Born 30 July 1941, Ottawa, Canada
Pop singer / songwriter / actor
Though his rock and roll relevance is negligible, Paul Anka deserves an entry in “This Is My Story” in my opinion. He was a major teen idol and a big international star in the 1950s, made some good records (amidst a lot of not so good ones) and wrote a few important songs. It was his songwriting ability that set Anka apart from most other teen idols, who were given songs by other writers and were told how to sing them.
Paul Anka was born and raised in Ottawa, where his parents (of Syrian descent) owned a restaurant. From an early age it was his dream to get into the music business. His first record was not “Diana”, as most people think, but “Blau-Wile-Deveest-Fontaine” c/w “I Confess” on the RPM label, released in September 1956. The strange title of the top side is a misspelling by Anka of the name of a fictional South African town (Blauw Wildebeest Fontein). The Sharps provided the backing vocals.
In April 1957 15-year old Paul persuaded his parents to let him travel to New York City, where he auditioned for Don Costa, then producer/arranger for ABC-Paramount. Costa was so impressed with “Diana”, he told Anka to have his parents come to NYC at once so they could sign contracts. His first session, on May 20, 1957, resulted in the single “Diana”/“Don’t Gamble With Love”. “Diana” was inspired by his unrequited love for 18-year old Diana Ayoub (hence the opening line, “I’m so young and you’re so old”). The guitar arpeggios by Al Caiola gave the record a very distinctive sound and it shot to the top of the charts, not only in the USA (for 1 week), but also in the UK (9 weeks!), Canada, Australia, Holland and many other countries. By 1962 total world sales had reached the ten million mark, then one of the biggest selling records of all time. The second ABC 45, “I Love You Baby”, flopped in the USA (# 97 for 1 week), but still made # 3 in Britain. Anka was flown over for a UK tour in December 1957, followed by an Australian tour in early 1958, where he got top billing over Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Paul’s next release, “You Are My Destiny”, was indicative of the direction his music was to take from that point on : a full, powerful production with a lush sweeping string arrangement. It reached # 7 in the US and # 6 in the UK. Four singles later, Anka made his first attempt at a standard with “(All Of A Sudden) My Heart Sings” (# 15 US, # 10 UK). A follow-up standard, “I Miss You So”, wasn’t such a big hit, so Anka returned to his own compositions. “Lonely Boy” (from the movie “Girls Town”, his second film role after “Let’s Rock”, 1958) became his second # 1 in mid-1959 and was followed by three other monster hits : “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” (# 2), “It’s Time To Cry” (# 4) and “Puppy Love" (# 2). The latter was written for Annette Funicello, whom he was dating at the time. In 1972 “Puppy Love" reached the Top 3 for a second time, in a version by Donny Osmond.
Though all of his ABC-Paramount singles charted, Paul wasn’t really happy there. He felt that, under the terms of his contract, he was not allowed sufficient control of his songwriting, publishing and production and the company was unwilling to change the terms. So towards the end of 1961 he left ABC for RCA. It was a far better deal and allowed him the freedom to more fully exploit his talents and have closer control of his career. The first two RCA singles, “Love Me Warm and Tender” and “A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine”, both went Top 15 but then the hits became smaller and from late 1963 until early 1969 he was absent from the US charts. But by that time he was a successful Las Vegas act.
In 1974 Anka made a strong comeback with “(You’re) Having My Baby”, his third number one hit (on United Artists). The song, which also featured the voice of Odia Coates, became the subject of criticism by women’s libbers. Next came three further Top 15 hits with Odia Coates and a # 7 hit with “Times Of Your Life” in 1975. His last chart entry was “Hold Me ’Til the Morning Comes” (# 40, 1983), on Columbia. After a 15-year hiatus, Anka made a new studio album in 1998 (“A Body Of Work”), followed by “Rock Swings” (2005) and “Classic Songs My Way” (2007). His concert agenda is still full.
Paul Anka wrote many songs for other artists. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Buddy Holly charted just a few weeks after Holly’s tragic death in February 1959 and reached # 1 in the UK and # 13 in the US. Tom Jones had his biggest US hit with Anka’s “She’s A Lady” in 1971 (# 2). Most famous of all is perhaps “My Way”, originally a French song (“Comme d’Habitude”), for which Anka wrote the English lyrics in 1968. It became Frank Sinatra’s signature song and has been recorded by countless artists. Also worth mentioning is that Anka wrote the title song for the movie “The Longest Day” (1962), in which he played his most important film role. Altogether, Anka had 53 entries on the Billboard pop charts, 33 of which went Top 40.
Official website : http://paulanka.com
Autobiography : Paul Anka with David Dalton, My Way : An Autobiography. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2013. 371 pages. (Paperback 2014.)
Discography / sessionography :
CDs : The Very Best of Paul Anka : 50 Original Recordings (Not Now, UK, 2013). 50 ABC-Paramount recordings on 2 CDs. Or :
Acknowledgements : Greg Shaw, Fred Bronson, Wikipedia.
Dik, October 2015
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