DO YOU HAVE trouble thinking of Paul Anka as anything but a greasy Italian dork from Brooklyn who whined his way adeniodally through a series of high camp 1957-60 hits like ‘Put Your Head On MY Shoulder’ and ‘Puppy Love’ (with fake Johnny Ray tears yet) and, if memory serves, had a well-publicized nose job somewhere along the line? Yeah, I’ve got the same problem. In other words, it’s hard to take this guy seriously.
He did have his share of fame fortune and hits, leaving ABC-Paramount in 1962 after a string of flops to land on RCA where he continued making records right up to just a little while ago. RCA must’ve kept him for the ‘prestige’ value of his name though because the records all stayed pretty much on the south 50 of the Billboard Hot 100, and, like Bobby Vinton and Bobby Rydell, he was one of those “imagine that, all those corny teenage records back then and how he’s respectable singer you can see right at the Copa or maybe even President Nixon’s Valentine’s Day Party!” guys.
Of course Paul was no imbecile – he always knew he was a better songwriter than singer – and sometime back in the late ’60s he took up writing seriously, on his own and with Bobby Gosh, who now has his own album too. The songs he wrote were recorded by some really Big Time people, the kind you see on the Mike Douglas Show and sometimes even Dean Martin. So lately Paul’s been turning up on the talk shows, looking back with a mature sneer on his days as a teenage idol, boasting of what a big success he finally is, with Frank Sinatra doing his songs and all. And at the end the host always says, “That’s really marvelous, Paul. Can we hear a couple of your songs now?”
Which brings us to this album. There he sits on the cover, in his faggoty gaucho hat, his Hollywood mod shirt open casually at the top button, trying to look cool like Carole King at a dude ranch. On the record, it sounds like they set up the mikes right in front of the string section of Joe Harnell’s band and told Paul to go to the other end of the stage and sing. That still wasn’t far enough away though, cause you can still hear him sing, or attempt to.
That’s the main problem with Paul Anka: the nose job which removed his excess cartilage also removed the snotty nasal quality of his voice, leaving nothing between us and the fact that he just can’t sing. His voice is weak, flat and uninteresting. A song like ‘She’s a Lady’, which Tom Jones transformed into one of the finest AM singles of the month, loses all its strength and believability in Paul’s limp hands. And his sentimental treatment of ‘Les Filles De Paris’ is not likely to give Vic Damone any sleepless nights. Most of the other songs are about as bland as the filler on an old Crew Cuts album, straining from one forced, artificial climax to the next.
The high point of it all, of course, is ‘My Way’, the song on which his claim to importance is actually based. What he doesn’t go out of his way to tell anybody is that all he did was translate if from the Italian. It’s not a bad song at all; I liked Sinatra’s version, and I once saw Brook Benton absolutely tear his guts out with it on the Andy Williams Show. But Paul Anka…well, it’s not quite as comical as the Partridge Family might sound doing it, and after all he couldn’t have put this album out without including it. His association with the song is probably the only reason he was allowed to make another album, and who can blame him for not admitting he didn’t really write it? At least, you can say this much for him: He did it his way.
© Greg Shaw, Phonograph Record, 1 January 1972