‘Sinatra pumps it up with the grandeur of an operatic aria’
My Way – Frank Sinatra
Reprise 0817 (USA) / Reprise RS 20817 (UK)
Recorded at Oceanway Recording, Hollywood, 30th December 1968
Released March 1969
Writers Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux, Gilles Thibault & Paul Anka
Producer Don Costa
USA #27 5/69 UK #5 5/69
While Frank Sinatra’s years with Capitol during the 1950s were undoubtedly the most productive and successful of his career (and you can now buy a box-set of all his Capitol albums, 12 in all, for just £15), in 1961 he established his own record label, Reprise, and enjoyed continuing chart success throughout the next decade. ‘My Way’ would however be his last American hit single for 11 years and preceded the first of his endless retirements. With this in mind, Sinatra had long been trying to persuade Paul Anka, famous for his late 50s international hit ‘Diana’, to compose an appropriate song, and Anka came up with the goods while on holiday in France. There, he heard the song ‘Comme, D’Habitude’ (English translation, ‘As Usual’) by Claude Francois and recognising the potential in the melody he bought the rights and composed a new English lyric with Sinatra in mind. Written in his Park Lane apartment during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, Anka says he sat down at the piano with the music and wondered what Sinatra would say about his life.
Recorded on December 30th 1968 in Hollywood, ‘My Way’ was released the following spring and soon became a huge hit in England (122 weeks hanging round the charts between 1969 and 1972), though in America it only reached Number 27, probably down to a lack of Top 40 radio play. Paul Anka says that when Sinatra’s version was released, his own record company RCA were extremely annoyed that he hadn’t recorded the song himself, though he says at the time the song would have been totally inappropriate – Anka was 28-years-old in 1969. Though latter-day Sinatra fans often cite ‘My Way’ as their favourite, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself grew to hate the song that became his signature tune, though at a 1974 concert he introduced the song thus: “We’re about to sing the national anthem, but you needn’t rise.” Infamously covered by Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols in 1978, interestingly David Bowie tried his hand at a translation of the French original before Paul Anka. Written in 1968 and entitled ‘Even A Fool Learns To Love’ the song was never released and may not actually have been recorded, although Bowie’s lyrics are available on various internet sites.
In his exhaustive analysis of all of Sinatra’s recordings, Sinatra! The Song Is You (Scribner, New York, 1995), a tome that should surely be on all his fans’ bookshelves, Will Friedwald declares that ‘My Way’ (5 rambling verses and no chorus – the title line simply appears at the end of each verse) isn’t actually much of a song and writes, “The way he (Sinatra) transforms this unpromising source material takes him beyond alchemy and into the realm of sheer magic. Sinatra pumps it up with the grandeur of an operatic aria, a five-minute exercise in self-indulgence that starts quietly, even intimately, and ends enormously.” There were 2 takes of ‘My Way’ at the session which was completed within half-an-hour, and expert musicologists reckon that due to Sinatra’s phrasing and breath control, the released version is actually a composite of the two takes, the edit appearing just before verse four, “I’ve Loved, I’ve laughed and cried.”
In an interesting little tailpiece, global paint manufacturer Dulux came something of a cropper in 1993 after their famous (and undeniably cuddly) trademark sheepdog was seen to be ‘singing’ a parody of ‘My Way’ in a UK television advert with such lines as, ‘And now, the end is here, He’s finished off the final ceiling’. On hearing this, Mr Anka went ballistic threatening to sue everyman (and his dog) for an act he called ‘very demeaning’, telling the Daily Mail, “They have no right to take that lyric and do that with it. It is special. I have turned down close to a million dollars from others who wanted to use the lyric. We do that so that people don’t associate it with something like a singing dog.” (Turned down offers had apparently come from Lego and Burger King both of whom had received the Anka brush-off)
Dulux, or their advertising agents, seem to have clearly misunderstood (or deliberately tried to circumvent) the copyright laws. They claimed that they had licensed the rights from the original French publishers, though this of course only covered the tune – the English lyrics which they parodied were owned by Mr Anka. Rather than pay him a small fortune in court, they withdrew the offending advert, presumably with their tail between their legs! (Though in fact, you can still view it in 2014 on youtube) Mr Anka’s final word on the subject: “The Dulux dog version of the song took the gloss off it.”
Copyright © 2016 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.