The eighth in the series of in-depth commentaries by David Nathan, co-producer of the 2021 4CD career-spanning box set “ARETHA,” on some of the rarities and previously unreleased tracks included, with a focus on Aretha’s spectacular 1970 performance on ‘This Is Tom Jones,’ in a duet of “It’s Not Unusual” and “See Saw”…

1970 is proving to be a banner year for Aretha.  Just three years into her tenure with Atlantic Records, her career is reaching dazzling new heights, beyond  – we can speculate – her own expectations. In March, she earns her third Grammy Award and the same month, she’s put the finishing touches to “Spirit In The Dark,” remarkably  her eighth Atlantic LP (including “Aretha In Paris”) in an amazing head-spinning thirty-six month time span! 

The year is a milestone for Aretha in many ways: she’s ended her marriage to manager Ted White, began a new personal relationship with photographer Ken Cunningham, given birth to her fourth son (Kecalf) and has experienced a triumphant European tour in the autumn of 1970. 

The demand for Aretha is at a new level and she agrees to perform on a popular US variety show, “This Is Tom Jones,” hosted by the Welsh-born singer whose international fame had begun to take root in 1965 with the across-the-board hit “It’s Not Unusual,” which showcased his early R&B-influenced vocal style. In fact, Jones became one of the first UK singers to achieve success on the US R&B charts with the song, a Top 30 R&B and Top 10 pop hit.  At the time, many R&B radio listeners were unaware that Jones was British and he cited the influence of black artists such as Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson and Brook Benton on his own style.

“This Is Tom Jones” began airing in the US in 1969 and featured a wide array of musical guests, often with whom Jones would duet.  Among those appearing in seasons 1 & 2 in 1969 and 1970 were Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Little Richard, Ray Charles and one of Jones’ favourite male vocalists of the ‘60s, Wilson Pickett.

Aretha, fresh from her successful European shows and looking radiant, tapes a segment for the show in Los Angeles and episode #44, airing on October 9th, includes some great duets with Tom. The obvious upbeat medley of Tom’s “It’s Not Unusual” and Aretha’s 1969 US Top 10 R&B and pop cover of Don Covay’s “See Saw” is energetic and then Aretha, initially sitting at the piano, delivers a super soulful “Spirit In The Dark.”  The groove is hot and now up on her feet, Aretha is full of passion, with Jones moved to join in.  One other segment of the show includes a truly lovely duet between Aretha at the piano and Tom on the standard, “The Party’s Over,” musical magic indeed. The videos of all the Aretha-Tom segments are a treat to watch and none more than “It’s Not Unusual/See Saw,” the audio for which is one of the truly special moments on Disc 2 of the “ARETHA” box set

The ARETHA box set…


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