Two of the greatest singers of the 20th century joined forces for a powerful duet when Tom Jones met Janis Joplin.
Jones, a raunchy vocalist from Pontypridd in the Welsh valleys, had invited American rock and blues legend Joplin to join him on his popular TV show in 1969.
Their version of Raise Your Hand on the TV series, This is Tom Jones, was widely heralded as one of the best duets ever performed on the show, which was produced by ATV between 1969 and 1971.
The coal miner’s son who shot to superstardom with his single, It’s Not Unusual, in 1965, had many iconic guests on his network television show, as he was a major superstar in both the US and the UK by the end of the 1960s.
For many people, his duet with singer/songwriter Joplin was the highlight of the series, which attracted a multitude of top stars of the day, including Sonny and Cher, Matt Monro and Sammy Davis Jr, to name but a few.
Jones was 29 and Joplin was 27 when they sang live together on the show. It was an unusual pairing because Jones was a mainstream pop singer, who wasn’t considered particularly “cool”.
Joplin, on the other hand, had risen to fame in 1967, as a result of her appearance at the rather more fashionable Monterey Pop Festival, where she was lead vocalist of the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, from San Francisco.
She had also appeared at the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969, while five of her singles had charted in the Billboard Hot 100.
Fans of both artists were understandably sceptical since their musical styles and audiences were so different.
Cool v cliché
Jones had an undeniably strong voice and danced provocatively, with plenty of hip gyrations. His live concerts were famous because some female fans would throw their underwear at him! However, the music snobs of the day saw him as a singer of rather shallow and often sexist pop music, but back in the 1960s, there weren’t many live music shows on TV that attracted the top artists of the day, so grudgingly, they would watch This is Tom Jones, just to see some of his guest artists.
The song, Raise Your Hand, one of Joplin’s concert repertoire, had been written by Al Bell, Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper. It was a track on Floyd’s debut album, Knock on Wood, in 1967. Joplin began performing it live, including when she appeared at Woodstock. It was one of the tracks on the 1993 compilation album, Janis.
The duet boosted both Jones’ and Joplin’s reputation, as it gave Jones more street credibility and introduced Joplin to a wider audience.
It bucked the trend against Jones’ usual formula of taking on the macho role of a duet opposite a less powerful female vocalist. Joplin’s vocals were more than a match for Jones’ booming baritone voice and the duet worked where previous duets with other female artists had failed.
Joplin seemed to inspire Jones to new heights of energy and managed to transform the sometimes-flat sound of the studio’s live stage into one that was charged with electricity.
While the music snobs often complained that Jones’ performances on the show with female stars appeared “sleazy”, on the contrary, they remembered his duet with Joplin for many years to come as a landmark moment in both their careers. They never collaborated musically again.
Jones went on to achieve global legend status, forging out a huge career in the United States, where he listed Elvis Presley as one of his close friends.
Jones, now aged 78, has become one of the best-selling artists in history, selling more than 100 million records to date. Since 2012, he has been a judge and mentor on the British television talent show, The Voice, where he often stands up for an impromptu live performance, to the delight of the studio audience.
Sadly, Joplin died in October 1970, at the age of only 27, so her performance with Jones became one of her final swansongs. In 2004, she was ranked number 46 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists in history. Selling 15.5 million albums, in 1995 she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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© 1969 ABC Television