In fact “It’s Not Unusual” was actually written with Sandie Shaw in mind and it features the legendary Big Jim Sullivan on lead guitar. Big Jim was one of the best session guitar players in London at this time, along with his mate, Little Jimmy Page,
In April 1965, “It’s Not Unusual” was released in America and it made No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – no mean achievement. This early transatlantic success was repeated throughout much of Tom Jones’s career.
To capitalize on the success of the single, Mills and Reed rushed Tom into the studio to record an album. The appropriately titled Along Came Jones came out in June and, as well as his debut hit, it comprised of judiciously picked covers, including a song written by one of the two men that Tom claimed at the time as his favorite singers, Brook Benton. (The other was Jerry Lee Lewis.) It wound up making No.11 on the LP charts.
The follow-up to “It’s Not Unusual” was “Once Upon a Time” a Gordon Mills original taken from the first album – it became a disappointing No.32. “With These Hands,” a cover of an old Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald song quickly followed and it did better, but failed to make the Top 10 in Britain. Before the year was out, Tom did have another hit when he recorded the title song to the movie “What’s New Pussycat”– a Burt Bacharach song. Somewhat surprising – considering how many people associate this song with Tom – it only made No.11 on the charts.