A Choirboy Swimming in Panties
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sex symbols may age, but they can still stir our souls and libidos.
By Tracy Moran
“Don’t forget your knickers,” a friend suggests before we set off to see the Sex Bomb at Newmarket racecourse in Suffolk, England.
If the mark of a proper lady is wearing matching panties and bras, then former choirboy Tom Jones should’ve added “not” to his hit “She’s a Lady” long ago. By this standard, ladies are hard to find among his legions of fans. Tossing panties on stage for the Welsh singer to dab his sweaty brow is a decades-old tradition, inspired by his bedroom eyes, soulful tunes and tight pants.
The star with the gold chains accumulated 36 Top 40 hits, whose titles — “Delilah,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” — became household names. And while Mr. Hotpants may be past his Speedo-wearing prime at 74, he’s still got it. In spades.
The baritone has been hitting high notes since 1963, collaborating with everyone from Elvis and Janis Joplin to Joss Stone and Jack White. His voice, not to mention his sweat-glazed chest, netted the singer more than a few women’s second glances and phone numbers, as well as at least one love child and paternity suit. He survived a slump in the ’70s to rise again in the ’80s, and has performed for both President Bill Clinton and the Queen of England, who bestowed a knighthood on the Welshman in 2006. Sir Tom has recently been headlining shows in the U.K. and opening for Morrissey in the U.S.
The crowd chants and the strobe lights flash as the Sex Bomb of yore takes the stage.
His latest albums include 2010’s Praise & Blame, a return to his gospel roots deemed by one critic to be the best Jones has offered in two decades, and 2012’s Spirit in the Room — both of which hint at Johnny Cash-like, late-in-life revelations.
At the Newmarket show, the crowd chants, and the strobe lights flash as the Sex Bomb of yore takes the stage. Jones is a bit more stiff-upper-lipped with his performance these days: His signature right-handed snaps and classic hits remain in the repertoire, but the gyrating hips and barrel chest are under wraps (and suit jackets), despite a penchant for hotel workouts and permatans. Tight spandex trousers have been replaced by loose-fitting jeans, and his shirts, once worn open, are buttoned shut.
And then it happens: The unmistakable voice and larger-than-life presence take command of the stage, setting the crowd in motion in a spontaneous dance party. A surprising number of 20-somethings turn out to see the aging crooner, with many waving flags of the Welsh Red Dragon — the same one sported on Jones’s pinkie ring.
A bachelorette party suddenly rushes the stage, draped in Welsh flags, only to be turned back by fans near the front who refuse to budge. Disappointed that they can’t get close enough to throw their knickers on stage, the rebuffed wedding crew retreats as the next tune begins, shouting, “We love you, Tom!”
Near or far, young or old, women are still slayed by Jones’ sex appeal, and the gravel boom of his voice affirms that aging has no effect on true soul.
This OZY encore was originally published Oct. 7, 2014.