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How 2024 Super Bowl Anthem ‘My Way’ Ended Up With Frank Sinatra



Las Vegas was built on glitter, risk and razzle dazzle and the organizers of this year’s Super Bowl were wise to pay tribute to the man who arguably played the biggest role (besides Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel) in making the Sin City what it is today: Frank Sinatra, whose Rat Pack-era residencies defined Vegas in the 1950s, along with his best-known song, “My Way.”

The song — which is now among the most-covered songs of all time — already had traveled a long way before it reached Ol’ Blue Eyes in 1968. Since then, it has been performed countless thousands of times, by everyone from Elvis Presley and Nina Simone to Sid Vicious and Miley Cyrus. But even more bizarrely, a few months before Sinatra laid down the definitive version, it had passed through the hands of a young David Bowie.

The story begins in France in 1967, where Parisian composer Jacques Revaux penned a ballad with English lyrics called “For Me,” about a couple falling out of love. After his demo was rejected by a handful of British and French vocalists (Petula Clark among them), Revaux soon transformed the same track into “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”) with singer Claude François and lyricist Gilles Thibault, and had a hit on the French pop charts in February 1968.

Enter David Bowie.

In 1968, the pre-“Space Oddity” Bowie was a struggling London singer-songwriter who’d released several singles and an album to underwhelming success. He had already tried on several guises (mod, psychedelic pop, novelty songs like “The Laughing Gnome”) in his futile-to-date ploys for stardom.

Bowie’s then-publisher, David Platz, worked with another music publisher, Geoffrey Heath, who held limited options for the British rights to “Comme d’habitude.” When Heath asked Platz for a lyricist to adapt the song into English, the latter offered up Bowie. His attempt, titled “Even a Fool Learns to Love,” even featured a nod to his own 1967 ballad, “When I Live My Dream.”

“I wrote some really terrible lyrics,” Bowie told author Michael Parkinson in a 2002 interview. “I sent it back… and thought, ‘That will be the last I hear of that.’ Then I heard it on the radio and I thought, ‘That’s that tune, it must be my song … But hang on, these are different lyrics’, and it was Sinatra singing ‘My Way.’”

Those updated lyrics had been written by none other than legendary American crooner Paul Anka, who’d heard the French original during a vacation in the south of France. He negotiated the rights to the song, acquiring its adaptation, recording, and publishing rights for one dollar, according to an interview he gave Terry Gross during a 2005 episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

Immediately thinking of Sinatra — his cadence, manner of speak-singing and tough demeanor — Anka set about writing new lyrics, shifting its melodic structure slightly. In December 1968, with producer Sonny Burke and arranger Don Costa, Sinatra recorded Anka’s newly-minted “My Way” in one take and released it through his Reprise label in three months later. While the song only reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969, it has since become as iconic as the singer himself.

Anka told this writer last year, “All the people I worked with after Frank and ‘My Way’ said, ‘We must write another one just like it.’ But it doesn’t work like that; there’s only room for one.

“The content of that lyric hit everybody,” he continued. “Back then, I saw that we were getting into the ‘Me-Me-Me’ generation. I was only 26 — boys, scientifically, do not become adults until after they’re 30 — but somehow, it hit everybody. People get married to it, get buried to it; guys write me letters from death row to say they identify with it. I’ve sung ‘My Way’ for Putin, for Trump. Narcissism runs rampant, but when it’s under control, this is the perfect song in terms of wrapping up one’s life. We’re all ego-driven. Read Freud enough and you get that.”

However, the song had not heard the last from David Bowie. The success of Sinatra’s version “really made me angry for so long — for about a year,” he told Parkinson. “Eventually I thought, ‘I can write something as big as that, and I’ll write one that sounds a bit like it. So I did ‘Life On Mars?,’ which was my sort of revenge trip on ‘My Way.’” (Ironically, “Life on Mars?” would follow a similar decades-long road to iconic status.) Bowie acknowledged the influence on the back cover of his 1971 “Hunky Dory” album, with “Inspired by Frankie” handwritten next to the song’s title.

At around the same time, Elvis Presley, riding the success of his 1968 comeback via the televised “Elvis” special, was hot to return to live performance. He helped open Las Vegas’ then-new International Hotel, and began performing “My Way” in concert during the early 1970s. By the time of January 1973’s satellite-televised live concert, “Aloha from Hawaii,” he had effectively made the song his own, with a haughty performance tailor-made for his lower register.

Following Presley’s death in August 1977, a live version of the song recorded just a few months earlier was released as a single and reached No. 22 on the Hot 100.

Of course, the most unique — and unlikely — cover of “My Way” came courtesy of Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious in an f-bomb-filled punk version featured in the group’s swan-song film, “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.” Vicious sneers his way through the song while gunning down elegantly clad members of the audience (including, in an eerie foreshadowing, his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, whom he was later accused of murdering just months before his own death in 1979). A decade later, that version was used by Martin Scorsese to close-out his bloody gangster flick, “Goodfellas.”

That version has become a kind of template for a long succession of deeply irreverent covers of iconic songs.

“I was somewhat destabilized by the Sex Pistols’ version,” Anka told the Telegraph in 2007. “It was kind of curious, but I felt like [Vicious] was sincere about it.”

Among the countless versions of the song that have been performed along its journey to the Super Bowl this weekend, Anka himself recorded it on five occasions, including one in Spanish with Julio Iglesias (“A Mi Manera”) and even in a duet with Jon Bon Jovi. It was also covered by Yuzo Kayama, a vocalist known as “the Japanese Frank Sinatra.”

The song had an unlikely postscript in 1978 when the BBC discovered a demo tape and typewritten lyrics for Bowie’s version, “Even a Fool Learns to Love” — long thought to be lost — in the possession of Ken Pitt, the singer’s 1968-era manager, while filming a documentary program on the song. Pitt even showed the BBC a self-made video to “Even a Fool Learns to Love” where Bowie superimposed the song over a previously filmed promotional clip.

However, for all that, Sinatra himself came to regard his signature song with his legendary disdain. “He always thought that it was self-serving and self-indulgent,” his daughter Tina told the BBC. “He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.”


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