Tom Jones: ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ Was a ‘Backhanded Compliment’

Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” is one of the most famous songs from a 1960s movie. Despite this, Jones initially hesitated to perform the song. Another celebrity convinced him to record the popular track.

Tom Jones wanted to ‘punch the s*** out of’ ‘What’s New Pussycat?’

1965 was a big year for Jones’ career. He performed the title song for the James Bond film Thunderball. In the same vein, he performed the title song for the Peter Sellers/Woody Allen comedy What’s New Pussycat? Sellers was a major star at the time and Allen was on his way to becoming a household name. Despite this, Rolling Stone reports Jones hesitated to record the song “What’s New Pussycat?” even though Burt Bacharach asked him to do so.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to punch the s*** out of it on ‘What’s New Pussycat?,’” Jones said. “And Burt said, ‘That’s what I want. It’s a crazy song for a crazy film. … I have to have a voice of authority.’”

Jones had mixed feelings about Bacharach offering “What’s New Pussycat?” to him. “It’s sort of a backhanded compliment: ‘I’ve got to have you, but this is the song,’” Jones said laughing. Regardless of what Jones thought about “What’s New Pussycat?,” he enlivened the track with one of his signature full-throated vocal performances.

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What Tom Jones thought about the song

Jones gave fans some insight into how he feels about “What’s New Pussycat?” and his other big hits. “They were iconic records. I’m not saying I don’t like them,” he adds of the hits. “When Burt convinced me to do that song, it took a while. He did say, ‘This is not a rhythm & blues song.’ Soul music had kicked in by then, and I wanted to do Wilson Pickett songs, Solomon Burke, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding. But I wasn’t getting the songs.” 

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The way the world reacted to ‘What’s New Pussycat?’

“What’s New Pussycat?” became a massive hit for Jones. The track reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 12 weeks. Its parent album, What’s New Pussycat, reached No. 114 on the Billboard 200, remaining on the chart for five weeks. What’s New Pussycat included another one of Jones’ big hits: “With These Hands,” which peaked at No. 27, remaining on the chart for eight weeks. Notably, “With These Hands” is much more sentimental and serious than “What’s New Pussycat.”

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“What’s New Pussycat?” was a big hit in the United Kingdom as well. The Official Charts Company reports the track peaked at No. 11 in the U.K. and lasted on the chart for 10 weeks. Its parent album did not chart in the U.K. Meanwhile, “With These Hands” reached No. 13, staying on the chart for 11 weeks. While Jones initially saw the opportunity to sing “What’s New Pussycat?” as a veiled insult, it seemed to connect with audiences in the U.S. and the U.K.

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