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Music

How Frank Sinatra inspired one of David Bowie's greatest hits

@SamWKemp

What links Donald Trump, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, and a series of brutal murders in the Phillipines? Any guesses? No, well, they all have one thing in common: a song by French singer Claude Francois called ‘Comme D’Habitude’. The track was originally written by Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault in 1967. After taking it to singer Claude Francois that same year, they landed themselves a hit across Europe.

The next year, in 1968, songwriter-for-hire Paul Anka heard the track while visiting France. On a rainy night following his return to New York, the melody returned to him, at which point, he sat down and penned some English lyrics for the song, naming it, simply, ‘My Way’. The final product ended up in the hands of Frank Sinatra, who turned it into a hit stateside.

Over the years, that track has become synonymous with Sinatra’s legacy. It is also one of the most requested karaoke songs of all time. It is so popular, in fact, that it sparked sparking a series of gruesome murders in the Phillipines known only as the ‘My Way Killings’, with those who chose to sing it meeting a sticky end in one way or another. But, perhaps even more harrowing is the fact that President Trump left the White House with ‘My Way’ pumping from the stereo of his private helicopter. As one reporter at the time observed: “You just can’t make it up”.

But what about David Bowie? Well, Paul Anka wasn’t the only one to try and write English lyrics for ‘Comme D’Habitude’. Earlier in 1968, David Bowie had also penned an English version of Francois’ hit single. The young musician sent his efforts to a music publisher, who promptly rejected them, preferring Anka’s simpler and more concise lyrics. Bowie was still to land a hit single at this point, so when he heard Sinatra singing Paul Anka’s version, he felt a sting of jealousy. “In retaliation, I wrote ‘Life on Mars?’” Bowie later told The Guardian.

What ‘My Way’ was for Sinatra, ‘Life On Mars’ became for Bowie. Today, that 1971 hit encapsulates everything that made the glam star such a fantastic songwriter. It’s no wonder, then, that in the liner notes to Hunky Dory, to the left of ‘Life On Mars’, you’ll find a note that reads: “inspired by Frankie.” Clearly, by the time Bowie released that astonishing album, he felt as though everything had worked out for the best. Opening up about his ill-fated version of Comme D’Habitude’, Bowie once recalled how he “turned in the pitifully awful title ‘Even a Fool Learns to Love,’ which he rejected out of hand, quite rightly. It passed on to Paul Anka, who did his own English lyric. And he called it, simply and effectively, ‘My Way’”.

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