Meet the Man Who Wrote Frank Sinatra’s Classic “My Way”

By the late 1960s, the paradigm was shifting in music, leaving behind the old standards of the 1940s and ’50s for more rock and pop—something Frank Sinatra didn’t care to get a handle on. Feeling his career at a standstill, Sinatra was ready to call it quits and leave showbiz behind. Then, Paul Anka handed him “My Way.”

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When Paul Anka wrote “My Way,” he specifically had Sinatra’s vocals, and his intonation, in mind but admitted that he was nervous about writing a song for the crooner.

“He’d always tease me, ‘Hey kid, when are you going to write me a song?’” said Anka of Sinatra. “But I couldn’t. I was scared to death. I was writing all this teen stuff.” 

[RELATED: The 21 Best Frank Sinatra Quotes]

Teen Hit Maker

Born on July 30, 1941, in Ottawa, Ontario Canada, by the time Anka was 16, he had his first No. 1 single with “Diana,” a song about a girl he fancied from church, who barely knew he existed. Anka recorded his first song “I Confess” two years earlier and used the recording for an audition with ABC Records in New York City.

A teen idol in the 1950s, Anka was a regular guest on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and went on to write and record more hits, including “Lonely Boy,” “(You’re) Having My Baby,” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”

In 1962, Anka also wrote “Johnny’s Theme,” the theme song to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and also starred in a number of films (The Longest Day, Girls Town) and on television (That ’70s ShowGilmore Girls) throughout the years.

“My Way” is a classic for Anka, but some of his other songs became hits, including Tom Jones’ 1971 cover of “She’s a Lady.” Throughout the decades, everyone from Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, and Linda Ronstadt, among others recorded and performed Anka’s songs.

Anka also wrote songs for a number of artists throughout his career, including co-writing three songs with Michael Jackson: “This Is It,” “Love Never Felt So Good”, and “Don’t Matter to Me.”

Claude François’ “As Usual”

A turning point for Anka was his discovery of “My Way.”

The very first iteration of “My Way” was based on the 1967 French song “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”), a story about a couple in a boring marriage, which was composed by Jacques Revaux with lyrics by Gilles Thibaut and Claude François, who also performed the song.

At the time, Sinatra was getting tired of the business and contemplated quitting. “I’m quitting the business,” said Sinatra, according to Anka in a 2007 interview. “I’m sick of it. I’m getting the hell out.”

Anka, who first heard the French song while on vacation in the south of France, immediately flew to Paris to work out the publishing rights for the track, and returned home to write “My Way.”

Anka’s “My Way”

Sitting at his IBM electric typewriter at one in the morning, Anka began perusing some Sinatra interviews to get a better feel for how he spoke. “If Frank were writing this, what would he say?” said Anka. “And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near [and so I face the final curtain].’ I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was ‘my this’ and ‘my that.'”

After subtly altering the melody and rewriting the lyrics, by 5 a.m. Anka finished writing “My Way” and called up Sinatra.

“I called Frank up in Nevada—he was at Caesars Palace – and said, ‘I’ve got something really special for you,'” shared Anka. “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.”

[RELATED: Top 10 Frank Sinatra Songs]

Sinatra’s “My Way”

In 1969, Sinatra recorded and released “My Way” in one take and released it on his album of the same name.

“My Way” initially spent 75 weeks in the UK Top 40, but only reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the Easy Listening chart.

Though it didn’t have big chart success, it became Sinatra’s signature song and preceded his later classic “New York, New York” in 1979.

Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious

By the 1970s, several iconic artists shared their own rendition of the signature Sinatra croon, including Sinatra cohort Sammy Davis Jr., along with Elvis Presley and punk rocker Sid Vicious.

Presley was performing the song live by the ’70s and featured his performance of “My Way” on his Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite in 1973. Presley also recorded a live version of the song before his death in 1977 for his Elvis In Concert CBS-TV. The song was released as a single and reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

In 1979, years after the demise of The Sex Pistols, former bassist Sid Vicious also recorded an unlikely cover of the hit, which appeared in Julian Temple’s 1980 mockumentary, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. Anka never had any regrets about allowing Vicious to interpret the classic.

“Although I do like the way Sid Vicious did it, at first I thought he was just goofing on the song,” said Anka in his 2013 autobiography My Way. “He starts out making fun of it, but then he gets into it, gets swept up in it … It’s as if the song midway reaches out and grabs him by the foot.”

Anka added, “Sid put himself into the song and he really did do it his way. … I was pleased to hear that it touched him in some way, that he wanted to make that statement and at the same time I was amused by it. I was flattered that a punk like Sid, wanted to do ‘My Way,’ someone who was into music totally different from mine.”

In addition to “My Way,” read about 6 Songs You Didn’t Know Paul Ank Wrote for Other Artists HERE.

Photo by Scott Harrison / Gettyimages

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