There's money in old Tom Jones hits

Ever heard "Delilah" by Tom Jones? You must have done. Cracking piece of over the top sixties pop melodrama, belted out in fine style by the Voice from the Valleys. It had a plot that ... well, it had a plot, which is notable in itself in this bubblegum world of pap. Not only that but said plot was twisted, embittered, shot through with tortured madness and dark emotions - or camp as hell, depending on how kitsch and knowingly ironic you're posing as. I first encountered it as a small boy at my Nan's house. She had the original Decca single and it was the only record of hers I liked (well, the Foden Brass Band weren't much competition). My Nan must have had hidden facets, as we discovered at her funeral when we found out she was a lifelong Man Utd fan. One can only imagine the effect of her fondness for Tom Jones on an impressionable child.

In the song, the narrator is passing by his girlfriend's house one night when he looks up to witness her infidelity in stark silhouette:

"I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind."

How does this make him feel? Hurt, wounded, suicidal? Nope - bonkers:

"As she betrayed me, I watched and went out of my mind."

Brief pause while Tom hits the high notes for the distraught, overblown chorus:

"My, my, my Delilah,
Why, why, why, Delilah,
I could see that girl was no good for me,
But I was lost like a slave that no one could free."

We're only halfway through, and already we've gone through voyeurism, betrayal, psychosis and enslavement. All this and a biblical allusion too. When was the last time you got that lot from a Spice Girls song?

In the next, and final verse (economy used to be a virtue before everything - songs, films, books - became too damn long for its own cleverness), the wronged lover pops round to "explain" a few things to the errant Delilah:

"She stood there laughing,
I felt the knife in my hand,
And she laughed no more..."

Revenge taken and honour satisfied, he returns to his dingy bedsit to mourn his now somewhat bloody and shredded love and wait for justice to punish his sins:

"So before they come to break down the door,
Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn't take anymore."

One little fling and he cracks up! Imagine how upset this guy would have got if he'd caught her with the local rugby team. This song is a stone-cold classic, although I say that as the man who wrote "Cutting Up Susie", in many respects its spiritual cousin (or perhaps xeroxed copy).

It's a crime that the song hasn't been covered more often by the kind of artists that produce whole albums of this stuff. Andrew Eldritch for one should be on his hands and knees begging for permission to use it, judging by the hatchet fest that Hot Chocolate's "Emma" became in his hands. (I mentioned this wish to the esteemed Dr C, of Underneath The Rock and GPS fame, and his response was that Eldritch's entire career had been a cover of "Delilah".)

How about The Prodigy? Skunk Anansie? Courtney Love's response as the murdered Delilah? Charles Manson? Sorry, getting a bit sick now. I think the Martyrs should cover it forthwith, as being about obsessive, unfulfilled love and psychopathic rage, it's right up our usual street. We would recreate it as a taut, murky, discordant, trip-hop workout with a muttered, threatening vocal. Or perhaps a jolly seaside knees-up. (People who write a song called "Tractor Killer" are capable of anything.)

It's also quite a versatile song. For example, it could be reworked with a nineties feminist twist:

"She stood there laughing,
I saw the gun in her hand,
- shit -
So I ran for the door."

Or perhaps you could turn it into a paean to TV cookery goddesses:

"She stood there baking,
I felt the knife in my hand,
So I peeled the spuds.

My, my, my Delia,
Why, why, why, Delia,
So before you roast another whole boar,
Forgive me, Delia, I just couldn't eat anymore!"

Expect a radical new cover version to become no.1 before the new millenium. And Delia - I hope you'll be flattered.

28th January 1998

Update, 1st March 1998: Once again, my invaluable (and distinctly alluring) young researcher has brought further relevant information to my attention. Space, with the assistance of Cerys Matthews, the "not really a" singer from Catatonia, have apparently released a single called "The Ballad of Tom Jones". I say apparently because I've somehow managed to miss it so far. In the song, the male and female protagonists fight tooth and claw, coming close to joint homicide, before hearing "Delilah" and deciding to make up. And frankly, after marvelling at those stabbing chords and melodramatic crescendos, who wouldn't forget their worst insults? Yes, I finally got hold of my Nan's copy of the single. It's scratched to hell and almost worn through to the (considerably less interesting) b-side, but it's the one childhood memory tha has so far lived up to resurrection. Which is more than my Goodies videos achieved.

It sounds to me as if Space's tribute is in perfect keeping with the kitsch spirit of the original, without settling for the obvious sop of a mere cover.

Big Bubbles (no troubles)