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‘My Way’: The Unlikely Story Behind The Frank Sinatra Classic

Recorded at a time when Frank Sinatra considered retiring, ‘My Way’ has become a timeless anthem for the generations that followed.

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Frank Sinatra color Capitol Photo Archives web optimised 1000
Photo: Capitol Records Archives

Frank Sinatra‘s recording of ‘My Way’ has spent longer on the UK singles chart than any other song – an amazing 124 weeks. That’s almost twice as long as its nearest rival, which you might be surprised to know is ‘Amazing Grace’ by Judy Collins. It’s a timeless anthem that, even in a digital world where songs can be streamed endlessly at the touch of a button, will never be superseded, no matter the prevailing trends.

Sinatra recorded the song on 30 December 1968 at Western Recorders, in what was a rare event for The Chairman: an afternoon recording session. At around 3pm, 40 musicians, conducted by Bill Miller, Sinatra’s regular piano accompanist, began working on what would become an anthem for Frank – and whole generations to follow. The song was, however, originally composed as ‘Comme d’Habitude’ (‘As Usual’), written by Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault along with Egyptian-born French singer Claude François. Canadian singer Paul Anka added the English words, turning it into the classic we now know.

“I knew he liked it”

According to Anka, “I had a house in France, which was where I heard the Claude François record, and I liked the melody, but not the words so much. I knew the French publisher and they gave me the song, and I thought I would re-construct the feel of the song. I met Frank where he was filming Tony Rome, and he said he was retiring. The song became a composite of my life and his, but mostly his. I made a demo with a session singer, called him; I said that I thought I had something pretty sensational. Don saw the worth of it – Frank stayed cool, but I knew he liked it. Three, four, five weeks later, I had a phone call and they said, ‘Listen to this,’ and played the record over the phone to me. They were very excited! I’d never had a song quite of that substance. It was pressed up, but they threw the first run of copies away because they didn’t like the mix.”

Anka’s attempt to write an English lyric for ‘Comme d’Habitude’ was not the first. A few months before Anka, David Bowie had a crack calling it ‘Even A Fool Learns To Love’, but his demo (containing the lyrics “There was a time, the laughing time/I took my heart to every party/They’d point my way/How are you today?”) was rejected.

An anthem

Sinatra’s version of ‘My Way’ entered the Billboard chart in the last week of March 1969 at No.69; it was the highest new entry of the week. Six weeks later, it reached its peak of No.27, where it stalled – surprisingly, given the song’s subsequent status as an anthem. ‘My Way’ made No.5 in the UK, which accounts for the fact that the LP of the same name did significantly better in Britain in the summer of 1969.

Besides now being a karaoke classic, ‘My Way’ has been recorded by a whole mass of artists. Brook Benton took it into the US charts in 1970, and, seven years later, the song made it to No.22 in an Elvis Presley version that was The King’s first posthumous single. In Britain the following year, Sex Pistol Sid Vicious took it to No.7; almost twenty years after that, Shane McGowan, the lead singer of Irish band The Pogues, took it into the Top 30.

None of these versions top Sinatra’s, but they underscore how ‘My Way’ continues to speak to people from every walk of life.

Listen to the best of Frank Sinatra on Apple Music and Spotify.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mark

    April 2, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    He hated the song, he once quipped “if I had it My Way I’d never sing that damn song again.”

  2. Pingback: Sinatra At Budokan: A Performance Of Consummate Artistry

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