Song Of The Day 3/21/2014: Tom Jones - "Burning Hell"


Accidents of Adult Contemporary: This was another one of the squeezed-in-on-a-technicality tracks for this week's theme, because Tom Jones was more known for being a straight-up pop artist in the '60s, very much a product of those years. You couldn't really call "It's Not Unusual" or "She's A Lady" adult contemporary songs. They had an edge. But at least the latter song did crash Billboard's Easy Listening chart, which was like adult contemporary for people who still thought rock and roll was a giggling fit that would be gone soon. And he continued to make that chart after he went country. Another reason Jones wasn't a perfect fit for this theme is because he went all avant-pop in the '80s with the Art Of Noise and even squirmed onto MTV. The guy executed career changes like very few did. It's kind of inspiring.

But the truth is I've been looking for a reason to put his version of John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" up for Song Of The Day because it might be the best thing he ever did, quite clearly different from anything else in his catalogue, and it came out when he was about to turn 70 years old in 2010. It was on the album Praise & Blame, produced by Ethan Johns (who helmed my second-favorite album of 2013), and I guess the idea was to give Tom the Johnny Cash-via-Rick Rubin treatment, with stripped down instrumentation for a bunch of traditional American gospel and devotional material.

I first heard "Burning Hell" in the offices of Universal Records in Nashville and thought it was one of the greatest things I'd heard. I was profoundly shaken. I was perhaps a tad over-enthused about it, but in those days over-enthusiasm was kind of my trademark. I thought it had a big chance to make a play for the Black Keys crowd. As it happened it didn't have nearly as much impact on the rest of the world as it did on me. But who knows? Here you go. It's never too late.

Accidents Of Adult Contemporary may continue tomorrow for one more day, or this might be the last one. I'm having trouble deciding on this additional possibility. It's from a Canadian. I'll have to pay all those tariffs.


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