An uptown ride on the “4” train in The Bronx.
If I have any say regarding my last moments on this planet, the final song I would want to hear is Nina Simone’s recording of “My Way.”
I first discovered the song in 1988 during a visit to Tower Records. I was perusing in the Jazz section and a fellow patron strongly recommended Simone’s 1971 album, Here Comes The Sun. The album, which is a recording accomplishment, features an assortment of cover songs that notably includes “Angel of the Morning”, “Just Like a Woman”, the title track and the brilliant “My Way.” Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra, first popularized “My Way” in 1969.
After hearing the 1967 French song, “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”), Paul Anka acquired the publishing rights at no cost (except for the rights to the melody, which the authors retained). A year later, while Anka was having dinner with Frank Sinatra, Sinatra declared that he was, “getting out of the business. I’m sick of it, I’m getting the hell out.” Inspired by Sinatra’s frustration, he wrote the English lyrics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_53Ygpgvuss ). Sinatra recorded the song in late 1968 and released it in early 1969. “My Way” reached number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 2 on the Easy Listening chart. In England, the song achieved a still unmatched record: the recording with the most weeks in the Top 40, from April 1969 to September 1971 (http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?artist=%22My+Way%22).
Since Sinatra’s recording, there have been numerous and varied covers of the song. Elvis Presley’s live version during his satellite-televised concert from Hawaii showcases his remarkable vocal ability ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWStRiZ-OCM ). The Gipsy Kings covered the song using a traditional gipsy arrangement, with a Spanish translation of the English lyrics that is earthy and exuberant (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fsw2NQb5xSA ). Shirley Bassey does a mind-blowing live version that, like Elvis, showcases the full spectrum of her voice (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pjPTfygX3U ). Bea Arthur sang it on her breakout television series, Maude, to great comic effect and some rather fine vocals (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tTWjg74dis ). La Lupe released a Spanish translation of Comme d’habitude in 1970 with an awe-inspiring vocal and musical arrangement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGgyIup3CVo ).
The lyrics of “My Way” tell the story of an older person reflecting on their life and taking responsibility for how they dealt with challenges while maintaining integrity. Nina Simone’s version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIkoeocWhcw ) is special because her re-arranged version of the song, which is more upbeat, melodic, and syncopated, feels like an affirmation and celebration and, for me, musically encompasses the message of the song. Simone’s version fiercely combines a lush orchestra, angelic backing vocals, and elements of Black Christian music that are all highlighted by an unexpected bongo drum. Perhaps my favorite part of the song is the way it ends: Simone sings the final lyrics (“and did it my way…”) and the orchestra keeps playing for two minutes. It is powerful, epic and eternal: something worthy of hearing as you cross into the great unknown.
Best of Nina Simone Playlist
Sinnerman (from the Inland Empire soundtrack)
The Pusher (from Just Like A Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the 1960’s)
Cherish (from Silk and Soul)
Keeper of the Flame (from Compact Jazz: Nina Simone)
Wild is the Wind (from Nina Simone at Town Hall)
Ne Me Quitte Pas (from I Put a Spell on You)
For All We Know (from Little Girl Blue)
Four Women (from The Complete Nina Simone on Phillips Recordings)
Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair (from Compact Jazz: Nina Simone)
To Be Young, Gifted and Black (from The Essential Nina Simone)
In the Morning (from Just Like A Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the 1960’s)
Angel of the Morning (from Here Comes the Sun)
O-O-H Child (from Here Comes the Sun)
To Love Somebody (from Sugar in My Bowl)
Just Like a Woman (from Here Comes the Sun)
My Way (from Here Comes the Sun)
A New Yorker piece on Simone:
Other Web Sites and Links
A musician who loves the bongo drum of “My Way” and plays along:
Nina Simone’s Official Web Site