70s Elvis And The Fiction Of “My Way”

by Kevin Burton

   In a 50th year retrospective, The Guardian called the song “My Way” a monument. True enough in the musical sense, but I say it’s a sad one. 

   This look at My Way is part of our 2022 series on songs that peaked at number 22 on the American chart.  You mind no doubt turns to Frank Sinatra when the song is mentioned. But it was the Elvis Presley live version that peaked at number 22, in 1977.  Sinatra’s version, though viewed internationally as transcendent, only reached number 27 in the US.

  •    Paul Anka wrote English lyrics to a song by French songwriters Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux and titled it My Way. That song was first offered to David Bowie, but he passed on it to his later regret, according to writer Emily Mackay in The Guardian.
  •    “Elvis Presley began performing the song in concert during the mid-1970s, despite Anka’s suggestions that the song did not suit him,” according to Wikipedia. 
  •    I don’t think this song fits anyone. Beyond the arrogance in the lyrics is a palpable intellectual dishonesty.  The hand of God steers all events, albeit often invisibly.  Even if you look past that for a moment, a singer’s assertion that “I did it my way” is ridiculous.  The best anyone can truly say is “I had my moments.”
  •    This is not terribly difficult to figure out is it?  If I did it “my way,” there would be no final curtains to sing about.
  •    Hello?! 
  •    For intellectual rigor, I much prefer such American works as “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and “Shake Your Booty” by KC and the Sunshine Band to “My Way.”
  •    It’s God’s way, whether you like it, know and acknowledge it, or not.  Even on the horizontal plane, among mere mortals, “my way” is merely an occasional happy landing spot. That was true even for Presley, though for a time it didn’t seem that way.
  •    Of course My Way coming from the mouth of Presley is even sadder.  The version that went to number 22 was the first song released after the icon’s 1977 death from a drug overdose. By the time he started singing it in 1973, Presley was a shell of his 50s heyday.
  •    In concert videos available on you Tube, Presley looks spent and sounds believable saying “And now the end is near and so I face my final curtain.” He did a good job on the versions I saw. You have to give the man his due as a vocalist, even if by then he was less than dynamic. And to be fair, very few performers come off well in comparison to 50s Elvis.
  •    But 70s Elvis singing My Way is as good an indication as any, that no, you don’t get to do it your way, not for long anyway, not even the great Elvis Presley.
  •    It’s a pretty good little mirror into your own existence, if you care to look.

   Presley rocketed into a world that had never heard of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Hollies, Simon and Garfunkel. In the 70s Presley still had that giant name but was more likely to hit 22 on the chart than number one. 

   “Sinatra’s performance is hypnotic, masterly in its slow-building defiance, and proud rather than blustery,” Mackay wrote in The Guardian.  “Sinatra worked on his delivery and phrasing before entering the studio, getting into the mood of the song in his mind. He nailed it in one phenomenal take.”

   The Presley version doesn’t reach those heights. I found myself rooting for him to get there, hoping for the best. Presley reads the song, not having memorized it. Anka was right. The song didn’t fit Presley.  It seemed the very the words of another man in another time. It’s probably the last song he should have been singing.

   The song was recorded for the Elvis In Concert special on CBS-TV on June 21, 1977, according to Wikipedia.  It reached number 6 on the Adult Contemporary chart and sold more than a million copies. It reached number two on the Billboard country chart.

“People who sing it want the world to know they exist,” Sinatra said. There is no shortage of artists who have tried it, from Nina Simone to Tom Jones to Brook Benton to Glen Campbell to Miley Cyrus to Willie Nelson to the lyric writer Paul Anka.

    And it appears my view of the song as self-mocking when attempted is a minority view. Mackay writes that My Way is consistently among the top three songs sung at funerals in the UK.

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