(I originally posted this article on my other blog on June 19 2007, but now that I’ve started this one, it seems more at home here)
I know I’m a bit late for this review, but I think the time has come to give credit where credit’s due.
So here it is: Mom, you were right, Paul Anka is one hell of a musician.
“Rock Swings” by Paul Anka was released in 2005. The album is a collection of hit songs from the 80s and early 90s. Anka and his collaborator’s approach was to re-adapt these songs to a jazz-swing style. EDIT: Anka has since released another album entitled “Classic Songs, My Way” that continues with this same idea. I’m sure I’ll be buying it soon!
Now, I won’t dive too much into the details, let’s just say that the 80s and earlier 90s were, well “my generation” as they say, meaning that I was a teenager/young adult at that time. We’ve all passed by, or are passing by, this period of our lives. When you’re in the 15-25 age bracket, the best music is of course the music that you listen to and the worst music, the most abominable music, the most screeching, how-could-anybody-like-that music is that of your parents.
My Mom liked Paul Anka. I liked, no loved, worshiped, musicians like Billy Idol, the group Van Halen, (remember them?) or a bit later Nirvana. Everytime a song from one of these guys/groups would play on the radio, I’d turn it up and start dancing around my bedroom like, well, a teenager, until my Mom would come and knock on the door, “turn that noise down!”
At that age Paul Anka was the ultimate example of ‘has been’. He was simply one of those old guys who had gone to the Las Vegas graveyard of ‘passé’ musicians. He was useful only as someone to make fun of with your friends while listening to The Cure.
But then I got a little older, the hormones settled down and I started to expand my musical horizons. Names like Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis et Ray Charles started appearing in my album collection. As the years passed by they even started becoming more numerous than the albums that I loved when I was young. However, Paul Anka never made it into my collection.
If you haven’t heard any of the tracks from this CD you can listen to a few samples here. Anka has managed to bring back to life such songs as “Jump” by Van Halen, or “Wonderwall” by Oasis. Some of the songs, for example “Hello” originally by Lionel Richie, can be more easily imagined in swing-time than others, say, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, which is, ironically, my personal favorite. However, every track works on this CD that I consider to be THE musical event of 2005.
Now don’t be mistaken, this is a Jazz CD. If you haven’t discovered the richness of jazz music yet, you’re probably not going to like what Anka has done here. But if you have, you’re going to be pleased by Anka’s amazing interpretive talents. You’ll also be pleased to discover that these songs that seemed destined to the forgotten hits of yesterday list do in fact have musical merit. It’s just a question of reworking their musical interpretation. There’s nothing new to that; songs are re-interpreted all the time in the pop music industry. But the problem with a pop re-interpretation is that, just like the original, the remake will one day fade away; the nature of pop music is to be in fashion and all fashions become embarrassing after a while. I got rid of my Van Halen records years and years ago. Why? because the were so ‘eighties’, what could be more embarrassing than that? Anka’s merit here is to have seen through the eighties-fashion interpretation of these songs in order to discover the music underneath. By re-interpreting the music into swing-style jazz he has taken these songs out of the hit-of-the-moment pop music machine and put them on a much more “stable” platform as it were, that of Jazz.
So if you’ve reached that age where you look for something other than (and/or in addition to) the top 40, I can’t recommend enough “Rock Swings” by Paul Anka.
To sum up, yes Mom, you were right after all. Why? Because Paul Anka is still here. He was there in the 60s. He was there in the 70s. He was there in the 80s. He was there in the 90s. And here he is in the 2000s. And where’s Billy Idol these days, or Jon Bon Jovi? Have 16 year-olds today even heard of Spandau Ballet? I doubt it. All of those guys had to settle for their 15 minutes of fame. By writing pretty good songs they certainly earned their 15 minutes and I tip my hat to them. But compared to Anka’s 50 years in the biz, ‘ya have to ask:
Who has the last laugh now?