This originated as the French song called "Comme D'Habitude" (translation: "As Usual"), written by the composers Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault. They took it to the French pop star Claude Francois, who tweaked it a bit (earning a co-writer credit) and recorded the song in 1967, where it was a hit in parts of Europe. The French version tells the story of a man, living out the end of his marriage, love killed by the boredom of everyday life.
Paul Anka discovered this song while visiting France and re-wrote the lyrics as "My Way" when he returned to New York. Anka says it was 3 a.m. on a rainy night when the words came to him. Anka, who was a very popular singer, pitched the song to Frank Sinatra, who recorded it on December 30, 1968. Anka's lyrics changed the meaning to be about a man looking back fondly on a life he lived on his own terms, and Sinatra's version became one of his signature songs.
This became Frank Sinatra's signature song, but he couldn't stand it, saying he "loathed" the song. In his later years, he described the song as "a Paul Anka pop hit which became a kind of national anthem." In a 2000 interview with the BBC show Hardtalk, Sinatra's daughter Tina said, "He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn't like it. That song stuck and he couldn't get it off his shoe."
A song of individuality and aspiration, there is a scientific explanation for why it has triggered such a strong emotional reaction despite the rather pedestrian lyrics and silly rhymes (losing/amusing, curtain/certain). The song starts with a rising 6th progression, which indicates striving. It builds in intensity and powers to a big finish, which Sinatra could really sell with his declaration, "I did it my way."
In America, this was merely a modest hit on the charts, as it didn't jibe with the spirit of 1969. In the UK, however, it was a runaway hit, re-entering the charts six times between 1970-1971. It holds the record for the longest stay on the chart.
After dominating the American popular music charts in the '40s and early '50, Sinatra had some down years in the rock era, but still managed a few huge hits, with "Learnin' The Blues" (1955) and "Strangers in the Night
" (1966) each going to #1 on the Hot 100.
"My Way" became one of his more popular songs, but it had a very pedestrian placing on this chart, making just #27, which was lower than his previous Top 40 single, "Cycles" (#23 in 1968). "My Way," however, had tremendous staying power and became a concert showstopper. It was also Sinatra's last Top 40 hit in the US until 1980, when he returned with "New York, New York
Sinatra probably did not have in mind the red velvet drapes of a crematorium when he sang about facing his final curtain. However, in 2005 a survey by Co-Operative Funeralcare put this tune at the top of songs most requested at funerals in the UK. Spokesman Phil Edwards said: "It has that timeless appeal – the words sum up what so many people feel about their lives and how they would like their loved ones to remember them."
Some of the many artists to record this song include Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, and Andy Williams. The Welsh singer Dorothy Squires released a version shortly after Sinatra that was also a hit in the UK and re-entered the chart there twice.
Toward the end of his career, Elvis added this to his concert repertoire. After his death in 1977, a live version was released as a single, going to #22 in the US and #9 in the UK.
The Sex Pistols recorded a Punk version in 1979 with their bass player Sid Vicious on lead vocals (lead singer Johnny Rotten had left the band). Their version went to #6 in the UK and was used over the closing credits of the movie Goodfellas
. The song appeared on the Sex Pistols' album The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle
. Sid Vicious died before the album was released.
Anton La Vey, founder of the Church of Satan, complimented Sid Vicious' cover of the song in his biography The Secret Life of a Satanist
This is a very popular Karaoke song, but one you should probably avoid in The Philippines. As detailed in a February 6, 2010 article in the New York Times, many violent incidents have taken place following Karaoke performances of "My Way." Karaoke is very popular in that country, and there is a certain etiquette which tends to break down when patrons choose this song, sometimes resulting in fights that can escalate quickly. The bravado of the song may have something to do with it, but whatever the cause, most Filipinos will avoid the song, and many bars don't offer it on their playlists.
According to Paul Anka, he wrote the English version of this song after having dinner with Frank Sinatra, who told his dinner companions that he was quitting the business (Anka was playing many of the same nightclubs, which is how he ended up in Sinatra's circle). In an effort to write Sinatra a hit, he composed this song specifically for Frank, writing a lyric with lines filled with things he figured the singer would say, playing up his tough guy image with phrases like "I ate it up and spit it out" and "I'll state my case, of which I'm certain."
The song was a favorite of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He often played it in his cell at a loud volume during his trial for crimes against humanity in 2002.
The Gipsy Kings recorded a Spanish version of the song called "A Mi Manera."
Before Paul Anka wrote the English lyrics, a young David Bowie took a shot at writing them but couldn't come up with anything he was happy with.
"My Way" is licensed sparingly, especially the Sinatra version. It was used in the 2006 episode of The Sopranos titled "Moe n' Joe," and also in a 2014 episode of Mad Men called "The Strategy." The Mad Men episode takes place around the time the song was released and plays a specific role in the plot, with Don Draper hearing the song, which is playing on the radio, as some kind of sign to Peggy Olsen.
The Sex Pistols version has been used in some high-profile productions as well: it was used in episodes of The Simpsons (2010) and Californication (2014), and in the movie Goodfellas (1990).
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder requested "My Way" for his final send-off (Zapfenstreich in German) prior to the inauguration of Angela Merkel. More than seven million television viewers watched tears well up in his eyes as a military band saw him off with a version of this song.
Paul Anka recorded a version of this shortly after Sinatra's release. He also recorded it as a duet four different times - with Gabriel Byrne for the movie Mad Dog Time (1996), with Julio Iglesias as the Spanish rendition "a Mi Manera" (1998), with Jon Bon Jovi (2007), and with the Canadian singer Garou (2013).
Because this song is so strongly associated with Sinatra, many people assume the singer wrote it. In a Songfacts interview, Frank Sinatra Enterprises Vice President Charles Pignone chalks this up to his artistry. "A lot of people, because Frank was so convincing in what he sang, thought he had his hand in writing a lot of these songs," he says.
On Sinatra's distaste for the song, Pigone adds: "I don't think he hated it as much as he disliked it - I don't think he hated any of these songs. I just think he probably may have gotten tired of people yelling for it and singing of it. It's a fan favorite, but I wouldn't say it was a Sinatra favorite."
Lou Levy took over as pianist for this song when Sinatra regular Bill Miller cut his hand on a shard of glass. Miller did, however, conduct the orchestra for the recording.