The 1960s pop star and song writer Paul Anka tells of his early rise to stardom and the friend he made along the way in My Way: An Autobiography
You say when you met producer and song arranger Don Costa, your “teenage life ended at 15.” What happened?
I came from a small town in Ottawa, and I was living the teenage life. I als started writing songs, short stories, and poems. I wrote a song about Diana—a girl five years my senior. I borrowed some money and in 1957 I went down to New York City with the Rover Boys, a Canadian group. I met Don Costa, who was A&R director at ABC, and I played for him. He brought in the head of the company and told me to get my parents on the phone. That week changed my life—they hired me for $100 a week as a singer-songwriter. They wanted me to write and write. Back then they were taking good care of me. The moment you are in rock and roll you live and breathe it 24 hours a day.
You worked in the Brill Building. Describe the differences between there and 1650 Broadway, just down the street.
Lieber and Stoller, Burt Bacharach—those old-guard writers were ensconced at the Brill. The new hip doo-wop groups had a young vibe to them, and they were at 1650 Broadway.
What spurred you to write this book? And why now?
It’s been coming for many, many years. Then in 2005, when my CD Rock Swings came out, I went on the Howard Stern Show—much to the chagrin of my friends—and it was a real hit. Then Steve Cohen at St. Martin’s press heard about it and contacted me. It took me a few years until I realized it was the time to write this book, and it took me another three years to write it.
You were one of the first rock/pop singers to write your own songs. Did you feel that set you apart from your contemporaries, like Fabian and others?
The gravitas and the cred it gave me in the industry was apparent. Managers emphasized to me, “You’ve got to keep writing.” It’s what I knew best.
The song “My Way” was a French pop song that you rewrote with English lyrics. How did you come across it?
When I started my career, the entire international music market was dominated by Americans. But in the ’60s a domestic market evolved overseas, with several artists copying American tunes. I lived in Paris and learned French in school in Canada, so I could speak it. Sitting by the pool one day in the south of France, “Comme d’habitude” [by Claude François] came on the radio. There was more to this song than just the basic pop 4/4 time. I was publishing with the same publisher who owned this song, so I asked to buy the rights. I put it in my drawer and let it sit but it would haunt me. Nothing emerged until I went to Miami for a show and Frank Sinatra called me and said, “Kid, we’re going to dinner.” He told me he was getting out of the business, and then he said, “You never wrote me a song.” And that’s when everything came together.