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November 17, 2019

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‘My Way’ songwriter has Sinatra ‘regrets’

HE wrote the music for “My Way,” one of the world’s most popular songs, but Jacques Revaux would like to mention a few of his regrets.

For one, “I don’t even have a photo with Frank Sinatra,” the French songwriter laughed. The legendary American crooner may have made the song a global hit, but not many people know it was actually a French song first.

Fewer still — not even in France, where the credit often goes to the singer Claude Francois — are aware that Revaux wrote the original. Yet half a century after he wrote the first draft of the classic, and despite being elbowed into the shadows not just once but twice, the 79-year-old Revaux is still happy he did it his way.

The prolific songwriter scribbled down a number about a couple falling out of love titled “For Me” in his own idiosyncratic English in 1967 when he was 27. He took it first to the “French Bob Dylan,” Hugues Aufray, who said, “Bloody hell, it’s good, but it’s not for me.”

British singer Petula Clark and Egyptian-born diva Dalida also turned it down before Revaux — who by then had penned a string of hits — bumped into French megastar Francois in the Riviera resort of Cannes that summer.

Francois, known to generations of his fans, teased Revaux over never writing a song for him.

“You do all sorts of rubbish for everyone else, why not for me?” Revaux recalled Francois telling him.

Some time later sitting by the pool at Francois’s mansion, the singer said, “Well, are you going to play me some of your rubbish then?”

Revaux picked up his guitar and the rest is history. Francois recorded the song as “Comme d’Habitude” (As Usual), but before it was released Revaux got a call from his editor.

“He said Claude wanted his name on all the songs (on the album), and it wasn’t on this one,” Revaux said. “Would I mind sharing the credit with him for the music? I said, ‘No problem’... at the time we didn’t know what we were doing.”

And so the song’s official credit still reads: “Music: Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux. Lyrics: Gilles Thibaut.”

And now, as tears subside, Revaux finds it all so amusing.

“My only regret is that I disappeared as the composer as far as the public was concerned,” he said. “Peace be upon his ashes, but Claude, like all the big stars, want to claim the credit.” 

Revaux admitted that Francois sang it fantastically and gave a bit of “muscle” to his “syrupy” original. That summer the former Canadian teen idol Paul Anka heard the song while he was on holiday in France and later rewrote its storyline. Having got the rights for a nominal dollar, he gave the song another tweak, especially for Sinatra, who had told him that he was quitting show business.

“I’m sick of it, son,” he told him, saying he would record only one more album before he hung up his hat. But Anka chipped away at him, and Sinatra recorded it at the end of 1968 “in one take.”

Released a few months later, it was a massive hit, boasting 75 weeks in the British Top 40 — a record that still stands — and rerecorded by Elvis, the Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious, Robbie Williams and Julio Iglesias. Today it is the song most played at funerals in the world.

Even so, Revaux had a mixed feeling when he heard Ol’ Blue Eyes sing it.

“First of all I was happy, it was Sinatra, but shame on me,” Revaux said, admitting he failed to realize it was a masterpiece. “If it had been a straight translation of our ‘Comme d’Habitude’ it wouldn’t have had one percent of its success. So thank you Mr Paul Anka.”

Looking back on the 50th anniversary of Sinatra’s version, Revaux said he “has never appreciated the song so much.”

When Sinatra was honored with a medal by the city of Paris, he did not ask to have a picture taken with him.

Although he has some sneaking admiration for the Sid Vicious version, “He adapted it to his own personality while others have just taken the same tempo.” But Nina Simone’s is his favorite.

“For me it is the most beautiful recreation of the song,” Revaux said.


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