Sid Vicious’ iconic, sneering cover of Sinatra’s My Way is probably one of the best scenes in ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, but does the song’s original lyricist like the Sex Pistols bassist’s take of his song?
Canadian singer/songwriter Paul Anka didn’t write ‘My Way’ for Frank Sinatra by accident. He wrote the lyrics with Sinatra’s voice in mind. Anka revered Sinatra, and when the crooner told him he was going to retire, Anka grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and sprung into action.
For years, Anka thought no one could touch the original Sinatra recording. “‘My Way’ was Sinatra’s way — and that was the right way – basically the only way,” he wrote in his autobiography. That said, the songwriter later said he loved how Vicious handled the tune.
After he wrote the lyrics to “My Way” for Sinatra, Anka’s door was being battered down by music star after music star who wanted to license his song. Within a few years, everyone from Nina Simone to Shirley Bassey to Sinatra’s mate Sammy Davis Jr. had taken their turn at the track… and failed.
By the end of the ’70s, with the first wave of British punk was coming to an end, Sex Pistols Sid Vicious took ‘My Way,’ ripped it apart, spat all over it and in his usual sneering, piss-taking way did his own version for Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.
At the time Anka recalled questioning whether to grant the license to allow Sid to sing it. But he said he didn’t regret agreeing to let Vicious do it his way “I loved it, I was really flattered and amused by his version,” Anka admitted.
In the same way that the original was tailor-made to fit Frank Sinatra, Vicious liberally rewrote Anka’s lyrics for himself. Vicious starts off-key, mocking Sinatra’s crooning style, giving the song the approximate amount of respect you’d expect from Sid. But after the mocking opening, the track roars to life with Steve Jones guitar riff, and Vicious owns the song and kills it!
Anka said he thought the Sex Pistols bassist would only mock it but he said after visiting Vicious he “realised his intent was sincere.” So he granted the license. “He’s entitled,” Anka said.
Once he heard Vicious’ version, Anka liked how the song won over the punks. “He starts out making fun of it, but then he gets swept up in it,” Anka said. “It’s as if the song reaches out and grabs him.”
In the end, Anka considered it a great call. “I was very amused by it. I was flattered that a punk like Sid wanted to do ‘My Way,’ someone who was into music totally different from mine.
“What he did worked, as both a goof and a sincere take – which was a pretty amazing accomplishment.”
Vicious moved to New York City with girlfriend Nancy Spungen in mid-78 just after he recorded the song and filmed the scene that later appeared in Swindle. Spungen died in October 1978 and Vicious was arrested as the prime suspect. He was released on bail and four months later he died of a heroin overdose on February 2nd.
The song was released after Vicious’ death and the single eventually made it to Number Seven on the U.K. chart and became the most memorable part of the Swindle movie.
After seeing the song in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Anka heard from movie director Martin Scorsese who said he wanted to use the Vicious version in his film Goodfellas.
“When Scorsese called to use ‘My Way’ at the end of Goodfellas, I was all for it,” Anka recalled “Vicious’ version had an anger to it, a voicing of resentments – perfect for the Goodfellas.”
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