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These days, Tom Jones is trying hard to be hip. Real hard.

In his latest press photo, the Welsh pop singer has shed his familiar gold chains and leisure suit in favor of a plain T-shirt and shorts. Instead of primping for the camera, he’s pumping iron.

Moreover, for his two shows Sunday and Monday at Symphony Hall, Jones is updating his repertoire to include such recent chart hits as “Kiss” by Prince, “I Forgot to Be a Lover” by Billy Idol and “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon.

“That’s why I’m still around after all these years,” Jones said. “Some entertainers do only one particular type of music, and when that type of music goes out of date, they go out of date with it.


“But every year, I put new stuff into my shows to keep things fresh--and keep myself up to date on what’s happening on the music scene.”

Jones admits his affinity for being hip is a bit unusual--especially for a 47-year-old grandfather whose vocal theatrics and flamboyant stage mannerisms have made him a favorite with Las Vegas lounge audiences since the middle 1960s.

But in his case, being hip is essential for survival. For one thing, his 10-year string of melodramatic pop hits--including “It’s Not Unusual,” ’Delilah,” ’She’s a Lady” and “Green, Green Grass of Home”--ended more than a decade ago.

For another, Jones for the last five years had been relegated to the country division of Polygram Records--a pasture where other fallen pop idols such as Kris Kristofferson and Billy Swan also have ended once their hits stopped coming.

“Pop music used to encompass everything from rock to middle-of-the-road to country,” Jones said. “But in recent years, all that has changed. The record companies have become so specialized, with a different division for every type of music.

“Once they put you into a certain category, it’s hard to get out of it. In my case, no matter what song I choose to record, Polygram wanted me to make it sound country. A while back, I was talking with Little Richard and he asked me what I was up to, recording-wise.


“When I told him I was with the country division of Polygram, he said, ‘My God, they’ve locked you up. You can’t stay there.’ And that pretty well sums up the way I felt.”

A year ago, Jones was unceremoniously dropped by Polygram. Even though he has since been unable to find a new American label, his sees his predicament as something of a blessing.

“I just finished recording a new album for Epic Records of England,” Jones said. “Most of those songs are from a new musical that just opened in London called ‘Matador,’ which tells the life story of a Spanish bullfighter.

“So if nothing else, I’m able to get back into the pop field, which is where I have always experienced my greatest success. That’s important to me because I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to start having hits again.

“This way, I at least have a chance.”

Still, Jones concedes that his optimism for a pop comeback is tempered by the realities of the music business--especially as they pertain to interpretive singers who don’t write their own material.

“In the 1960s, songwriters would write songs and then submit those songs to singers,” Jones said. “But today, most songwriters are recording their songs themselves, so there is a real shortage of good new material out there.


“Whether or not you have a hit still depends on how good your material is. But I’m not giving up hope. Look at Tina Turner, who like, me records other people’s songs.

“After struggling for years, she finally found the right material and now she’s bigger than she ever was before. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with me.

“So that’s the direction I’m taking now. I’ve recorded some great new songs in England, and with a little luck I’ll get back on the charts over there and then be able to bounce back here in the United States as well.”

Even without a hit, Jones has managed to spend at least eight months out of every year on the road. His annual touring schedule consists of more than 100 one-night stands around the country as well as several multiweek engagements in the casinos of Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City.