Paul Anka has been part of the pop canon since hitting the scene at 16 with his self-penned “Diana" in 1957. Though he continued his teen idol phase with hits such as “Lonely Boy” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” he knew such youthful zeal was fleeting, and he wrote his most commanding song for his idol, Frank Sinatra -- “My Way.” (Though he had his own hits, he maintained his musical relevancy by writing for others, most recently for Drake — a fellow Canadian whose “Don’t Matter to Me” features Michael Jackson’s voice and Anka’s writing from an intended 1983 duet project.) “My Way,” is his signature, so much so that he named his most recent album and tour “Sinatra, His Songs, My Songs, My Way.” He brings the set to Parx Casino on Thursday, May 9.
Paul Anka: Philly’s my old stomping grounds. I was 15 years old, and hanging out there because everybody who was anybody was there. I got my contract, had a hit with “Diana,” and my lot – Avalon, Fabian, Rydell – were from Philly. They were my buddies. We used to tour together. I came down from Canada to New York, then to Philadelphia and American Bandstand. I worked the clubs there. This was the beginning of pop music, in its infancy, really. Philly was the hub. New York was where the record companies were located, but if you wanted to socialize, you went to Philadelphia.
PA: OK, go back to when I and my buddies like Avalon started. We were unsophisticated. You can sing – a gift — but most artists, especially today, have the IQ of room temperature. Looking with some vision regarding craft — besides, my voice was starting to change — we worshipped the Rat Pack and wanted to be cool like them. Vegas was the place, but we were still too young. I looked around and saw that some of these guys were “flavors of the month,” then disappeared. So my focus and that of Bobby Darin was that we had to swing, be like those cool guys. I wanted to change my vibe and became the young guy to headline the Copa, then the youngest to work Vegas.
PA: Exactly. I wound up at the Sands. I’m around these guys. But I really was still the writer. I was only just developing as a performer. The writing was my gravitas, and the guy I wanted to write for was Sinatra. Now, had I bugged him earlier with my pop stuff — “Puppy Love” — he would’ve thrown a chair at me. So I developed. Got to know him a few years, even introduced him to [arranger/producer] Don Costa, who was my guy, who then got to be Sinatra’s guy. Finally, we’re in Florida at the same time — he’s making a movie, we have dinner, he tells me he’s quitting show business. He’d had it. The Rat Pack was done, the FBI were all over him. He was disenchanted and tired, figured he’d do one more album with Costa, and boom.
PA: Like Streisand — always retiring. Cher’s been on a retirement tour for 20 years. I took him for his word. So I went home, started at midnight. The words are totally indigenous — I never before used phrases such as “ate it up” or “spit it out.” I was 26 at the time.
PA: Good is the enemy of great. I write until I’m satisfied. You don’t know sometimes. On the record I did with Drake for Scorpion, I knew that the song I’d written for Michael Jackson that Drake used was closer to Michael’s style. The producers knew that this was the most different song Drake had done. Still, Drake came along and we tried to break the code to marry into what we had done with Michael. There comes a time when you just stop writing.
PA: I won’t dis him.
PA: All business when working. But I knew him his whole life, his family, too. How do I put this? Whether it was subliminal or conscious, the way Michael lived in the open, having kids around him all the time, whatever that has developed into today people would really have no idea. He was always around kids. He was in the open about liking kids. He talked to me about digging Peter Pan, and preferring children to adults. His vibe? He was very young. Very astute. Knew business inside and out. He felt music, amazingly talented. You didn’t sense there was a problem.
PA: You know what feels different? Having your attorney call and say, “You’ve got 400 million downloads.” I don’t come from that world, but, somehow 400 million people pushed a button. That’s new for me. I love it. That’s the new rules.
PA: Some of my gigs are getting a boatload of young kids. And I have met with Tyga. We started some stuff. It’s there if I want it.
PA: All the people I worked with after “My Way” said we must write another one just like it. But it doesn’t work like that. There’s only room for one. The content of that lyric hit everybody. Reading as I did then – I still read four to five hours a day – I saw that we were getting into the me-me-me generation. Women were doing their thing at the end of the ’60s – we all evolved, thankfully. That was a curious notion. Still, I was only 26, and boys, scientifically, do not become adults until after they’re 30 – sorry, folks. Somehow it hit everybody: people get buried to it, married to it, guys write me letters from death row to say they identify with it. I’ve sung it for Putin, for Trump. Narcissism runs rampant today, but when it’s under control, this is the perfect song in terms of wrapping up one’s life. We’re all ego-driven. Read Freud enough and you get that.