Paul Anka - Classic Songs My Way
Jay Mansfield 20/11/2007
Perhaps Paul Anka will always be best known as the man who wrote the English language lyrics for the French composition 'Comme d'habitude', a song he adapted for Frank Sinatra in the late 1960s. The song, retitled as 'My Way', relaunched Sinatra's career, just as he seemed to be losing interest in the music industry, and the song has gone on to become inextricably linked with Ol' Blue Eyes.
All this overshadowed Anka's own career as a singer to a certain extent; a former teen idol, he possessed a voice that has grown to become superior to Sinatra's, if not crucially the charisma. Two years ago, he released Rock Swings, whereupon a set of contemporary songs were transplanted to the Strip of Vegas and given a glitzy swing makeover. It's not a new idea ; taking songs out of the generic comfort zones they belong to and seeing if they 'work' in their new guises (ie sound reasonably appealing and make money). It's not a million miles away from what Mark Ronson is doing at the moment.
While the tracks on Rock Swings were songs that could be considered modern classics ('Smells Like Teen Spirit', 'Wonderwall', 'Everybody Hurts' etc), the makeover recipients selected for this second bash, made to mark his 50th anniversary in showbusiness, are of a slightly lesser vintage. You can almost see the record company influence here ; songs such as 'Heaven' and 'Mr. Brightside' have been selected for their overt commercial appeal.
Some of the songs do benefit from being reimagined this way. Duran Duran's 'Ordinary World' sounds especially verdant in its gentle, new, jazz jacket. The Killer's Mr. Brightside, sung by a proper singer however, is revelaed to be a literally monotonous dirge. His cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now' isn't a great success, but features a towering vocal performance.
The second disc is a collection of his own greatest hits, dating from (as you might expect) 1957. Ultimately, Anka isn't known for his own back catalogue, and so most of these songs aren't remotely as well known as the singular 'My Way', mainly because his own career reached its peak when he was still a teenager. Although this early material is green and his voice doesn't yet possess its later drama, the soundscapes are suitably dark and brooding. His own best known composition (words and music) was also brought to the attention of the masses by someone else; 'Puppy Love', was recorded by Donny Osmond, and isn't quite as cuddly and fluffy as you might remember, and does in fact possess a tremulous melodramtic streak throughout it.
In the end, if you enjoy swing music, you'll probably appreciate the sublime musicianship and Anka's rich voice. The collection of Anka's hits will appeal should you not already own them, but maybe you won't be so fond of the covers disc, an experiment which doesn't quite work.
If you don't like swing...