June 3, 2009


Sinatra vs. 'My Way' (WILL FRIEDWALD, 6/02/09, WSJ)

-- "I hate this song -- you sing it for eight years, you would hate it too!" (Caesars Palace, 1978)

-- "And of course, the time comes now for the torturous moment -- not for you, but for me." (L.A. Amphitheater, 1979)

-- "I hate this song. I HATE THIS SONG! I got it up to here [with] this God damned song!" (Atlantic City, 1979)

And yet, in many of those same introductions, he told the crowd that the song had been "very good to me -- and singers like me." "My Way" may have reached only No. 27 on the pop single charts (making it to No. 11 as an album), but it helped keep the Chairman on the road in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Sinatra quickly learned that audiences wouldn't let him off the stage until he gave them "My Way." Even when he tried to end a show without it, he was dragged back on to do it as an encore.

"My Way," the number that did the most to cement Sinatra's position as the leading interpreter of what was becoming known as The Great American Songbook, was, in fact, written by two guys who belonged to the rock 'n' roll camp, one of whom (Paul Anka) was a Canadian of Lebanese descent, while the other (Claude Fran├žois) was of French and Italian background and had been born and raised in Egypt. Both were better known as singers than songwriters -- Mr. Anka having started as a teenybopper idol of the early Elvis era, and Fran├žois specializing in Eurotrash "covers" of American and British hits.[...]

How could Sinatra hate a song that had done so much for him? He had spent the first 35 years or so of his career singing, essentially, one kind of song, the kind in which one human being expresses romantic love for another. It simply never would have occurred to Sinatra to sing a pretentious anthem in celebration of himself. If anything, that shtick was the territory of his sidekick, Sammy Davis Jr., who had raised his own career to a whole new level with a series of iconic hits that were inevitably about singing his own praises -- most famously "Once in a Lifetime" and "I Gotta Be Me." That's why Sinatra hated "My Way": Although it was anticipated, to a degree, in his 1966 hit "That's Life," before Paul Anka's lyrics entered his world, it would have seemed like the tackiest thing imaginable to stand in the middle of Madison Square Garden and shout out to the world how great he was.

Deep down, as Shirley MacLaine and others who knew him intimately have insisted, Sinatra was a genuinely humble man who never took his own success for granted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 3, 2009 6:30 AM
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