If it was possible to write an autobiography by reference to pop songs, then Tom Jones’ It’s not unusual would find a place in the early pages of the story. It comes from those days when there were shops at every corner and heading from the village of Long Sutton towards the garage on the main road to Huish Episcopi, just before the corner where the Quakers had their meeting house, there was a shop on the left hand side.
It was the 21st birthday of an uncle or an aunt and preparations were being made for the party and something must have been forgotten from the Co-Op store in the village, for the car stopped at the shop. Who was driving and what was bought is long since forgotten, but in every recalling of that moment, Tom Jones singing It’s not unusual provides the background music. Maybe it was being played on the car radio, maybe it was played on the record player that evening; the tune still evokes a sense of childhood excitement at a forthcoming event.
Why would a 21st birthday party have prompted such a sense of anticipation in a small boy who was maybe five years old, at the most seven? Why does the playing of the tune more than forty years later still serve as a memento of that innocent expectation?
Perhaps Tom Jones belongs to a time when anything seemed possible. The 1960s were years with grimness to match any other decade, yet there was a mood amongst adults that changes were happening, that the world was not going to be the same again. Maybe Tom Jones was more subversive than the groups that attracted a following only amongst younger generations – while The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rooted in the youth culture of the time, Tom Jones crossed the generations, if he had not, memories of him would not have been tied to sitting outside a village shop and the preparations for a party on the home farm.
When I listen to the song more than fifty years later, there are images from the day of the birthday party which are as strong as anything from decades later, yet there is no sustained context for them, no memory of really what was going on for us to stopped outside of that shop. The power of music to remind does not match the capacity of the mind to forget.