This Crazy Love: Tom Jones and “It’s Not Unusual”

If you’ve ever wanted to hear a person singing for their life, their career, their destiny, you can hear it on “It’s Not Unusual,” the art-defining song by Welshman Tom Jones. It’s one of the great vocal tracks of our time: raw and smooth, cool and heated, poised yet exploding at the crotch. Let’s take a pencil to the recording and delivery. First thing: the vocal, when it arrives over small handclaps, is mixed loud, very loud (the track itself is mastered hot, at least compared to the other 45s in my jukebox). Next: there’s ever the hint of vibrato with the purring last word of the first verse– “Anyone”– suggesting a quality– and a talent– that explodes as the song winds forward. Next: at the beginning of the next verse, the word “Out”  is pounded like a drum stick on a floor tom; forced and stamped to the arrangement; commanding and strong despite the fact that the track was recorded as a demo for Sandy Shaw and never expected to see the light of day, at least not in Tom Jones’ hands. Then, the word “Crime,” which Jones’ sings with disgust, as if trying remove a staple from his skin. If “Out” was hard and clipped, Jones’ draws “Crime” over a few beats, and then, “It happens every day/No matter what you say,” which finds the singer joined by a small chorus of women, pushing him over the heather and singing with even greater depth, volume and immediacy: howling, hollering. And then, “Why can’t this crazy love be mine?”, the last word cruising over the band like a child running while holding a pennant, unfurling against the landscape of the band. Here, the singer shows us the angry, scorned fullness of his vibrato: Cliff Richard with a rat up his ass. The last few verses are a victory lap, but listen to the “But” in “But if I ever find that you’ve changed at any time.” Tom Jones pops the mic; a quick, beautiful soaking of the mic’s filament, distorting the word just so. If you want to know why people ruin their lives for music, this song, this track, this lead vocal proves it. There’s blood all over the mix. It’s as serious as “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” I’m listening to it one more time, and maybe another time after that.

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