Paul Anka was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1941, and he had already recorded several records by the time he was 15. In 1957 the 15 year-old Anka became a teen idol for his song ‘Diana’ and he became the first teenager at the time to have a million seller in the U.K. Paul Anka has had a remarkably successful career to this day as a singer, songwriter, and performer. Paul is a music legend whose contribution to the industry ranges from making his own hits to writing music for fellow stars. Paul captured magic with his music that was relevant when he was young, but it is still obvious today. Oddly, Paul Anka still has not made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which was established in 1983 and is located in Cleveland.
Anka proved a child prodigy, beginning his show business life at the age of 12 by doing impressions of the ‘pop’ singers of the day. At Fisher Park High School, Anka was part of a vocal trio that he formed called the Bobbysoxers that performed locally in Ottawa. By the age of 14, he was stealing the family car to drive to amateur singing contests in nearby Hull, Quebec, and writing his own songs based on his personal experiences. Paul won a trip to New York by winning a Campbell’s soup contest for IGA Food Stores that required him to spend three months collecting soup can labels. He began taking piano and guitar lessons and in 1956 he went to Los Angeles to visit his uncle. A meeting with Modern Records led to the release of his first record, Paul Anka with the Jacks single, ‘Blau-Wile Deverest Fontaine’ which was not a hit, as it didn’t make it to the charts. He also recorded ‘I Confess’, which appeared on the Riviera subsidiary of Jules and Joe Bihari’s RPM label, but the couple songs he had written for Modern only sold 3,000 copies.
During Easter vacation, Anka went to New York with the Rover Boys, a Canadian quartet. While in New York, Anka gained an audition with the director of artists and repertoire for the ABC-Paramount label producer Don Costa, and he sang his own composition, ‘Diana’. Costa was initially more impressed with the number of Anka’s completed songs then with his singing ability. Costa liked what he heard, he soon called Paul’s father to New York and a contract was signed so the teenager could be recorded. Anka was then sent to voice coaches and received training in song composition. Within a month, ABC-Paramount was ready to record Anka’s ‘Diana’. Anka watched as the single hit number one on both sides of the Atlantic later in 1957, eventually selling a reported ten million copies worldwide. When school started back up in September, Anka didn’t return, as he was busy touring to support his hit.
‘Diana’ was a love song in the form of a plea from a teenage boy who was in love with an older teenage girl. When Anka was 14, he developed a crush for a 19-year-old girl named Diana Ayoub, who worked as a secretary in the offices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa. He saw her at a church and she was a former babysitter for his younger brother and sister. Anka said that Diana was a little out of his league, she really didn’t want anything to do with him, which made it even worse. ‘Diana’ is a clear example of unrequited love, Paul’s infatuation with Diana was one-sided love, it was not reciprocated and she was barely aware of him. The music was based on a popular Latin rhythm called cha-lypso, which is a modified cha-cha done to a calypso beat. Cha-lypso had been invented a only a few months earlier, when teenagers needed a special step so they could dance to Mickey and Sylvia’s ‘Love Is Strange’.
In August 1957, American Bandstand, was a new television show that was broadcast out of Philadelphia, PA, and it featured local teenagers dancing to the new rock ‘n roll music. The show had just gone national on the ABC television network with its new young host, Dick Clark, airing every day at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of its national debut, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Soon there were about 20 million viewers tuning in, and fan letters poured in by the tens of thousands. Teenagers came to Philadelphia from wide and far for a chance to dance on the show. American Bandstand also became a place where new talent could be seen, as Clark allotted featured spots on each show for new acts to perform their songs. The guest performers appeared in person and typically sat with Clark in brief conversation, answering his questions about their music, where they were from, what they were doing next, etc.
Two days later after the August 5, 1957, first national broadcast of ‘American Bandstand’, Paul Anka became the first performer to make his national debut during a television appearance singing his new song ‘Diana’. At the time the song was at #13 on Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart, on August 18th it peaked at #2 (for 5 weeks) a week later it would went to #1 (for 1 week), and ‘Diana’ spent 29 weeks on the Top 100. While ‘Diana’ was at #2, the #1 record was ‘Tammy’ by Debbie Reynolds. On November 3, 1957, Paul Anka performed ‘Diana’ on the CBS-TV variety program The Ed Sullivan Show.
Anka placed four songs in the Top 20 a year later, including ‘You Are My Destiny’ and ‘Crazy Love’, tempering the all-out rebellion of rock & roll with songs that questioned parental authority rather than promoting outright disobedience. He wrote one of Buddy Holly’s last hits, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, which was recorded in 1958 and released posthumously. Less than three weeks after the recording, Buddy Holly was in that tragic accident with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper where the plane crashed flying into a blizzard, and the title of this song seems rather prophetic. Anka moved into movies with Let’s Rock and Girls Town. The latter film spawned his biggest American hit, ‘Lonely Boy’, which was just the first in a string of 1959 chart successes including ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder’, ‘It’s Time to Cry’, and ‘Puppy Love’, which he wrote for his old flame Annette Funicello, and later it became a hit for Donny Osmond as well.
When the teen idol craze began to cool off, Anka (a millionaire while still being a minor) was able to modify his style and take on the adult market, becoming a junior associate of Sinatra and the Rat Pack. In 1959, he debuted at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and a year later Paul groomed a solo act became the youngest performer to headline the Copacabana. By 1961, Anka could boast of the over 125 compositions under his belt, his own record label (Spanka), and the recognition of being behind the second-best-selling single of all time (only ‘White Christmas’ had sold more copies than ‘Diana’). Anka next moved to RCA and, in yet another shrewd business move, bought the rights to his old masters and made a fortune on reissues alone.
He diversified his career by appearing in several more movie roles including the 1962 drama The Longest Day, for which he provided the Academy Award-nominated theme and made a cameo appearance as a US Army Ranger. Paul was one of the first pop singers to do shows in Las Vegas, he also hosted television variety shows like Hullabaloo, The Midnight Special, and Spotlite, and moved on to foreign audiences in Asia and Europe where he found his wife, Parisian model Anne de Zogheb. He wrote the theme to The Tonight Show which aired every weeknight for almost 30 years and he got royalities every time it was played. Anka rewrote the French lyrics to the song ‘Comme d’Habitude’ which later became one of Frank Sinatra’s most famous songs, ‘My Way’, and he also wrote Tom Jones’ biggest hit, ‘She’s a Lady’. Although he had hit the Top 40 only once since 1963, Anka stormed back into the number one slot in 1974 with ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’, a duet recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with his singing protégée, Odia Coates. Anka co-wrote Michael Jackson’s final hit, ‘This Is It’, which was released after it was discovered at the singer’s home following his 2009 death.
“I’m so young and you’re so old
This, my darling, I’ve been told
I don’t care just what they say
‘Cause forever I will pray
You and I will be as free
As the birds up in the trees
Oh, please stay by me, Diana
Thrills I get when you hold me close
Oh, my darling, you’re the most
I love you but do you love me
Oh, Diana, can’t you see
I love you with all my heart
And I hope we will never part
Oh, please stay by me, Diana
Oh, my darlin’, oh, my lover
Tell me that there is no other
I love you with my heart
Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
Only you can take my heart
Only you can tear it apart
When you hold me in your loving arms
I can feel you giving all your charms
Hold me, darling, ho-ho hold me tight
Squeeze me baby with all your might
Oh, please stay by me, Diana
Oh, please, Diana
Oh, please, Diana
Oh, please, Diana”