By Matt Micucci
Written by Paul Anka, My Way is one of Frank Sinatra’s singatures songs as well as one of his least favourite.
When Sinatra recorded My Way in 1968, it instantly became one of his signature songs. When it was released in 1969 on Reprise, it became the “official” anthem of his first and final retirement from the stage in 1970, which would only last some two years before his indefinite return. So heartfelt was his interpretation of the song that many guessed he may have contributed to his composition. Not only was this not true, but he didn’t even particularly like the song to begin with.
Most people know that My Way was based on the song Comme d’habitude composed by Claude Francois and Jacques Reveaux. The first version of the melody was to be adorned by lyrics in English and entitled For Me. When many singers turned it down, new lyrics were written by Francois and Gilles Thubaut, and they revolved around a couple in a strained relationship and was inspired by Francois’ recent break up with fellow French singer France Gall.
Paul Anka heard Francois version of the song while on holidays in the South of France. Unable to be it out of his head, he flew back to Paris to negotiate the rights to the song. A symbolic sum of one dollar was paid, and Anka would be allowed to adapt it provided that the composers of the melody would be allowed half of the revenue of any version of the song that Anka would produce.
The Canadian-American singer, songwriter, and actor had a dinner in Florida with Sinatra and a few more people, in which the famed and celebrated crooner had announced that he was sick of the business and expressed his wishes of quitting. This inspired Anka to adapting the French for Sinatra and re-write completely unrelated lyrics for it. Years later he recalled “I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’ But that’s the way he talked. I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys – they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.”
Sinatra was in a casino in Nevada when Anka called him at five in the morning, claiming he had something special for him. Despite pressures from his own record company, Anka insisted all the time that this was a song for Frank and no one else. Later on, he would go on to record a verions of his own, sometimes in a duet with others from Julio Iglesias in Spanish in 1998 and with actor Gabriel Byrne for the movie Mad Dog Time in 1996.
Countless other artists covered it to. Elvis’ version, released as a single shortly after his death in 1977, outsold Sinatra’s. The Sex Pistols even adapted a punk version that has since made it one of the most famous punk anthems of the time. Interestingly, before Anka acquired the rights to it, David Bowie was commissioned to write his own version, which then inspired one of his most famous songs years later, Life on Mars.
However, the song is very much associated with Frank Sinatra, who would continue to perform it at live shows for the rest of his life. It was also Sinatra’s last Top 40 hit in the US until 1980, when he returned with New York, New York. It was a runaway hit in the UK, where it holds the record for the longest stay on the chart, which it re-entered six times between 1970 and 1971. Nobody sold it quite like him, and yet, he was the first not to like it. It’s possible that he may have simply gotten tired from singing it. However, his daughter Tina claimed that “he always thought that the song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.”