When singers have a prodigious output against their name, it’s difficult to choose their best single. Frank Sinatra is that kind of an artiste. In every decade of his career, he has sung what can be labelled ‘the song of a lifetime’. Yet, it’s easy to choose his best, at least for me. It’s ‘My Way’.
On March 18, his version of ‘My Way’ (originally a French song that singer-songwriter Paul Anka had translated into English) would be turning 50. It was on this day in 1969 that the single was offered as part of Sinatra’s album by the same name.
‘My Way’ has always been in the top 10 of my imaginary ‘nostalgia chart’. It’s nostalgia with a different timbre to it. It’s largely of the intellectual kind, and less of the visceral. However, it works in both contexts.
Recently, when a few alumni of Madras Christian College in Chennai, revisited Bishop Heber Hall, where they had stayed as hostellers during their days at the institution, they sang ‘My Way’, giving it their “own” twist. One of them sang it, with everyone else present, joining in for the line ‘I did it my way,’ which they had switched to ‘We did it our way.’ Having been invited to the event, I could see that this powerful Sinatra song seemed to bring it all together for these alumni.
When Sinatra recorded this song, it mirrored his mind at that stage of his career, and there was a clear intersection of the intellectual and the visceral. At that time, he seemed to suffer from a sense of having come to the end of the road in his career, and this song was his way of summing things up, and taking a bow, in style.
The inner struggle that Sinatra was going through then is beautifully captured in To Be Frank: Sinatra At 100, a 2015 documentary on his life and music. If you have not watched it already, I would encourage you to do so. Besides being a tribute to Sinatra’s music and a window to his mind, to me, this documentary is a richly illustrative lesson in career guidance.
In the early 1970s, Sinatra would call it a day, only to upturn the decision, and make a powerful comeback. By doing so, he was just being himself. With the advent of every new decade since he launched his career, Sinatra seemed to be hobnobbing with the zeitgeist of the times, and finding out what the world wanted to hear, and offered it in his unique pop-jazz style of singing. It was during the Swinging Sixties that he recored his version of ‘Strangers In The Night’.
In the Sixties, the impact of rock and roll was strongly felt. The period belonged to The Beatles and Presley and their likes. Despite that, with songs tuned for easy listening, Sinatra held his own, creating breakthroughs now and then. They succeeded because most of these songs were in alignment with their times. So, again, in the Swinging Sixties, we had him offering ‘A Man Alone’.
What is significant is that whatever he offered, gave the listener a clear view of what was going on inside his heart. Commentators in the documentary explained how the songs from ‘A Man Alone’ offered a peek into his personal life at that time.
He would have staggered a bit through the 1960s, but he had the last laugh. In 1960, he had made the smart move of founding his record label, Reprise, and thereby giving his creativity greater latitude. And, in 1979, you have him recording ‘New York New York’ and it was about new beginnings.
The thumping success of this single, seemed to make it clear that Sinatra had indeed had it his way.