Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paul Anka

Well, Paul Anka was Canadian, so that’s worth something. He didn’t stay in Canada, of course, neither did The Diamonds or The Crew Cuts, and neither did Joni Mitchell or Neil Young, no way he could have become who he became had he stayed. But he was from Ottawa, which is the capital, and it’s a nice city, about 2 hours drive from here. Ottawa, I’d go. Capital Hill, Spark Street mall, National Gallery etc.

This collection starts with an old album called Paul Anka Sings His Big 15, which had 15 tracks, obviously, 12 of which had been hits. That was on ABC Paramount, and he went on to have more hits on ABC Paramount, some of which I have here. They all came from singles.

He was a teen idol, and a dippy one. His music tended to be on the maudlin side, but I guess teenage girls liked it, because he was quite popular.

In 1962 he switched to RCA, and he never had the success he’d had on ABC Paramount. Still though, he put 11 singles on the chart between 1962 and 1969, and I have some of them here, all of which come from more singles.

He was shutout between 1963 and 1969, but when he reappeared he was different. Paul Anka was an adult. He sounded different, his songs were different, more adult, sometimes in both senses of the word.

Around 1970 he switched over to Buddha, and he didn’t have huge success there, but he made some decent records, and I got those songs, including both his hits on the label, from a Canada only release called Greatest Hits on the Quality label.

Then came his second big breakthrough, and that period is captured here on His Best. And that is his United Artists period. And that’s the whole story.

Paul Anka:

Diana – The song with the million dollar sax. Totally dumb, I mean it’s about his baby-sitter for Pete’s sake, though obviously he was too old for a baby sitter when he did this, about 16. A song of unrequited love (well what do you expect when you have a crush on your baby-sitter) and Anka’s first hit, it went to #1 in the summer of 1957. Not to be confused with “Diane” by Mantovani, The Bachelors etc.
Put Your Head On My Shoulder – This may be Anka’s key first-era ballad, and it’s pretty sappy. From the fall of 1959. I remember that some guys in high school put together an impromptu vocal quartet, and they performed at school functions once or twice, and they did this song, and a teacher, one whose nickname was “the Armored Truck,” well she put her head on the lead singer’s shoulder, and wow…
Crazy Love – From the spring of 1958. Not the Van Morrison song. I don’t quite get what’s crazy about crazy love, but whatever it is, Anka is quite perturbed.
Don’t Gamble With Love – A precautionary tale. We’re not really told what said gambling consists of, but you better not do it…
I Love You Baby – A basic uptempo poppy love song, with a harpsichord. Covered by Freddie & The Dreamers. From late 1957.
Midnight – A song about you-know-what. Something about midnight appeals to pop music, just ask Wilson Picket. The Night Time Is The Right Time sang Ray Charles. From the summer of 1958.
Don’t Ever Leave Me – You have to wonder what’s going in a relationship that makes one party ask the other to make a promise like this.
It’s Time To Cry – Indeed, we live in a feel-good culture, where sometimes we think there’s no room for negativity. But, indeed, “when your baby leaves you, that’s the time to cry…” Where is Johnny Ray when you need him? From the winter of 1960.
Lonely Boy – A song of supreme self-pity. Number 1 in the summer of 1959. Covered by Donny Osmond.
All Of A Sudden My Heart Sings – More sappy romance. Funny, Mel Carter covered it, but it doesn’t sound sappy when he does it. This is from the winter of 1959.
I Miss You So – A song of separation. From the spring of 1959. A hit in 1965 for Little Anthony & The Imperials.
You Are My Destiny – This is high drama. She is not just his intended, or his soul-mate, no sir, she is his destiny. That puts a lot at stake in this relationship. From the winter of 1958.
That’s Love
Puppy Love – One of the classic “we are not too young” songs. That doesn’t make it any good. It’s quite hokey actually. A hit in the spring of 1960. Donny Osmond put it back on the chart about a dozen years later.
Adam And Eve – Genesis: the pop version. From the spring of 1960 and the B side of Puppy Love.
A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine – A man sits in a bar, drinks wine to forget, and listens to the sad music. There is no steel guitar on this track. And he’d do better with gin. From the summer of 1962.
Summer’s Gone – And so is his romance. Chad & Jeremy did it better on A Summer Song, but there you go. This was a hit in the fall of 1960. At least they timed it right.
Hello Young Lovers – A song, I suppose, that cupid might sing. From the fall of 1960. This was a pop standard; Perry Como did this also.
Dance On Little Girl – One of those songs where he watches his girl dance with someone else; think Save The Last Dance For Me or I’ll Never Dance Again. From the summer of 1961.
Every Night (Without You) – Paul prays. But there’s a determination here, it’s a song you can march to. “I keep praying” he sings, but “I command” would sound more natural in the musical context. From the fall of 1962.
Remember Diana – The sequel to Diana, but it sounds like a rewrite of Little Darling by The Gladiolas / The Diamonds. Turns out things didn’t really work out with his former baby-sitter. In fact, he’s quite peeved. From the spring of 1963.
I Love You In The Same Old Way – Paul waxes nostalgic for a time that he describes as long ago, but which was probably a year ago. From the fall of 1960, and the B side of Hello Young Lovers.
My Home Town – Is he singing about Ottawa? I don’t know, but this is one of the silliest songs in his vast repertoire of silly songs. “I hear a birdie up in this tree” he sings, as he describes the music in his heart. From the summer of 1960.
Eso Beso (That Kiss) – Sounds like Vegas, with a bossa nova beat. Anka is sounding here a bit older, more like his 70s You’re Having My Baby self. From late 1962.
Goodnight My Love – After 1963, Anka disappeared from the pop charts until 1969, and this is the song he reappeared with. I remember hearing this. He doesn’t make you forget Jesse Belvin, but he sounds mature and self-confidant, and it’s not a bad comeback. From the winter of
Love Me Warm And Tender – From the spring of 1962.
Tonight My Love Tonight – I will love you forever he says. Sure, whatever it takes. A subject Anka was to return to in the mature phase of his career, much more graphically. From the spring of 1961.
Love (Makes The World Go Round) – A musical lesson in geography. This is so chauvinistic that it makes You’re Having My Baby sound like a women’s lib anthem. From the winter of 1963.
My Way – He didn’t write the melody; he took an existing French song and wrote English lyrics, and he handed it to Frank Sinatra. It’s been said that he didn’t do him any favours; personally I think it was a brilliant move. Elvis did this song, and I’ve never cared for his version. The Sex Pistols did it… Anka does, I think, an incredibly good job with it, it rivals Frankie’s I dare say. Interestingly, he skips out the first bit of the first verse. It was not a hit, which makes sense; it was issued in 1972 as the B side of a single that was never a hit either.
Do I Love You – From the fall of 1971. It wasn’t a big hit in the US, but the Canadian radio stations played it plenty, probably because of the Canadian content regulations that were implemented in 1970. In a way this is the same type of over the top love song he did early in his career, but now he had the vocal smarts to pull it off. A guilty pleasure.
Jubilation – I remember this being a radio hit, and it being a bit out of character for Anka, with its Christian content and all, and that was in the spring of 1972. And I remember a school dance where we had a DJ, and this song was the grand finale. Of course he played the full length version, which runs 7 something minutes, not the truncated radio version, and it didn’t occur to me until years later, thinking about it, that it was a strange song to play at a dance at a decidedly non-Christian school. But still, the song does get into a groove, and coda with the horns and piano and strings... Another guilty pleasure.
She’s A Lady – Anka wrote this but you’re used to hearing this by Tom Jones, who had a huge hit with it in 1970. Listen to Anka, it’s a whole other angle.
Life Song – A man looks at the big picture. Not so inspiring, this one…
Double Life – An affair. He tries, but I think it’s been done better. Listen to Lightfoot do Affair On 8th Avenue.
Love Is – A rather mundane love song. Sorry,
(You’re) Having My Baby – Ok ok, it’s a terrible song, it’s chauvinistic, it has some terrible lyrics (“You could have swept it from your life”), it’s smarmy. But hey, listen to his voice, listen to the electric piano (the riff swiped note for note from Elton John’s Daniel, but who cares), listen to that damned addictive tune. Man, I love this song. Shoot me. And yes, I remember when it was all over the radio, the summer of 1974, I was 17. What did I know…
One Man Woman / One Woman Man – The female voice on (You’re) Having My Baby was Odia Coates, and here she gets label credit. This song, which was a hit in the winter of 1975, is, I have to say, silly, a total trivialization of infidelity. They can’t all be great, can they?
Wake Up – Electric sitar colours this tale of lost love, but it really can’t save a song that just falls a little flat. The song’s ok, the vocal’s ok, but the production kills it.
Bring The Wine – Supposed to be romantic, but just overwrought.
Times Of Your Life – Maudlin. Started life as a Kodak commercial. From the winter of 1976. Thankfully I was out of the country so I missed this one.
I Don’t Like To Sleep Alone – With Odia Coates. Another one where the lyrics say one thing (I’m an imaginationless dork) and the music says another (dance with me). The descending piano figure saves this. From the spring of 1975, I was 18 and graduating.
Let Me Get To Know You – Another song about sex. This was a hit (yes I remember it) before he broke huge, that was in the winter of 1974. It was released on the Fame label, and I think my version is a rerecording for RCA, but I can’t 100% tell.
(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love – Odia Coates on this again, and now it’s just formula. From the fall of 1975.
Papa – Songs about parents don’t usually work, and this is no exception. Perhaps it’s a companion piece to Mama by B. J. Thomas.
Anytime (I’ll Be There) – This was a hit in the spring of 1976, and I was back in the country then, but I don’t remember hearing this. Hit or not, maybe even the radio stations didn’t like it…
Everything’s Been Changing – More formula stuff. A song about heartbreak, but not all that powerful.

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