Paul Anka’s songwriting prowess has offered him remarkable longevity in the business, as he states “Songwriting has separated me from the pack. It has allowed me to survive the cultural changes and musical changes…”
Paul Anka is a legendary singer and songwriter whose career spans over fifty years. His music is unique for its swinging melodies and romantic lyrics, recalling starry-eyes and innocence, with a sophisticated old world charm.
His songwriting prowess has offered him remarkable longevity in the business. Anka has always been ahead of the curve, anticipating changes in pop culture and absorbing new musical styles with ease. When writing for others he maintains his objectivity, tailoring his compositions to suit the recording artist.
Starting as a ‘50s teen pop idol could have been a fleeting achievement, but Anka’s success was only beginning. With remarkable fortitude, he matured into a critically acclaimed singer and songwriter, releasing 125 albums and penning a remarkable 900 songs; 130 of them for the most accomplished and well-known artists in music. He is currently ranked as the 21st most successful artist in Billboard music history.
Born in 1941, Paul Anka is the eldest of three children from a tight-knit Lebanese family. His talents were recognized early on by his parents, as their little boy had performance ambitions by the time he was 12. He learned the basics in church choir and in school, where he played drums, trumpet and piano. At 13, he was performing locally with his group, the Bobbysoxers. He even used his mother’s car without permission, or a license, to drive to local talent shows.
In 1956, he went to Los Angeles to visit his uncle and break into the music business. He convinced Modern Records A&R man Ernie Freeman to listen to his song Blau-Wile Deveest Fontaine, and was signed immediately to the label’s subsidiary, RPM, whose other artists included B.B. King, Roscoe Gordon, Elmore James, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and the Cadets.
Blau-Wile Deveest Fontaine was released in 1956 with the Cadets on back-up vocals and I Confess on the b-side. Anka was overjoyed when he made his way back to Ottawa, and even appeared on CBC’s Pick the Stars and Cross-Canada Hit Parade. Unfortunately, the record barely caused any waves.
Anka explored journalism as a potential career path, working briefly at the Ottawa Citizen, but music remained a great passion. In 1957, at the age of 16, he traveled to New York with a copy of his song Diana in tow, to meet with ABC-Paramount’s A&R man Don Costa. After playing Diana and a few of his other songs on piano, the label executives were so impressed that he was signed a week later.
Diana was his first single and sold over 20 million copies worldwide. He went on to write and record numerous other Top 10 U.S hits, such as You Are My Destiny, Lonely Boy, Put Your Head On My Shoulder, Puppy Love, My Home Town, and Dance on Little Girl.
Although famous as a teenage pop icon, Anka also had credibility as a songwriter, penning the hit It Doesn’t Matter Anymore for Buddy Holly and the theme for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. In later years he penetrated the adult market with Tom Jones’ bestselling record She’s a Lady, Donny Osmond’s cover of Puppy Love, Barbra Streisand’s Jubilation, and the English lyrics to the song My Way, which was made famous by Frank Sinatra and is one of the most memorable songs in modern music history. Other noteworthy artists who have performed Anka’s songs include Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, Sid Vicious, Robbie Williams and Céline Dion.
Anka stunned the industry in 1962 when he purchased his masters and publishing for $250 000 and left ABC-Paramount for RCA Victor. He signed a deal with them to produce his finished masters through his own Camy Productions. He also started Spanka Music Corp, his very own publishing company. At this time he had a few mild hits such as Love Me Warm And Tender, A Steel Guitar And A Glass of Wine and Eso Beso. In the same year, he appeared in the film The Longest Day and composed its theme song, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
The pop paradigm shift caused by The Beatles in the late ‘60s cast Anka and other teen idols off the music scene, but Anka kept at it, performing in Las Vegas for weeks at a time while hanging out with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and focusing on acting and writing for movies.
Anka reappeared on the charts in 1974 with Odia Coates and their #1 hit Having My Baby, followed by two top ten hits, One Man Woman/One Woman Man and I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone. In 1975, he had success with The Times of Your Life, a single he had composed as a jingle for Kodak and then recorded. Anka was in the top ten of the Billboard Adult Contemporary Charts in 1983 with Hold Me Till The Morning Comes and again in 1996 with his album Amigos from Sony, which featured top Hispanic artists.
His 2005 release Rock Swings featured incredible renditions of some of the hardest rocking songs from the last twenty years, including Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden), Jump (Van Halen), Wonderwall (Oasis), and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana). His interpretations of these classic songs are boldly different from their originals. The album sold over half a million copies worldwide and went Gold in four countries.
Classic Songs, My Way, released in September 2007 is a mixture of new recordings of Anka’s own hits and covers of contemporary staples such as Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and The Killers’ Mr. Brightside. “When you are a musician or a songwriter you dissect everything you hear,” Anka has said. “A good song is a good song. And they usually can be done several ways.”
Anka received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1984 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1991, the government of France honoured him with the title of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2005, he received the Order of Canada and received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.