63. Paul Anka – Diana (1957)

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All Shook Up ruled the charts for an impressive seven weeks, but its successor went beyond that, enjoying the longest run of 1957 with nine weeks at number 1. What makes this all the more impressive is that the singer wrote his own songs, which was unusual back then, and even more unusual was the singer’s age. A prodigious talent, young Canadian Paul Anka was only 16 when Diana made him a household name and started off a long, successful career.

Born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1941, Anka sang in a church choir as a child, also studying the piano and music theory. At high school he sang in a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. He recorded his debut single, I Confess at the tender age of 14. In 1957 he went to New York City with $100 from his uncle and recorded Diana. At the time, Anka’s precocious love song was believed to be about his love for his one-time babysitter, but in 2005 he admitted it was about a girl in church.

Diana is a song I can admire rather than enjoy. It gets off to a bad start, with the lyric ‘I’m so young and you’re so old’. I’m not sure that’s going to win Diana over, Paul. It’s hard to take Anka’s earnest begging and pleading seriously because of his age, and I don’t think most 16-year-olds would have the voice to pull this song off. Anka certainly doesn’t manage it. Lovesick teenagers of the 1950s could identify with it though, and in its defence, it’s a good stab at the rock’n’roll sound and a signifier that Anka was going to be a name in the music business.

This proved to be true, of course, and Anka matured into a formidable talent. He wrote Buddy Holly’s posthumous number 1, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, and came up with the theme for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In 1967, while on holiday in France, he heard Comme d’habitude (As Usual), sang by Claude François. He later described it as ‘a shitty record, but there was something in it’. He flew to Paris and negotiated the rights to adapt it. Some time later, Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and members of the Mob, when Sinatra stated he was sick of the business and wanted out. From this, Anka sat at his piano in the early hours one morning and came up with ‘And now, the end is near…’, and before long, he had written My Way specifically for Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra didn’t retire and this became his signature tune. In 1968, David Bowie had once been offered the chance to come up with some English lyrics for Comme d’habitude. He wrote Even a Fool Learns to Love, which was rejected, and rightly so, Bowie reasoned later. In 1971 Bowie reworked his version and Life on Mars? was born. Anka came up with another classic when Tom Jones released his storming version of She’s a Lady in 1971. He has continued to record and star in television and films ever since.

During Diana‘s nine-week stint at number 1, several events hit the news. On 4 September, the Wolfenden report was published, and recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. The report was issued after a succession of well-known figures including Lord Montagu were arrested for such ‘offences’.

On 1 October, Britain introduced a vaccine against Asian Flu, which had killed thousands worldwide. The following day saw the release of David Lean’s Academy Award-winning movie The Bridge on the River Kwai. 11 October saw Jodrell Bank Observatory become operational. During Diana’s final week, topical news show Today was first broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It recently hit the news itself following Conservative idiot Michael Gove’s ill-judged joke about alleged serial rapist Harvey Weinstein during the 60th anniversary edition. And on 30 October, the government unveiled plans to stop being so ridiculously sexist and allow women to join the House of Lords. In some ways we’ve moved on so much, in others, we’ve barely moved.

Written by: Paul Anka

Weeks at number 1: 9 (30 August-31 October) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook – 31 August

High jumper Mark Naylor – 10 September

Ice skater Jayne Torvill – 7 October

Comedian Dawn French – 11 October 

Director Michael Caton-Jones – 15 October

Deaths:

Horn player Dennis Brain – 1 September

Ventriloquist Fred Russell – 14 October

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