Sunday, April 18, 2021

"My Way" and "Life on Mars"

It was common in the 60s for European hits to be picked up by British or American publishers, who in turn commissioned English lyrics to the tune. "You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me" by Dusty Springfield is a good example, it was originally an Italian pop hit. 

"Comme d’Habitude" was a hit for Claude Fran├žois (often referred to as CloClo), and the song's publisher realized an English lyric could be quite lucrative. A call was made to Denmark Street, London's Tin Pan Alley, and the tuned was jobbed out to a young songwriter named Davy Jones, who would later change his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees' star. Bowie wrote the first English lyric for "My Way" for an entertainer he greatly admired, one of Britain's biggest stars  – Anthony Newley. 

Newley was overly partial to the maudlin Pagliacci tears-of-a-clown persona, so that's what Bowie conceived: 

There was a time
The laughing time
I took my heart
To ev'ry party
They’d point my way
‘How are you today?
Will you make us laugh?
Chase our blues away?’
Their funny man
Won’t let them down
No, he’d dance and prance
And be their clown
That time
That laughing time
That Even A Fool Learns To Love… 

Bowie coined the words that would give Anka his title: "My Way," but didn't care for the track once it was finished. "'Even a Fool Learns to Love,' is purple, self-pitying and, worse, full of sad clowns." 

In 1969 Paul Anka acquired the rights to CloClo's hit, and the rest is Sinatra-Cool history. But we're not done – neither was Bowie who, 50 years ago, would parody his own version, as well as Frank's when he penned "Life On Mars." "I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows."

The abstract lyrics coupled with the thumping music transports the listener to an out of this world experience, a surreal “My Way.”

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