[Dixielandjazz] Re Inventing Past Songs instead of Reprising them

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 8 08:04:22 PDT 2005

Don't tell Paul Anka that Rock songs are trash and don't swing. His newest
album seems to belie that old saw. Has he discovered that it is possible to
re invent old songs and make them relevant to a new audience? Looks like it
from early critical acclaim.

And just what is this audience comprised of? People who like swinging music?
Might just be a lesson here for some OKOM bands that want larger audiences.

Steve Barbone 

Paul Anka Is Back, 63 and Swinging
By LORNE MANLY Published: June 8, 2005 NY Times

Paul Anka, in Toronto, has released a new CD, "Rock Swings.

TORONTO, June 6 - Paul Anka knows what people will think.

Why would a teen idol turned Las Vegas crooner like him, who wrote early
rock 'n' roll hits like "Diana" and "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," who gave
Johnny Carson his theme song and Frank Sinatra "My Way," release an album
stuffed with 14 swinging renditions of rock songs from stylistic opposites
like Van Halen and Billy Idol?
Why court the derision that Pat Boone suffered with his album of heavy metal
cover songs by taking on Nirvana's hoarse scream of teenage angst, "Smells
Like Teen Spirit"?

On Sunday night here, to accept his induction into Canada's Walk of Fame,
the 63-year-old Mr. Anka answered potential doubters the best way he knows:
musically and infectiously. Backed by a 17-piece band, he tore into "It's My
Life," transforming the hit by Bon Jovi into a brassy, swinging song that
would not have been out of place at a Sinatra show.

"I ain't going to be just a face in the crowd," he sang. "You're going to
hear my voice, I'll shout it out loud." He was greeted with the loudest
ovation of the night.

The day before, in his Four Seasons suite, casually dressed in jeans and a
light blue shirt unbuttoned enough to reveal more of a deep tan, Mr. Anka
discussed why he took on "Rock Swings," his 120th album. "There will be an
initial knee-jerk reaction to Anka doing Nirvana, and people will say nail
him," he said. "But I want them to at least listen to it. And anyone astute
enough and that has any integrity musically will look at it and go, you know
what, goddamn it. I didn't want to like it, but it's there, the quality is

"These are great songs," he added. "Let's not pigeonhole them as rock

Judging from the early critical reaction, Mr. Anka might just be on to
something. Tastemaker stations across the country, impressed with Mr. Anka's
full-throttled embrace of the songs, placed tracks on their playlists weeks
before Verve Music Group's official American release of the album on

"I smirked when I got it in the mail," said Chris Douridas, the host of the
New Ground weekly show on KCRW-FM in Santa Monica who also produces iTunes
Originals. "I was thinking this could be horrible or great. I was so pleased
when I put it in. I was laughing to myself how good it was."

On Wednesday Mr. Anka will continue his biggest mainstream media promotional
push in decades with a first-ever appearance on the Howard Stern radio show
and, later, a performance on "The Late Show With David Letterman."

For a generation prone to write off Mr. Anka as just another Vegas lounge
singer, a kitschy companion to Wayne Newton and his ilk, the new album
should at least remind or introduce people to the outsize role that the
Ottawa native has played in popular music for nearly 50 years.

At 16, he had his first hit, "Diana." It sold more than 20 million copies.
As the 1960's progressed, Mr. Anka matured his image, becoming a regular at
the casinos and supper clubs in Las Vegas and Florida, hanging out with
Sinatra and his crew. In the late 1960's, Sinatra, threatening to retire
(again), begged Mr. Anka (again) to write a song for him. Mr. Anka this time
took a French song to which he owned the rights ("Comme d'Habitude"), ripped
it apart save for the melody, imparted Sinatra's world-weary manner to the
lyrics and came up with "My Way" in 1969.

Mr. Anka has sold more than 10 million albums around the world. He has
written alone or with others about 900 songs and has had three No. 1 hits in
the United States - "Diana," "Lonely Boy" and "You're Having My Baby." He
has been in the Top 50 during five different decades.

"Rock Swings" is an unlikely candidate to extend that streak to six decades
in a musical world catering to the young. But a German company called
Centaurus thought enough of Mr. Anka to make him the first signing to its
new label. The company's executives wanted him to record an album of
standards in the Sinatra style, Mr. Anka said, but he wanted no part of it.
Instead, he decided to concentrate on songs from the 1980's and 1990's. He
had Billboard, the chronicler of the music business, send over a box filled
with the charts spanning those decades, listing the biggest sellers around
the world. 

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