Mr. Anka is in concert in Regina next month, and I still haven’t decided if I am going…I want to.

Paul Anka does ‘Classics’ his way
Age has apparently mellowed Paul Anka. With his last CD, 2005’s Rock Swings, the 66-year-old pop veteran raised eyebrows by performing tunes made famous by Nirvana, Soundgarden and Van Halen. But his latest project covers the softer turf of Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell and, well, Anka himself.
“I obviously didn’t want to do Rock Swings II,” says Anka.
So for Classic Songs, My Way, out Aug. 28, the former teen idol, whose own songwriting credits include one of Frank Sinatra’s signature tunes and the theme for The Tonight Show, decided to “expand things a little. I wanted to take songs from different genres that I could turn into ballads.”
The result is a collection that swings ó literally ó from Joel’s I Go to Extremes and Mitchell’s Both Sides Now to ditties introduced by Cyndi Lauper (Time After Time), Duran Duran (Ordinary World), Daniel Powter (Bad Day) and, for edgy good measure, The Killers (Mr. Brightside).
There are also new renditions of vintage Anka material. My Way, adapted from a French song, “became especially important, because of my anniversary,” says Anka, who is commemorating his 50th year in the music business. The Sinatra staple is featured as a duet with Jon Bon Jovi, while You Are My Destiny, a hit for Anka back in 1958, pairs him with latter-day crooner and fellow Canadian Michael BublÈ.
Anka traces the more contemporary direction he began pursuing on Rock Swings to his enthusiasm for BublÈ’s first album, which he supported in the song selection and arranging stages.
“I saw there was a window for swing, and thought that Michael had the instrument for it, and this wonderful young energy that could put it back out there,” Anka says.
Conversely, Anka realized “there’s this pool of songs from the ’80s and ’90s that are today’s standards, which brought me to Rock Swings. It was paramount to keep the integrity of the music, because anybody’s reaction could have been, ‘Anka, doing Teen Spirit? What is this, Pat Boone all over again?’ ”
(He’s referring to Boone’s 1997 camp classic, In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy. “A novelty record, I’d say ó though Pat is a wonderful artist and an old friend.”)
For Classic Songs, too, Anka chose songs “out of respect for the artists and the music. Many are songs that I wish I had written. The credibility I bring to them, perhaps, is that as a writer and musician myself, I can see and hear the songs in another way.”
Anka stresses that he draws on different experiences than the younger artists whose repertoires he tapped. “When I started out, all you did was write and record something and give it to the record company. Then you went out and lived rock ‘n’ roll. Now you have to run a business and do a lot of other things.”
Touring has changed as well, Anka observes.
“I started on a bus, and I’m not talking about a bus in today’s terms, with beds and bathrooms and catering. These were buses that barely made it. And I was in some cases the only white kid, working my way through parts of the country where my friends couldn’t get off to go to the bathroom or get something to eat.”
Insecurity about his career was also an issue, even after writing chart-toppers such as Diana and (You’re) Having My Baby and hits for Tom Jones and others. Anka recalls “not having the confidence to sing My Way, even though I was embraced by the Rat Pack.”
Such travails will likely be explored in greater depth in an autobiography that Anka began planning after an interview on Howard Stern’s Sirius satellite radio program last summer.
“I just told it like it was, talking about Sinatra, the Kennedys, the Mafia, everything that had been around me. People started calling in, asking when I was going to write a book.”
Now signed to St. Martin’s Press, Anka, who once flirted with a career in journalism, is “going through my archives with a writer who will work with me, because I don’t have the time.” He hopes to finish the book by late 2008.
In addition to promoting Classic Songs, he’s already plotting his next album, which may contain original material, “though I can’t commit yet.”
Having recently returned from a European tour, Anka also is eager to launch a series of American dates in September ó past misgivings about life on the road notwithstanding.
“Today I love it, because I survived to become part of something ongoing,” he says. “With every song, you see a different look in people’s eyes or a different rush to the stage. By the time you get to My Way, they’re reaching up, some of them crying.
“That’s the part you work your whole life for.”