Teen Idol Diana, Puppy Love
Paul Anka still doing it his way
NEW YORK (Billboard) - As a recording artist, songwriter or both, Paul Anka has appeared on the Billboard charts in every decade since the 1950s.
Anka began as a teen idol with such hits as "Diana" and "Puppy Love," but he later emerged as a powerhouse songwriter, responsible for perennials including "(You're) Having My Baby," Tom Jones' "She's a Lady" and of course, Frank Sinatra's signature song "My Way."
Along the way, Anka has helped other artists start out. He invited fellow Canadian David Clayton-Thomas to appear on an episode of '60s rock 'n' roll TV performance series "Hullabaloo" that he hosted, giving the future Blood, Sweat & Tears frontman a life-changing experience that made way for great things to come.
He facilitated the signings of John Prine and Steve Goodman, and was instrumental in discovering another successful fellow Canadian, Michael Buble. Anka was executive producer of Buble's debut album. Buble returned the favor by accompanying Anka on a remake of his teen idol classic "You Are My Destiny" on Anka's new "Classic Songs, My Way" set, due August 28 from Decca.
Anka's career as an artist has been marked from the beginning by a rare insight and understanding of the music business, which he has applied consistently in maintaining his high stature within it. Anka spoke with Billboard about his 50 years in music.
Q: Is there a key to your continued success?
A: "Surrounding myself with the best people -- musicians, arrangers -- is certainly part of it. That's something that was reinforced for me by Sinatra. Once you have that base, and if you've got focus and integrity in what you're doing, then you've got a shot as a creative person. I've been a creative person first -- not just a singer and a performer."
Q: You've also been a shrewd music businessman.
A: "That doesn't necessarily guarantee longevity. But it gives you a solid foundation and independence and respect when you walk through the door and say you've got an idea."
Q: How were you able to not only escape from the confines of your initial teen idol stardom but also consistently manage to fit in with what's current?
A: "You have to be in tune with what's happening (musically) and deal with people who are part of change -- because timing is everything. After (1983 hit) 'Hold Me 'Til the Mornin' Comes,' which I wrote with David Foster, I had to decide what to do next. I did the (1996 Latin pop hit) 'Amigos' album with Ricky Martin and Juan Gabriel and Julio Iglesias and every top Hispanic act in Spanish -- just before the whole thing hit with Ricky (Martin). Then came 'A Body of Work' (1998) with Frank Sinatra and Celine Dion, so I'm always trying to think ahead with whatever has integrity and quality and might be of interest."
Q: Even in this context, 2005's "Rock Swings," swing covers of rock songs, seems like a major departure. How did you get there?
A: "Again, it was the timing. ... A lot of it is a natural transition, like a reporter becoming a journalist (the young Anka studied journalism and briefly worked at the Ottawa Citizen). I remember talking with Bobby Darin and meeting Sinatra and saying to Bobby, 'This can't last. What's next? Do we put on tuxedos and do Vegas?' Remember, there was no Beatles when I started. It wasn't a media-driven society. Hard rock hadn't hit yet. You're growing out of your teenage pants, now what do you aim for?
"So you start making the evolution with songwriting -- with 'It Doesn't Matter Anymore' for Buddy Holly, and 'The Tonight Show' theme and getting your chops at 18, 19, 20, and then being in the movie (the 1962 World War II blockbuster 'The Longest Day') and being around people like Sammy Cahn and Frank Sinatra, and if you have talent, you work your craft and you grow."
Q: Can you expand on how your songwriting and composing affected your career development and longevity?
A: "My confirmation of being a writer came first with "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," and then with 'The Longest Day' (Anka also wrote the movie theme), and then 'The Tonight Show' theme, which is where I said I would always be a creator first. But 'My Way' was the real kick in the ass in realizing, 'You've grown up now. You're here to stay.' I had made an evolution.
You're a kid, and it's tough. Look at Britney (Spears). It's not easy if you don't have the intellect -- and it smarts to really evaluate the trappings of success. I sympathize with (today's teen idols). One flop and you're out of business."
Q: Are you doing any writing now?
A: "I've written some stuff with Foster, and approach (songwriting) every month. But I realize I'm so involved in getting this album done, and then before that I had just got out of 'Rock Swings,' and then before that I was just out of Michael (Buble's debut album). I mean, how much can a brain take?"
Q: Is there time for anything else?
A: "I've just been signed by St. Martin's Press to do my memoirs. They heard my interview on Howard Stern (promoting 'Rock Swings') and all the people who called in. I've entertained doing it over the years and have had other offers through William Morris -- but I've been waiting for people to die! But everybody feels good about it, and I have to deliver it next September. So I have that and the albums."