In the early 1970s, major record companies began experimenting with a technique called songshaping, in which pop lyricists would study a particular singer and cater the words to his or her personality for a more authentic composition with strong human appeal.
During this time I was hired as an assistant to Paul Anka, who needed someone with a lot of free time to research singer Tom Jones. It was an odd assignment, but as a budding journalist I felt I could capture Jones’ essence and report it accurately back to Anka, who would pen a new hit, “She’s a Lady.”
Jones and I first met at an outdoor café in the summer. There were lots of pretty ladies strolling around in sparse clothing, and I swayed the conversation toward the fairer sex in an attempt to coax quotes from Jones.
“Tom, when you meet an amazing lady, a really special woman with smarts, looks, and a wild side… what do you do to impress her? What’s your ideal date?”
“Oh, man. That’s a tough one. Is she, like, my soulmate?”
“Yes. She means a lot to you.” “Hhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…..” he pondered this until my hand cramped from writing m’s. “I’d take her to dinner!”
I waited for the next part.
“Dinner? At a restaurant?”
“Yeah!” said Tom, clearly excited. “That’s a great date!”
“I can’t argue with that… But isn’t it kind of, uh, generic?”
“Dinner! Dinner! Dinner!” he said, banging his fists on the table and smiling.
“Tom, she’s the woman you’ll probably want to marry and spend the rest of your life with… plus, we’re writing a pop song, so it has to be –”
“Dinner!” he started dancing. People stared. Nobody at the café knew who he was.
“OK, OK,” I wrote take to dinner in my notepad.
“Tom, keep the image of this woman in your mind and try to imagine true love. Have you ever been in love?”
“Oh sure, plenty of times.”
“OK, great. So imagine you’re in love again, only this time it’s insane, head-over-heels stuff. This woman is a blessing to you. You love everything about her and you can’t sleep at night when she’s not around.”
“Yes. How would you treat this woman, in day-to-day life?”
“Well, I would have to treat her incredibly well, I guess. I wouldn’t want to lose her…”
“I would treat her with more compassion and respect than I’ve ever treated any other woman…”
“I guess what I’m trying to say is…”
“Yes! Go on!”
“… I never would abuse her.”
I paused for considerable time as Tom grinned at me affectionately through a strawberry milk mustache.
“Tom, are you saying that the most romantic thing you can do for a woman is to just not abuse her?”
“Don’t forget dinner!”
We waited in pleasant silence till the check came, which I picked up because Tom said he forgot his wallet, even though he had pulled it out earlier to show me photos of his cat.
I walked him to his car.
“Tom, how did you get so much of that on your face? You were drinking with a straw.”
“It’s just really messy, man.”