It Takes a Tough Man To Make Tender Music


Back when my tribute to Paul Anka's "The Guys Get Shirts" tirade sparked a pile-on of Anka bashers—who, it's worth noting, never made it to the top of the charts with a song about their babysitter, did not compose the Tonight Show theme or write the English lyrics to "My Way," never came up with an immortal jingle (and another Top 10 hit*) for Kodak, have not toured with both Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra, and did not write and record ten gold records—I felt compelled to defend the Lebanese-Canadian hitmaker (down in the comments) in the name of hardass bandleaders and managers of lazy slobs everywhere. Now, in an interview with Terry Gross, Anka shows he needs no defending. Gross, always searching for her next Gene Simmons moment, needles the man who topped the international charts in three decades about the audio clip, and Anka, who claims "I love it; it's great," gives a completely persuasive explanation:

Anka: That was recorded 15 years ago by a real snake that we fired. We had a nice big moment on Howard Stern, where he played the tape and he absolutely agreed with it. He said "I've done that. I do that." And everybody does. I think any guy running a company gets the whole point of that tape. I'm a real stickler for detail, and I have a real strong responsibility to my audience. When I'm up on that stage, anything I do has to be as perfect as possible for the consumer and for whomever. I don't just go to work and take the check and run. What happened there was there were a lot of mistakes in the band, in the sense that we'd rehearsed it one way, and we'd have a cutoff, where everybody has to end together. The other thing was that we'd spent a lot of money getting guys dressed so there was uniformity. And the guys just dropped the ball. You know, a lot of musicians—some of them are drinkers, some of them are doing dope and what have you, and you learn that, you know, later in the gig. It's like hiring people—the résumés are one thing, and everybody's on their best behavior, but until you get somewhere into the voyage and you realize you've got some bad apples in there, that's when you have to deal with it. It's a funny tape; that's me; I'm that way. People don't toe the line, they're out.

Gross: You really lay into the band on this. You say things like, "When I f'in' move I slice like a f'in' hammer." What's it like to really bawl out your band and then be in front of them in a performance? Because when you're performing you want the band to be really sympathetic, and play in a moving way.

Anka: Oh, they do. They know how to take it. We're having dinner together on Saturday night. It's totally meaningless because they're used to that environment. They've done it with Buddy Rich, they've heard it with Sinatra. These are seasoned guys. When you show them the mistakes, and you bawl them out any way you want, they know the personality on the other side. I mean, I've heard Tommy LaSorda—there's like thousands of these tapes, from Orson Welles to Tommy Lasorda—and I think we're all indoctrinated, we all get it. So a band, when you're giving them work—and most of these guys are still with me today—they know the personality, they know when they're wrong, they know how to decipher and edit. And it really doesn't come into play. When you've been doing this for 47 years and you're successful on that stage, every entity is working and all the energies are working. And the other side of the coin is you're the guy who's getting them money, and you're doing it for their families, you're bringing them here. So you've got to look at the full mosaic. This is a small pebble on the whole infrastructure of business. I know how to motivate people and I know how to treat them, and I have absolutely no regrets for anything on that tape whatsoever.

Buy Paul Anka's Rock Swings LP here. In fact, what are you doing reading this blog when you're supposed to be fucking working? You're on notice! You're all on notice!

* Thanks to reader SP for noting that "The Times of Your Life" only made it to Number 7 on Billboard's Hot 100. It'll always be Number 1 in my book!

NEXT: Another Reason to Miss O'Connor

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  1. Much like Shatner’s latest I bought Rock Swings on kitsch value alone, and was pleasantly surprised to find its actually a damn good album.

  2. Ponderous, man, fucking ponderous.

    Oh wait that was Kasey Kasem, got my Lebanese guys mixed up.

    I suppose all these guys would have to die before you could get the rights to this stuff, but a whole CD of these kinds of things from the giants of the biz would make a perfect Rhino records release.

  3. Back when I set up video projection equipment in the 1980s for a number of local venues, I was on the receiving end of similar tirades from Rodney Dangerfield and Jack LaLanne. After three minutes, one gets the point. After five minutes the impression goes from “the boss is mad” to “the boss won’t stop talking.”

    The ONE thing that the modern human resource management training wave did right was teach managers to get the point, then shut up.

  4. Douglas Fletcher,

    Look no further, my friend:

    I happen to own a couple of these babies myself. I play them for my friends and we absolutely plotz. The Shatner, Kasem and Anka tracks are instant classics. They are so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend them.

    (By the way, how does one slice “like a fuckin’ hammer?” Isn’t that a blunt instrument? Maybe Mr. Anka was referring the claw-end of it, but still…)

  5. I just had to post this from the Gross/Simmons transcript..

    Terry Gross: I would like to think that the personality you’ve presented on our show today is a persona that you’ve affected as a member of KISS, something you do on stage, before the microphone, but that you’re not nearly as obnoxious in the privacy of your own home or when you’re having dinner with friends.

    Gene Simmons: Fair enough. And I’d like to think that the boring lady who’s talking to me now is a lot sexier and more interesting than the one who’s doing NPR. You know, studious and reserved, and — I bet you’re a lot of fun at a party.

  6. I slice like a hammer?

  7. That Gene Simmons interview is hysterical.

  8. From recent experience, I can testify that the new Anka record is the ideal dinner music for a wedding dinner. Parents dig the big-band vibe, kids like to hear “Black Hole Sun.”

  9. As a guy that has directed voice talent, the Orson Wells session sends chills down my spine. It’s also fucking hilarious.

  10. There’s this great piece of video of DeNiro doing a network ID for some show on Fox. The hack FOX director tells him to do it with a little more energy. DeNiro lays into him.

    It’s stinking DeNiro, dude!

  11. I’m a huge Paul Anka fan, too. But this “Rock Swings” stuff is, IMO, crap.

  12. Got to agree with Jeff on this one, the guy needs to make his point and then shut his fucking mouth. When you keep saying the same thing over and over again, you start to sound like a moron, even if your point is legitimate.
    I happened to catch his interview on the radio yesterday, and I thought he made a very good defense of himself (although I’d not heard the tape until today), but jesus. People who feel bad about letting you down after the first iteration of the littany are seeing you as the enemy by the third.

  13. I couldn’t tell from the Amazon listing…is that the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin” that he covers? Because if it is, I’m stopping at Virgin on the way home tonight.

    I can’t look at Anka without thinking about him blowing up on Farm Film Report, though.

  14. You can wear a talent out with over direction and shitty copy. I try to avoid both, but some of these guys are dickfaces with over inflated egos. If you are such an artist why the fuck are you doing a dog food spot? You’re getting paid a ridiculous sum of money for an hour of your time. Shut the fuck up and read the copy how I tell you fatty.

    I’ll put up with a certain amount of shit from name talent. They’ve earned it. But when you have the guy whose biggest credit is playing Willie Lowman at the local dinner theater giving you shit, that’s another story. Corky St. Clair is not just a Christopher Guest character.

    That being said. Anyone who asks a talent to put a smile in their voice or to make it bigger deserves all the abuse they get. Also, try to think about who you cast. If you want a fun, energetic read DeNiro isn’t your guy.

  15. I am surprised the introductory paragraph did not allude to Paul’s participation in the ensemble cast of The Longest Day, with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, et al, or his authorship of the lyrics:

    Many men came here as soldiers
    Many men will pass this way
    Many men will count the hours
    As they live the longest day
    Many men are tired and weary
    Many men are here to stay
    Many men won’t see the sunset
    When it ends the longest day
    The longest day the longest day
    This will be the longest day
    Filled with hopes and filled with fears
    Filled with blood and sweat and tears
    Many men the mighty thousands
    Many men to victory
    Marching on right into battle
    In the longest day in history

    (c) 1963 Paul Anka

  16. I get tired of whippersnappers talking about so-called famous whippersnappers I’ve never heard of. There are no whippersnappers on this thread are there? My trouble is, I’ve heard of Paul Anka, but I’m too old to remember any frissons he induced in me. Maybe I’ve always been frisson-deprived. Probably.
    I do think that (below), when the Dick Clark Caravan rolled into Nashville, was when I got his autograph, but it was just a consolation prize for not being able to be up close and personal with Annette Funicello. (Paul didn’t really “top the bill.” Annette did.)
    If Paul is the one I remember, he did seem to have lightning bolts in his gaze.
    (10/16) PAUL ANKA tops the bill, along with Lloyd Price, Annette, Duane Eddy, Jimmy Clanton, Lavern Baker, The Coasters, Drifters, Skyliners, Bobby Rydell, and Phil Phillips in Concert at Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis… all told 11 major stars on stage!!! 2 shows at 8 & 11 p.m. Tickets were $2-$3.75.

  17. Before I go off to my real life I must say that much as I respect Tim Cavanaugh, good god, Tim, Anka wrote Having My Baby! Surely he deserves mention for that, even if it doesn’t bolster your case in his favor.

    Maybe you’re just too young to have heard it before all the copies were destroyed by the federal courts after the Anka vs. Human Race lawsuit, I suppose.

  18. BAC,

    Guilty as charged. Hacking out copy for a false deadline as we speak.

    What gave me away – my anecdotes or my bad grammar?

  19. I did lighting for Anka on a few occasions. He always treated us fine, we stayed in the same hotel and flew on his jet. This was back in the ’70’s.
    We went to NY for a concert and they had a musician strike. We stayed there about 10 days and never opened. He picked up everybody’s room-service tab at the end of the gig.
    One time at Caesars Palace in Vegas, he had a meeting to chew out the crew for something. The next night, after a good performance, he had another meeting and gave us each a $100 chip.

  20. Ralphus —

    It was your baseball cap and ironic haircut. I slaughter the language at McCann Erickson SF

  21. The Ramones were tough-I’m just saying…

  22. Faceless hack #3502, The Richards Group, Dallas.

    (administers secret handshake)

    Pleased to meet you.

    My haircut is pretty square. My T-Shirt collection however is as ironic as a Paul Anka cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit. All I need is Mini Cooper to complete the caricature.

    What makes me cringe about those recordings of Shatner, DeNiro or Wells going off in a voice session is that they’re usually yelling at the wrong guy. 95% of the time it’s the poor engineer who is relaying the crappy direction. That’s why I prefer to direct talent myself. If they need to yell at somebody they can yell at the guy responsible for the shitty copy, not the poor bastard that’s just running the board.

    I have found most of the name talent that I’ve worked with to be pretty easy to deal with. Of course they’ve all been solid D-Listers at best. Highlights so far have been John (J. Peterman) O’Hurley and the Gopher from Caddy Shack. The ones that whip you to no end are local media personalities, aspiring actors and bitter drama teachers. Most Athletes suck too. Lets just say reading is not one of their fundamentals.

  23. For context, Anka mentions Buddy Rich because Rich was one of the all-time bastards to play with. Paul is saying, in effect, I may have went a little Buddy from time-to-time.

    I actually know a guy who played with Buddy once, by way of West Point and the Army band, so the guy was used to so high-level playing and pressure. Still, he says he was amazed the way Rich tore into people and left them shaking.

    Oh, anyone who remotely likes the Rock Swings vibe should check out Woody Herman’s stuff from the 60s — talk about one hot band!

  24. Eh, for my money, Richard Cheese is a better performer.

  25. Is it better that Pat Boone’s metal album. I bought that for nostalgia value and the fact I knew every sale ready annoyed happy-clappy fundies. Its a great collection and not as lame as one might imagine.

  26. Doug,

    I don’t want to go into a fucking upbeat song after talking about someone’s dead fucking dog!

  27. joe,

    Join us here this morning and every Saturday morning at two — TWO?!?

  28. That tape is great, because Casem comes off as the only sane man in the world, being driven slowly insane by the lunatics around him.

  29. Herr Taylor–

    Woody Herman is a hugely underappreciated dude. He covered Zappa (granted he cover a tune Zappa did as a parody of lounge musicians), and Stravinsky wrote a piece just for him. Take THAT, Count Basie.

    “Gil Evans Orchestra Plays Jimmy Hendrix” kicks out the mfing JAMS.

    Ralphus —

    Engineers deserve nothing but praise and pity. Except for the bad ones.

  30. “came up with an immortal jingle (and another Number 1 hit) for Kodak”

    “Times of Your Life,” released in late 1975, reached only No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

    (Unless you’re talking about Billboard’s adult contemporary chart, where the song was No. 1 for one week in 1976. In that case, conventional style is to cite the chart; standalone chart positions are widely considered to be references to the main pop chart.)

  31. I still say Anka’s way-too-long rant indicates he is an asshole. He goes on way too much longer than he should to effectively correct his employees. He may be a very successful performer, and he may pay a lot of money to the people he abuses, and they have a right to decide the money is worth the abuse … but he is comes off as an abusive asshole, even if a very successful, high-paying one.

    Oh, and I finally listened to the Orson Welles’ “rant” about the ad copy for the frozen peas and other ad spots. It sounds like he actually makes some good points, doesn’t go on and on and on (as far as I can tell from the clip), and the dude’s voice almost makes the tape a pleasure to listen to.

    It also reminds me of parody of this on the animated series The Critic, when Orson Welles records a commercial for frozen peas that goes something like this:

    “Rosebud. Rosebud Frozen Peas! Such frozen goodness. Such green pea-ness… Green pea-ness? That wasn’t very good, was it.”

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