Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The Strange Saga of 'My Way': How It Revived Frank Sinatra, Crushed David Bowie and Sparked a Murder Spree

In the 55 years since its release, “My Way” has become perhaps the only serious contender to a modern national anthem. Made instantly immortal by Frank Sinatra, it’s a song steeped in defiant American individualism — surprising considering the words were written by a Canadian and the melody borrowed from a Parisian chanson.

But then, everything about the origin and endurance of “My Way” is unusual. The beloved standard is now the topic of a new documentary narrated by Jane Fonda, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The self-reflective lyrics of “My Way” were penned especially for Ol’ Blue Eyes on the eve of his planned retirement by his young friend Paul Anka, the then 26-year-old former teen star-turned-composer. Intended as a swan-song for a career that stretched from bobby-soxers to the Beatles, the success it yielded quickly convinced Sinatra to abandon the whole notion of retirement. Two years after his famed 1971 farewell concert — where he gave “My Way” a spirited workout — he would return to public life, continuing to do it his way until his death in May 1998.

In addition to Sinatra's version, “My Way” has since been covered by more than a hundred different artists, bringing chart success to acts as diverse as Dorothy Squires, Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols. But ultimately the song has endured because of what it’s done for regular people.

Singing “My Way” is the musical equivalent of wearing a Superman cape or a fine tuxedo. Though inspired by Sinatra, the implied meaning is that every life is a triumph. That’s why it regularly tops karaoke charts around the world and is the most popular song to be requested at funerals. It’s the center point of the Venn diagram between Trump’s inaugural ball and murdered rapper Nipsey Hussle’s funeral. It’s a song that will last forever because it makes whoever sings it feel like they’re somebody.

In advance of the new documentary, read on to learn more about the surprising history of this classic ballad. And for more behind-the-scenes stories and little-known details about ”My Way,” check out the recent episode of the iHeartRadio podcast Too Much Information, hosted by former PEOPLE editors Jordan Runtagh and Alex Heigl.

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