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The rise of legendary singer and sex symbol Sir Tom Jones

Sir Tom Jones has sold more than 100 million records over his remarkable six-decade career
Sir Tom Jones has sold more than 100 million ... 05:47

Sir Tom Jones has sold more than 100 million records over his remarkable six-decade career. In his new memoir "Over the Top and Back," Jones recounts how he rose from his roots in the coal fields of Wales to become an international singing star and an honorary knight of the realm.


Jones was 24 years old when he left Wales and moved to London to break into music, reports CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason. Within a year he had a number one hit -- "It's Not Unusual."

The first time he heard the song, Jones recounted he had said, "I have to have this song. I've got to have it."

The problem was Jones' manager, Gordon Mills, who co-wrote the song, wanted to give it to another singer. But Jones was told he could record the demo.

"And Gordon said, 'Oh, I can write a million of those.' He never did," Jones said, laughing. "He never wrote another one like that."

But when that other singer, Sandie Shaw, turned down the tune, Jones got his chance.

"Peter Sullivan, who was my recording manager, he said, 'We gotta rough this up. You know what I mean? We gotta just -- you gotta rip into it,'" Jones said.

The demo song needed more energy.

"I said, 'What about brass?' So that was that. It's still a -- it's the most important record to me," Jones said.

His next hit would be the theme song to a Woody Allen film, written by Burt Bacharach, called "What's New Pussycat."

When Jones first heard the song, he thought it was a joke.

"I thought that Burt Bacharach was joking with me...Because I mean it's got a really strange melody, even today... I was 25 then. And I thought, 'Well, what is this?' He said, 'This is not a rhythm and blues song.' And I said, 'I know that,'" Jones recalled.

A string of hits through the '60s made him a star, but it was the ABC series "This is Tom Jones" that made him a household name.

"Is 'This Is Tom Jones' really what kind of turned you into a sex symbol?" Mason asked.

"I think I was a sex symbol as soon as I started singing," Jones said.

"Do women still throw underwear at you?" Mason asked.

"No, no, no. It started in the Copacabana in New York," Jones said. "In '68. Yeah, they were handin' me table napkins. And this woman stood up, you know, just handed 'em to me like this. So like I didn't miss a beat. I said, 'Watch you don't catch a cold.' You know you gotta sorta roll with it. You know what I mean. But it was written up in the newspaper, you see."

According to Jones, it backfired.

"Because I wasn't being taken seriously as a singer. ...They saw that more than they heard what I was singing," Jones said.

Jones admitted he used to want to be a white Wilson Pickett, singing style-wise.

"I met Otis Redding, and he said to me, 'Man...we all try to do what you do.' Meaning the soul sense. I said, 'Well, I'm trying to do what you,'" Jones said, laughing.

At one point, Jones got opposite advice from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Presley listened to Jones' records but didn't like an album of standards he released.

"He said, 'Tom, we don't go there,'" Jones said. "He said, 'We leave that to Frank.' Right? We. But he said 'we.' And I thought 'Wow, Elvis is like--'"

"Putting me in the same--," Mason said.

"Yeah, exactly. So that was a big compliment to me," Jones said, smiling. "And then you know I'd be talking to Frank Sinatra at the Galleria Bar havin' a few, you know, in Caesar's Palace. And he'd say, 'You know you've got a great jazz voice, Tom. You know, leave that pop stuff alone. You know, you gotta come with me.' And I said, 'Frank, I love it all. I do.'"

That has both worked for and against Jones.

"I always used to think that my versatility would be an asset. But sometimes people say, 'Well, what is Tom Jones?' You know, I'm not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You know what I mean?" Jones said.

"Do you want to be?" Mason asked.

"I would like to be, yeah. Because I'm basically a '50s rock 'n' roll singer," he responded.

He may not be in the hall yet, but since 2006, Jones has been a member of an even more exclusive club -- knighthood.

"When you kneel there and the queen puts the sword on your shoulders -- I mean that was unbelievable to me. That was something I never dreamed of in my wildest dreams that I would become a knight," Jones said.

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