‘People who sing it want the world to know they exist’: 50 years of My Way

It was based on a French pop song, never made it to No 1 … and yet, thanks to Frank Sinatra, has become a staple at funerals, karaoke bars and everywhere else. Why?

In the late 60s, a young songwriter called David Bowie was asked by his manager to write an English lyric for a French pop song, Comme d’habitude (As Usual), by Claude François. “I turned in the pitifully awful title Even a Fool Learns to Love, which he rejected out of hand, quite rightly, I feel,” Bowie remembered in 1999. “And it passed on to Paul Anka, who did his own English lyric. And he called it, simply and effectively, My Way.”

Anka’s version, sung by Frank Sinatra, entered the UK charts 50 years ago this week. It remained in the Top 100 for 124 weeks, a record-holding 75 of those in the Top 40. One of the world’s most covered and karaoked songs, it is the second most popular pick on Desert Island Discs, and consistently among the top three choices at UK funerals.

The song began life in early 1967 as For Me, a gibberish/English number by the songwriter Jacques Revaux. François, raw from his breakup with France Gall, turned it, with the lyricist Gilles Thibaut, into a sort of proto-Love Will Tear Us Apart: “My hand strokes your hair … you turn your back on me / As usual.” Anka was a former 50s teen idol who had grown up idolising Sinatra and spent time running as a junior member of his Rat Pack. He first heard the song on the radio while holidaying in Mougins that summer and bought the rights to rewrite it, with an English lyric, from Barclay Records. “I just sat on it for a while, letting it manifest and compute,” he remembers.

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