Paul Anka brings his "Anka Sings Sinatra" tour to Fantasy Springs Resort Casino on March 12.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG GORMAN
After seven decades in show business, Paul Anka could easily rest on his laurels. The singer-composer-producer has had a slew of massive pop hits, such as “Puppy Love,” “Times of Your Life,” and the controversial “(You’re) Having My Baby,” since he became a teen idol in the 1950s and is partially responsible for introducing the Beatles to American audiences.
Instead, the 80-year-old entertainer recently released an acclaimed album, Making Memories, which is a collection of his classic compositions reimagined as duets with other superstars such as Olivia Newton-John and Michael Bublé (a former protégé). Anka is also currently on the road with “Anka Sings Sinatra,” a 22-city tour that pays tribute to his pal Frank, for whom he wrote the anthem “My Way,” which would go on to be recorded by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious.
Perhaps most incredible is that Anka has recently become an internet sensation due to the use of one of his most enduring songs, “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” as the soundtrack for the “Silhouette Challenge” on Tik-Tok (warning: they’re sometimes NSFW).
Ahead of his concert at Fantasy Springs Casino on March 12. Anka recently spoke with Palm Springs Life about his salute to Sinatra, how he helped bring the Beatles to America, and thoughts on becoming a TikTok sensation.
Why did you decide to honor Frank Sinatra with your current tour?
Frank was a good friend, and it was the anniversary of his birth recently. I wanted to change it up and make an album of all those hits to coincide with it. One of the reasons I got involved with Michael Bublé was he knew all that stuff. The full tour is not just Sinatra songs. It’s his hits and my hits. It’s an eclectic mix of things I’ve done and things he’s done. It’s just to honor someone I felt very close to. It’s been very enlightening doing it. My fans have turned out for it and so have his. We had a sold-out tour on the east coast.
Which are your favorite songs of his to perform?
I like doing “That’s Life,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” because of the Nelson Riddle arrangement.
Did you consider Sinatra an influence on your career?
No. Back then, pop music was in its infancy. We were pioneers with this stuff. Frankie Avalon and Bobby Darin and I were aware of Sinatra. We wondered what we’d evolve into. The Rat Pack was in Las Vegas. There were these guys with their swinging arrangements while we were dicking around with our little pop songs. There was nothing else out there. The Beatles hadn’t hit yet.
The Beatles certainly changed what it meant to be pop stars.
I was responsible for bringing them over to this country. We weren’t a media-driven society. I was living in France and England, and I went to see a friend perform at the Olympia Theatre in Paris. No one knew what the announcer was saying. I said, “Wow, I think I saw the future.” We started talking and they said, “We want to write and produce like you do.” It was all new. I came home and told my agent. They signed them and brought them over for The Ed Sullivan Show in ‘64.
• VIDEO: Paul Anka sings "My Way" with Michael Buble and Andrea Bocelli.
That’s quite a feather in your cap.
Prior to that, it was just us traveling around for $200 a week. We were looking at these Rat Pack guys with their swinging arrangements and said we wanted to do something like that. Only until I met them and was able to play Vegas and was in that Rat Pack world, did Frank and Sammy Davis…not so much Dean Martin, who was a very nice man, but you just couldn’t reach him… take me under their wings. It wasn’t a technology world. Only at that point was Frank a huge influence. I started discovering a lot of things about him and Sammy.
One of Sinatra’s most famous songs is “My Way,” which was adapted from a French composition. You wrote the English lyrics for it. Did you write it specifically for him?
Yes. He teased me, because he hated rock-and-roll music. He didn’t like any of it. He had all those great classic songs. I just happened to be making money for the mob and keeping my nose clean and they put up with it. Through the years, I was getting close to him and with his turn-around on his sense of pop music, I realized that one day I’d have a shot [to write for him]. It only came out of the moment in Florida, when we were both down there. He was making a film and I was performing at the Fontainebleau Hotel. I went to dinner with him. You could tell he was tired. The Rat Pack was over. He was weary. He said he was going to retire.
How did the song come about?
It was around midnight, and I had this melody. I kind of transposed it all on the piano and made it a little different. I started banging out these words, metaphorically in a sense. He talked a certain way. I finished it in five hours and called him. He was at Caesar’s in one of his final engagements. He told me to bring it out, so I flew to Las Vegas. Two months later, he called me from a studio in Los Angeles and said, “Kid,” that was my nickname, “Listen to this.” He played the song over the phone, and I started crying. It was the first time I heard it. It was written just for him. I told RCA-Victor, my label at the time, and they got a little pissed off and asked why I didn’t keep it for myself. It changed everything for us.
"Palm Springs is like a second home in a sense. The vibe there is very different and very civilized."
Your own career has spanned an incredible seven decades. Do you still get a kick out of performing?
Audiences have grown up with me and they know what to expect. It’s kind of a lovefest, in a sense. There’s no way you can’t love it. Half of the magic is the feedback from the audience. I’m doing it because I love it and it’s fun. I’m really blessed. Every time I go on is like the first show to me. I can’t believe it’s lasted this long. It’s been like that since I was a kid. You go on every night and I’m putting everything into it.
How do you unwind after a show these days?
It’s changed through the years. There was a time when I would go out to eat after a show. When I come off work, I don’t put a lot of fluid in my system. If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s going to get you. I’ve been trying to keep the old man out for years. I just do certain things. I write at night while it’s quieter. I don’t like to party anymore. I’ve done it all over the world, but it just doesn’t work anymore. Ultimately, you pay the price.
What do you enjoy about spending time in Palm Springs?
It’s a special place. There’s no other place out here like it. I like the audiences there. Palm Springs is like a second home in a sense. The vibe there is very different and very civilized. I go to the obvious restaurants or I’m at Dennis Washington’s house or I see Suzanne Somers and her husband or friends at Vintage.
Do you still play golf and tennis?
I gave up golf a long time ago. I have a 16-year-old son, who changed my life. I live for him. I’m a single parent. I raised him. I decided to stay with tennis, which I have. I don’t do anything that takes me away from him.
You recently became a phenomenon on TikTok thanks to your song “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” providing the soundtrack to the “Silhouette Challenge.” How did you feel when you first learned about this?
I didn’t know what the hell it was. My son’s girlfriends showed up at my front door singing “Put Your Head on my Shoulder,” so I had my son get the app up for me and I started watching it. I can’t be blasé and say I wasn’t moved by it, because I was. The world is changing and so is technology. I was just amazed. I felt like a kid again, because these kids were coming up to me in grocery stores and places. I really loved it. I visit it every day.