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Generational Cycles – Who’s Way?

Generational Cycles –  Who’s Way?

| On 09, Dec 2018

Darrell Mann

In 1969, Frank Sinatra released the song, ‘My Way’. Even though he was over twenty-five years into his career, it was to become the song that still today defines him. It also became the anthem (funerals, birthday parties, retirement celebrations) for a generation. To say the song hit a nerve is something of an understatement.

The song was written for Sinatra by Paul Anka. Anka was 25 years younger than Sinatra, and knew a thing or two about the changing demographic landscape. He’d heard what was to become My Way’s melody in an original 1967 French pop song, Comme d’habitude (As Usual) performed by Claude François. He heard it while on holiday in the south of France. He flew to Paris to negotiate the rights to the song. In a 2007 interview, he said, “I thought it was a shitty record, but there was something in it.” He acquired adaptation, recording, and publishing rights for the mere nominal, but formal, consideration of one dollar, subject to the provision that the melody’s composers would retain their original share of royalty rights with respect to whatever versions Anka or his designates created or produced. Some time later, Anka had a dinner in Florida with Frank Sinatra and “a couple of Mob guys” during which Sinatra said “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it; I’m getting the hell out.”

Back in New York, Anka re-wrote the original French song for Sinatra, subtly altering the melodic structure and changing the lyrics:

“At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’ And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’ I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that’. We were in the ‘me generation’ and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out.’ But that’s the way he talked. I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys – they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.”

Anka finished the song at 5 in the morning. “I called Frank up in Nevada – he was at Caesar’s Palace – and said, ‘I’ve got something really special for you.'” Anka claimed, “When my record company caught wind of it, they were very pissed that I didn’t keep it for myself. I said, ‘Hey, I can write it, but I’m not the guy to sing it.’ It was for Frank, no one else.”

A few hours before going to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Casino SANDS, Frank Sinatra recorded his version of the song on December 30, 1968, which was released in early 1969 on the ‘’My Way’’ LP and as a single. It reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart in the US. In the UK, the single achieved a still unmatched record, becoming the recording with the most weeks inside the Top 40, spending continuous 75 weeks from April 1969 to September 1971. It spent a further 49 weeks in the Top 75.

Spool forward to 1978 and along comes the last gasp of the punk rock firework and a deliberately reframed rendition of the song by ex-Sex Pistol bassist, Sid Vicious. In Vicious’ version everything was turned around 180 degrees. It was the opposite of heart-felt. The opposite of sincere. The opposite of a celebration of the ‘me generation’ Anka had tapped into.

How come? What happened that made such an iconic song become the complete opposite of what it had stood for just eight years earlier?

To answer the question, we need to look at the My Way story from a Generations perspective:

Frank (born 1915) was right in the middle of the ‘Greatest Generation’ which is why Anka thought he was the perfect person so sing the ‘I did it my way’ lyric. But Anka also knew that it was going to be bought by the upcoming ‘me generation’ Narcissists. And indeed it was. (Although this work became Frank Sinatra’s signature song, his daughter Tina says the legendary singer came to hate the song. “He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe. He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.” Which also fits the Powerful Hero archetype.)

When the Sid Vicious version of the song was released, Vicious was precisely one of the Narcissist Boomers (he was born in 1957) Anka was thinking about when he wrote the song. But Vicious’ young punk audience was precisely not. They were much younger. They were the first of the GenX Nomads and punk had been their rallying cry. Anything the Boomers liked was bad. Boomers were to be despised. And hence the vitriolic re-invention of the song and the 180-degree reversal of what it meant. Sid, of course, died in suitably tawdry circumstances soon after his version of My Way was a hit. And thus the joke became complete.

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