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Paul Anka at 80: ‘There’s no reason to stop, music isn’t work, it’s a passion’

August 25, 2021
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Legendary singer, songwriter and performer Paul Anka isn’t interested in discussing retirement. His 80th birthday at the end of July coincides with the release of “Making Memories,” a baker’s dozen of original Anka tunes, both new and reimagined, including a TikTok-inspired duet with Olivia Newton-John on his classic “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” The song hit the top of the Amazon sales chart earlier this year.

Anka wrote career-defining hits for Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. He composed the theme for “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Hundreds of artists have recorded Anka tunes, including Buddy Holly, Patti Labelle, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson, but Anka says he was totally taken by surprise to learn that one of his songs had inspired a social media movement that had users putting their own spin on of his signature tunes.

“It’s a kick, a warm kick that kind of morphed into having to do ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ for the new album,” Anka told The Maine Edge during an interview that aired on BIG 104 FM. “Having the opportunity to do it with Olivia and then going to number one, it’s still a big deal. I used to have these conversations with Sinatra, whom we all thought was so cool. One thing that was important to Frank was having a hit record. You’re never too big not to appreciate a hit when you have one.”

“Making Memories” also includes guest performances by Michael Bublé, opera tenor Andrea Bocelli and vocal group Il Divo.

Anka says the one bright spot about last year’s pandemic lockdown was having consistent time to write new material.

“The songs keep coming out,” he said. “After knocking out ‘Making Memories,’ I started work on a new documentary which will be out next year. This stuff keeps me going. When people say to me they’re thinking about retiring, I say to them ‘You already have.’ You can’t be still or they’ll throw dirt on you.”

Anka says the inspiration for new material is always around, adding that he’s a voracious reader and people watcher, but that his mission today is a world away from the one in which he blossomed as a teenager in the 1950s.

“When I started at age 15, I knew I had to write maybe three albums a year and it was my view of the world as a teenager,” Anka said. “The subject matter was somewhat limited but the songs, like ‘Puppy Love,’ ‘Lonely Boy,’ and ‘Shoulder’ were honest.”

Anka says he loves being commissioned to write specifically for an artist. The most obvious example is Sinatra’s “My Way” which Anka remembers penning after Sinatra shocked him during a dinner conversation in Florida.

“I’d always had great experiences with Sinatra,” he said. “He’d tease me sometimes when he’d say ‘You never wrote me a song, kid.’ We all had a nickname and mine was ‘kid.’”

Anka says he was about 25 when Sinatra told him he was planning to quit show business after recording a farewell album.

“He said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m tired, I want out, but I’m doing one more album with (producer) Don Costa.’ He was my producer whom I’d introduced to Sinatra. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. I went back to New York, it was midnight with a big thunderstorm raging outside and I started typing as if Sinatra was writing the song himself.”

Anka says he finished the song in about five hours then called Sinatra in Vegas where he was booked for a final performance at Caesar’s Palace.

“I said ‘Sir, I’ve got something I think you might like.’ I flew out there and played it for him. Two months later, I get a call from Frank in a Los Angeles recording studio. He said ‘Listen to this, kid’ and put the phone up to the speaker. He played ‘My Way’ to me for the first time and I started crying.”

Anka plans to set out for a 22-date North American tour beginning in October. The tour, “Anka Sings Sinatra: His Songs, My Songs, My Way” will include a mix of hits associated with both. Anka said he feels like he’s been out of work for the last year and a half since live performances in front of an audience have been impossible due to the pandemic.

“It’s kind of a shock not to be able to work for such a long period,” he said. “To get back to it, and hopefully we will with whatever new parameters there are, it’s exciting to do what you love to do.”

Anka said he needs to perform live to get a sense of his audience, saying the lack of live shows creates a black hole between the performer and the audience.

“You get a sense of how you’ve affected them and what the music means to them,” he said. “When I was a kid, I was scared, just trying my best to be happy with myself as a performer. Now it’s like a lovefest. I know what they’re about and they know what I’m about. I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to being on that stage again.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 07:37

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