GaryOldman SidVicious 1500 crop

did sid vicious, elvis, and sinatra really do it their way?

HOW HAVE WE MISSED THE OBVIOUS for so long? Look, I know that old-school rock & roll fans in gen­eral and Elvis fans specif­i­cally are sup­posed to re­ac­tionarily hate punk rock—and most do! But the punks of the ’70s were car­rying on some of the spirit of the ’50s rock & roll that we love so much—especially the un­tamed Elvis of the Dorsey Brother Shows!

I also know that punk fans are re­quired to knee­jerkedly loathe Elvis—and most do! But the punks of the ’70s are in­con­ceiv­able without the Elvis that mil­lions of people saw on the tv and at the movies in the ’50s! 1

As a second-generation Presley fan who came of age during the British In­va­sion, I had no place for punk rock on my turntable when it emerged in the second half of the ’70s. In 1981, the Clash’s LONDON CALLING got my at­ten­tion and I was able to go back and begin to ap­pre­ciate ear­lier Clash, Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads, Ra­mones, and Elvis Costello.

 

This ar­ticle is the same as the ar­ticle ti­tled “Was My Way Re­ally Their Way Or Someone Else’s Way?” on my Elvis – A Touch Of Gold web­site!

 

But as to the rest of the hard­core punk phe­nom­enon—never mind the bol­lards and to hell with the Sex Pis­tols and the end­less pa­rade of blath­ering tal­ent­less pos­turing one-chord bands with their ripped clothes and their bad hair­cuts and dumb pogo dancing I’d rather be lis­tening to RUMOURS!

But last year, for po­lit­ical rea­sons someone steered me to the Pis­tols and their An­archy In The UK single. I watched a few live ver­sions on YouTube and y’­know it weren’t half bad! 2

A little more re­search led to The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, a 1980 doc­u­men­tary that fea­tured Sid Vi­cious’s vig­orous ver­sion of My Way. The opening bars have Sid sat­i­rizing Frank Sinatra and any/all crooner-based singing, but once the band kicks in, Sid has Elvis the Pelvis splat­tered all over him­self!

 

Sid Vi­cious - My Way

Crude but effective

If you’ve just watched Sid Vi­cious per­form My Way in The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle (video above) and you’re not a punk fan, you may have found the per­for­mance ex­e­crable! And it is, on one level. On an­other, it’s fookin’ bril­liant!

It’s satire—crude but ef­fec­tive!

Re­member, this was 1979, the end of the ‘Fab­u­lous Sev­en­ties,’ an era when people ac­cepted an Elton for an Elvis, mis­took the Ea­gles for the Byrds, thought Olivia Newton-John was better than Petula Clark, and pre­ferred co­caine and al­cohol over pot and acid!

It was the height of ‘the Disco Era,’ and people thought the ‘new’ Bee Gees were the new Bea­tles for Grom­mett’s sake! (Coke has that ef­fect.)

Sid’s ap­pear­ance here in­cludes his lean face with swept-back black hair and greaser’s side­burns. Sound fa­miliar? His move­ments are Elvisy and better than a lot of Elvis imitators—I keep waiting for him to do some hip-swiveling gy­ra­tions.

The out­landish sneer thing he does with his lips takes Elvis’s “I did 29 pic­tures like that!” joke on his 1968 NBC-TV Spe­cial to a whole other di­men­sion. These show Vi­cious’s knowl­edge and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Elvis and rock & roll history—something rarely if ever dis­cussed about him, the Pis­tols, or punk in gen­eral. 3

His pos­turing re­sem­bles a spoiled 14-year old brat drunk for the first time and making fun of every­thing around him, in­cluding tearing down Ol’ Blue Eyes, Elvis, family (that’s his Mum in the au­di­ence at the end), and roy­alty every­where (Bravo!).

It’s re­ally a rather re­mark­able per­for­mance from Vi­cious: funny, smart, lively as all get-out, and ir­rev­erent with a F*ckyou! at­ti­tude be­yond any­thing that any ’50s rock & roller would have con­sid­ered, even in a drunken reverie!

Okay, Jerry Lee prob­ably thought about stuff like this after too many up­pers and too much al­cohol and not enough sleep.

And by doing the per­for­mance in a French set­ting (real or not, it doesn’t matter), he even takes jabs at the orig­inal ver­sion of My Way, the French song Comme D’Habi­tude.

About the song …

 

Claude François - Comme d’habi­tude

Did Claude do it his way?

A song with Eng­lish lyrics ti­tled For Me was written by Jacques Re­vaux and Gilles Thibault. They took it to singer Claude ‘Cloclo’ Fran­cois, who as­sisted with pen­ning new French lyrics that re­flected a couple in a strained re­la­tion­ship (and get­ting him a co-writer credit). Comme D’Habi­tude (“As Usual”) was re­leased in 1967 and was a hit in Eu­rope.

Paul Anka heard Comme D’Habi­tude while vis­iting France, pur­chased the rights, and re-wrote the lyrics:it was now about an older man re­flecting on his life that he be­lieves he has lived on his own terms.

This song with these all-new Eng­lish lyrics was then reti­tled My Way and given by Anka to Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in De­cember 1968. Upon re­lease in early ’69, it be­came his sig­na­ture song for sev­eral later gen­er­a­tions of Sinatra fans.

 

Frank Sinatra - My Way (Live At The Royal Fes­tival Hall, London / 1970)

 

Did Frank do it his way?

Frank Sina­tra’s My Way is one his many great record­ings cut during his second come­back, this one in the late ’60s. It peaked at #27 on Bill­board and reached #29 on Cash Box, his eleventh Top 40 hit for Reprise Records, the com­pany that he had formed. It was also his last Top 40 hit in the US.

It was a much bigger hit in the UK, making it to #5 on at least one of the week­lies. It sup­pos­edly re-entered one or an­other of the British the charts six times in 1970-1971 and holds the record for the longest stay on the UK charts.

Sinatra sup­pos­edly “loathed” the song, which he de­scribed as a “Paul Anka pop hit which be­came a kind of na­tional an­them.” In 2000, his daughter Tina said, “He al­ways thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.”

His first come­back took place in 1953 when he landed a killer role in From Here To Eter­nity—for which was nom­i­nated for an Academy Award—and a killer con­tract with Capitol Records. Ex­actly how much of this was owed to his New Jersey “con­nec­tions” may re­main for­ever moot. If it and other ca­reer turns at­trib­uted to friends from Hoboken are true, then his claim to have done it his way is ques­tion­able. 4

 

Elvis Presley - My Way (HD)

Did Elvis do it his way?

Elvis first recorded My Way in the studio in 1971 at the end of the May-June ses­sions where three al­bums worth f ma­te­rial were recorded: the out­standing HE TOUCHED ME and the crit­i­cally under-appreciated THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CHRISTMAS. The sec­ular songs were scat­tered to the wind. While My Way sounds a little rough, it’s a lovely reading that he in­ex­plic­ably did not re­lease (above).

Presley did re­lease a fine live ver­sion in 1973 on the ALOHA FROM HAWAII VIA SATELLITE album, and it re­mained in his reper­toire throughout the ’70s.

As part of the posthu­mous ELVIS IN CONCERT album, My Way (above) was pulled as a single and peaked at #19 on Bill­board but only reached #31 on Cash Box. These are ridicu­lously low chart po­si­tions for a record that was cer­ti­fied by the RIAA for a Gold Record Award two months after its re­lease.  

As for Elvis doing things his way: Presley kow­towed to Colonel Park­er’s career-making and un­making de­ci­sions for more than twenty years, drug­ging his way through one onus movie after an­other, recording and okaying the re­lease of awful sound­track songs, re­fusing to tour at all in the ’60s.

He lis­tened to Parker until his ca­reer was in jeop­ardy and then took ad­vice from other people and made his leg­endary 1968 NBC-TV spe­cial that re­turned him to the land of the living and the rel­e­vant.

He then re­turned to al­lowing Parker to call most of the shots, which in­cluded tor­pe­doing Presley’s chance at the lead role op­po­site Dustin Hoffman in Mid­night Cowboy (1969) and in Barbra Streisand’s A Star Is Born (1976).

He also re­fused to book Elvis any­where out­side the US when he re­turned to touring in 1971—despite the un­wa­vering loy­alty of his British fans and the stag­gering amounts of money of­fered him.

Facts such as these—and his mon­strous drug habit!—tend to make Pres­ley’s claim to have done it his way al­most laugh­able. 5

Did Sid do it his way?

From the mo­ment that wee John Simon Ritchie trans­mo­gri­fied into Sex Pistol’s bassist and even­tual lead singer Sid Vi­cious, he pretty much did it all his way. 6

Did Neal do it his way?

I have saved the best for last: These are Paul Anka’s lyrics as sung by Frank “Ring-A-Ding-Ding” Sinatra on his orig­inal 1968 recording. The parsing of the stanzas and the punc­tu­a­tion are mine, and naught is ar­chaic and means nothing.

And now, the end is near,
and so I face the final cur­tain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m cer­tain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve trav­eled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Re­grets, I’ve had a few,
but then again, too few to men­tion.
I did what I had to do,
and saw it through without ex­emp­tion.

I planned each charted course,
each careful step along the byway.
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
when I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out!
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
and did it my way.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing.
And now, as tears sub­side,
I find it all so amusing.

To think, I did all that!
And may I say, not in a shy way!
Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not him­self, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels,
and not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows
and did it my way.

These are truly fine lyrics and I didn’t even begin to ap­pre­ciate them until I passed my 60th birthday. As for me having done it my way—Oh Hell no! I was a wuss too many times, lived in fear too many times, failed too many women too many times, ad nau­seam.

But a good sign when you’re my age is that I have not only sur­vived the slings and ar­rows of out­ra­geous for­tune, but this song has lost all trace of poignancy!

For me, the op­er­a­tive word in these lyrics has be­come “amusing.”

I can’t tell you what that means or how that feels, but I hope you un­der­stand some day …

 

GaryOldman SidVicious 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is Gary Oldman as Sid Vi­cious per­forming My Way in the 1986 movie Sid & Nancy. Oldman was an un­known as was his co-star Chloe Webb but they lit the screen up with their per­for­mances as the ever-fucked-up punk couple.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Elvis’s acting in his first movie Love Me Tender (1956) was his at­tempt to em­u­late James Dean, so he came off punky, but it was a western. His second movie Loving You (1957) he was Mr. Nice Guy. It was with Jail­house Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) that the rough and tumble Presley found his way onto the big screen.

2   I am not cer­tain that the ones that I watch a year ago are the same as the ones that are on the In­ternet at this time. The videos on YouTube change so fre­quently!

3   The ex­ag­ger­ated sneer here pro­vided Billy Idol with a hook upon which to build a ca­reer a few years later.

4   The char­acter of Johnny Fontane (played by Al Mar­tino in the movie) in Mario Pu­zo’s novel The God­fa­ther was sup­pos­edly based on Sinatra—including the fa­mous horse’s head scene in which the adamant Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer changes his mind about giving Johnny a shot at a role in his movie.

5   Ru­mors ex­plaining Park­er’s con­trol over Presley in­cluded his having mys­tical powers, him being a hyp­no­tist, him black­mailing Elvis over some­thing no one else has ever dis­cov­ered, they were ho­mo­sexual lovers, to most Presley de­trac­tors’ fave, the boy from Mem­phis was too damn dumb to know any better.

6  There is an ex­cel­lent movie about Vi­cious’s short life: Sid And Nancy stars Gary Oldman as Sid with Chloe Webb as his girl­friend Nancy Spungen. The screen­play was written by di­rector Alex Cox and Abbe Wool—well worth seeing …

 

 

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