Friday, February 8, 2013

Paul Anka Is So Young And You're So Old

Paul Anka Is So Young And You're So Old"
When Paul Anka shot into stardom in 1957 with a humongous tune called “Diana”, with its opening lyric “I’m so young and you’re so old”, no-one could have guess just how prophetic that lyric would be. Paul would spend the rest of his pop career feeling like a young person, idolizing old people, and wanting to be one of them.

That’s pretty harsh. But it’s also fair.        

They also said that he “looks like a cross between a littleAladdin genie of the lamp and a cheerful bell-hop”, which is possibly a little bit racist, although we should probably be relieved that this was as far as the racism went, a mild form of curiosity about his exotic origins.  Besides Paul liked to promote himself as a bit more exotic than your typical teen-pop idol.  He referred to his singing style as chanting, which is a bit of a stretch.

Another newspaper writer was nice enough to point out that: "Paul Anka is roughly the size of a mushroom"

The media wasn’t so much interest in Paul’s exotic background.  Nor the fact that he was a Canadian living the American dream. The narrative was simply this: he was a juvenile genius.  A juvenile genius of “slipshod rhymes” “trite phrases” who sounded like “the bawling of a new born calf.”

Let’s have a look for example at “The Story Of My Love” a pretty typical Paul Anka song of the era, which reached No.16 on the US charts in 1961

“Slipshod rhymes” – “I’m just a boy who’s so in love/ I’ve got a girl from up above”

“Trite phrases”  - “Nobody loves her the way I do/ she has made my dreams come true.”

That’s a slipshod rhyme and a trite phrase all in one!

And the bawling bit?

Well… Paul Anka appears to have had a three octave range.  One octave – the highest one - involved him sounding like any other snotty noised kid.  Another octave – the lowest one – involved him sounding a bit like a frog, although no doubt Paul was aiming for something else.  Because he used the key of frog quite regularly.  He used it in “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” (the “ba-by” bit) . He used it in “Puppy Love.” For pretty much the entire song. 

And then there was the octave where sounded just like an overeager kid with a pleasant voice.

Also notable about the Life Magazine article is that it featured, and quite heavily, Paul Anka’s family. As though even an interview with a respectable national syndicated magazine required parental permission.  He was 19.  He was one of the biggest pop stars in the world.  His father was brought in to talk about what a well behaved little boy he was. 

The media liked to talk about what a good little boy he was.  Photos tended to show him playing with other good little boys. 

That was the “just a normal kid” side of Paul.  But that was only side of Paul. The other side of Paul Anka, the side that captured his ambition, his boundless ego and his goal to take over the charts in the name of “the kids” and banish FrankieLaine and Rosemary Clooney and the rest of them to history, was that of a deeply serious kid.

Paul Anka looked serious an awful lot. He looked serious on his record covers.  He had an extensive range of intense stares that he could use (not mention an extensive range of jumpers and jackets). With eyebrows such as those, how could he not?

Paul Anka’s range of intense stares ranged from “how awesome am I?”, to…

“You want to make out with me, don’t you?”, to…

“Hey girl”, to…

“You disappoint me”, to …

“I am so bored right now, I think I’ll just curl up and die.” (also known as “I’m so alone/ with nothing to do”)

There was good reason for Paul to just stare out of his record covers, as opposed to smiling.  When Paul smiled he looked like a completely different person.  And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as these smiling record covers demonstrate.

Are some of those actually even Paul?  Was there a fake Paul Anka floating about?

And then there were the album covers where Paul is living out his dreams, that dream where he was no longer singing silly little teenage songs, but living it up in a tuxedo in Las Vegas, which is where all the grown up pop stars were beginning to hang.

This disparity between his inability to wait until he was a grown up and the unavoidable fact that he was still a teenager was all on display throughout the “Paul Anka At The Copa” album.  That would be the Copacabana, famous for - in addition to being the hottest place north of Havana - being a place where grown up pop stars like Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney liked to play.  So did a lot of the teen idols at the time.  They were all in a hurry to grow up.  And yet, at the same time, he still spent his royalties payments on toys. 

Paul spends half of the “Paul Anka At The Copa” just making jokes about how young he is.  Jokes that would seem patronizing if they weren’t about himself.  The kind of “oh gosh pop stars today are so young” jokes that was the stock-in-trade of virtually every television show host at the time (“18… 20… I think Pat Boone is old enough to be their grandfather!” was one giggling response when The Everly Brothers had popped up on the charts in 1957).

Here is a quick sample of Paul’s own jocular jibes:

“By then I was getting a long in my years… (painfully long pause for effect)… (a girl giggles)…. I must have been pushing sixteen” before singing a song about writing the song “Diana”. “Now if you could think back” he requests. “… let’s say… all the way back… to 1959” before launching into a hurried medley of his hits (this was in 1960).  And then a couple of minutes later finishes it all off with  “I hope that I can sing for five years from today/ when I’ll be in my 20s with my hair turning grey.”  Age jokes and age jokes and half a live album of “I’m so young and you’re so old” jokes.

The media joined in, with one review mentioning little else than that “the small fry and the teenagers are taking over in the adult world…lock, stock and diapers.”

Then Paul spends the another half of an album singing “songs that swinging lovers must be utterly sick of by now.”    The two themes combined during his “cover” of “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)”, which he reinterprets as being set in a “teenage soda bar”, at “quarter to three” (in the afternoon), drinking “one triple milkshake and one cherry coke.”  He’s basically making fun of his own generation. 

When it comes down to it, Paul Anka was nothing but a traitor to his generation. 

It was about this time that Paul decided to cover “Hello Young Lovers” from “The King And I,” a song that virtually every adult pop star from Andy Williams to Earl Grant was singing.  It reached No.23 in the US and No.33 in Australia.

And just to top his swinging Sinatra infatuation, Paul released a new album “Swings For Young Lovers”, featuring Paul in an interesting and surely uncomfortable pose.

He even did a Christmas album.  This might not have been in order to join the Rat Pack, although those guys were certainly big at that sort of thing.  But so was everyone.  Even Elvis had released a Christmas album by this time.

The Rat Pack fellas may have been the coolest guys on the planet, but they weren’t exactly what you’d call nice.   Nice is not a word you would use to describe them.  Womanizing drunkards would probably be closer to the mark.  Paul was simply too nice to be a swinger.  There is a reason why the genre shares its name with dubious sexual activities, that Paul Anka was simply too young and too nice to know anything about.

Or did he.  Because it was about this time that Paul found himself in another movie.  A movie filled to the brim with swingers.  Of the wife and husband swapping variety!

 The movie was “Look In Any Window” (tag line: “The Shares Are Open… And Their Morals Are Showing!  The exciting story of today’s Adult Delinquents”) and Paul Anka seems to have been chosen for the intense way in which he liked to stare at things that we studied in some detail above.  Paul spends much of the movie simply staring intensely at his neighbours through their windows. 
There was a song.  But it wasn’t a hit.  It doesn’t even appear to have been released. It’s no good having being a teen idol with a song in a soundtrack to a movie that is too sexy for the kids to be allowed to watch.

If the plan of Paul’s role in “Look In Any Window” was to give his image a bit of an edge, it didn’t work.  It was doomed from the start.  In Paul’s previous movie – “Girl’s Town” - he had been virtually the only nice guy in a movie full of rebels and nuns.  He almost seemed less rebellious than the nuns.  There was breaking bad now.  Besides, his next single was yet another nice boy song.  “Summer’s Gone” which reached No.11 on the US charts in 1961.

By the beginning of 1961, Paul had found his niche, and it was a nice boy niche. And the United States were full of nice teenage boys and nice teenage girls (the UK had gotten bored of Paul by this time, possibly because they had Cliff Richard).  Enough of them to guarantee that whenever he released a new single it would race up the charts, usually finding a home somewhere above No.20 yet below No.10.  Even Paul Anka’s chart positions were teenage.

He hadn’t given up his dream of being an adult performer however, complete with cha-cha beats and orchestras and well dressed couples clapping politely, all of which turned up in “Tonight My Love Tonight” which reached No.13 in the US.  And No.29 in Australia.

Then there was “Dance On Little Girl” which reached No.10 on the US charts in 1961.  And No.20 in Australia.  The cover of which may experience the most bored expression ever on the cover of a record with the word “dance” in it.

This should not be a surprise rally.  Dancing does not appear to be one of Paul Anka’s favourite hobbies.  At the same time as most of his generation were twisting, and doing the mashed potato and the boogaloo, Paul Anka released an album called “Let’s Sit This One Out.” 

Paul just didn’t seem to be as much fun anymore.

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