Paul Anka

A PROLIFIC SONGWRITER and an astute businessman, Anka managed the transition from ’50s teen-idol to mainstream show-business star with surprising ease.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Anka entered show-business when he was ten and cut his first record, ‘I Confess’ (Modern), in 1956. A year later he signed to ABC and recorded his own composition, ‘Diana’. The rumba backing provided by Don Costa was far too inflexible to be truly plaintive, but the song’s lyrics – featuring the classic complaint ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’ – and Anka’s baby-voiced intensity introduced one of the major themes of 50s balladry: teen angst. A mark of the song’s popularity is that over 300 versions of it have been recorded and Anka’s recording alone went on to sell 10 million copies.

Though Anka’s subsequent recordings, including ‘You Are My Destiny’ (1958), ‘Lonely Boy’ and ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ (both 1959), and ‘Puppy Love’ and ‘My Home Town’ (both 1960), all of which he wrote, were increasingly melodramatic, he managed very successfully to be both clean cut (à la Pat Boone) and moody (à la Elvis Presley). The 1961 documentary Lonely Boy vividly captures Anka’s period as a teen-idol.

In 1962 he left ABC for RCA (and bought back from ABC the rights to all his recordings). His hits continued on a lesser scale throughout the ’60s, but he increasingly turned to concert appearances and songwriting. Among Anka’s compositions were ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ (recorded by Buddy Holly); the standard ‘My Way’ (recorded by Frank Sinatra, among many others), which he adapted from a French song co-written by recording star Claude François; ‘She’s a Lady’ (recorded by Tom Jones); the theme to the film The Longest Day (1962), in which he also had a small part; and ‘Johnny’s Theme’ for Johnny Carson’s Tonight television show.

In 1970 he signed to United Artists and in 1974 had a No. 1 with the controversial ‘You’re Having My Baby’, a duet with Odia Coates. At the same time, his compositions ‘Puppy Love’ and ‘Lonely Boy’, were successfully revived by Donny Osmond (of the Osmonds), the teen-idol of a new generation. The end of the decade saw Anka solidly established in Las Vegas and on the international cabaret circuit, and recording intermittently. In 1983 he had a surprise hit with ‘Hold Me till the Mornin’ Comes’ (Columbia) and in 1992 he duetted with Ofra Haza on ‘Freedom for the World’. He followed that in 1996 with the Latin-inflected album Amigos, on which he duetted with Céline Dion, Kenny G and Tom Jones, among others.

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingFaber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001

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