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Paul Anka: from teen star to Frank Sinatra's songwriter

Paul Anka became a star at 16 and went on to even greater heights in show business, writing My Way for Frank Sinatra.

He wrote 'My Way' by adapting a French melody that cost him nothing

In 1991 Paul Anka describes in detail how My Way came together and why he gave it to Frank Sinatra. 2:52

A hit song is not something a musician usually gives away willingly, but that's just what Paul Anka did for Frank Sinatra.

Anka, of course, is known for songs spanning his teen-idol years and well beyond. Anka, who turns 79 on July 30, 2020, would later write She's a Lady for Welsh heartthrob Tom Jones. But his first big giveaway was My Way, the 1969 song that became Sinatra's signature.

As he told Valerie Pringle for CBC's Midday in 1991, Anka obtained the rights to the melody of a 1967 French song called Comme d'habitude — for no charge — and added the song's introspective lyrics during a marathon late-night session at his piano."I finished it around 5:30 in the morning and I started crying," Anka said. "Because I knew I had such a hit."

Sinatra recorded the result and scored a massive success on the charts in both the U.S. and U.K.

The 16-year-old from Ottawa talks about the kinds of fan mail he gets. 1:11

​Before that, a lonely boy   

Anka's hitmaking started early: at 16, the kid from Ottawa had his first number 1 hit in the United States with Diana, a song about a slightly older object of affection. Hot on Diana's heels were Lonely Boy and Put Your Head on My Shoulder.

As a 16-year-old newcomer in 1957, Paul Anka toured with some of the biggest acts of the day. (CBC Archives/Close-Up)

In the 1957 clip above he described the letters he got from fans — so many that his mother helped answer his mail, writing up to 500 responses in a week. Fans would invite Anka to visit them at home or ask for one of his ties as a souvenir, enclosing a dollar as reimbursement.

Anka also described the fans who turned up at the shows he was touring in at the time — on a marquee with the likes of the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and the Drifters.

"They know they're going for a good time because these are the artists they've heard on records and they've seen on TV and rock 'n' roll is the kind of thing that stimulates you to clap your hands and whistle," he said.

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