He took in all the big acts who came to Ottawa and even resorted to sneaking backstage at a rock n' roll revue of Fats Domino, the Platters, Chuck Berry, and Clyde McPhatter. He ran into the show's promoter, Irvin Feld, who blatantly told Anka to get out. He left quietly but made certain that Feld took down his name "because one day, Feld would have to hire him to be on one of his shows". He also met and befriended such Canadian acts as the Four Lads, the Diamonds and the Rover Boys.
At Fisher Park High School, Anka was part of a vocal trio called the Bobby Soxers. Popular locally, he often opened for the Four Aces and the Rover Boys. It was at this time Anka began composing songs which were based on his personal experiences. He also began taking piano and guitar lessons.
When he was 14 he visited his uncle in Los Angeles and convinced him to drive to Culver City to talk to Ernie Freeman at Modern Records about a new song he had been working on called "Blau-Wile Deveest Fontaine". Freeman signed Anka as the only white act on the label. That song became the flipside to another song, "I Confess", and was released as a single in 1956. The record only sold about 3,000 copies and a disappointed Anka returned to Canada making plans to attend college to study law or news reporting.
During Easter vacation, Paul's parents gave him $100 so that he could tag along with The Rover Boys on a trip to New York. He also went along with them when they met with Don Costa, the director of artists and repertoire for ABC-Paramount, the label with whom they recorded. Initially, Costa was more impressed with the number of Anka's completed songs than with his singing ability. Soon, Paul's father was called to New York and a contract was signed. Anka was then sent to voice coaches and received training in song composition. Within a month, ABC-Paramount was ready to record Paul Anka.
The song that was chosen as Paul's first release was one of his own compositions called "Diana", a song that was reportedly inspired by one of his younger brother and sister's baby sitters. She was three years older than Paul and wanted nothing to do with him. He found the rejection so traumatic, he wrote a poem and sent it to her. Later, he wrote a melody to go along with it. The music was based on a popular Latin rhythm called cha-lypso, a modified cha-cha done to a calypso beat. The record entered the U.S. charts in July of 1957, where it remained for eighteen weeks. The song became a worldwide hit and by September 6th, had replaced Debbie Reynolds' "Tammy" as the number one song in the country. Suddenly Paul Anka was a star. After returning home from touring, Diana contacted Paul and said that she wanted to talk things over with him, but by then, he had lost all interest in her.
His next big hit came in 1958 when "You Are My Destiny" made the Top Ten. Paul's clean good looks and fresh image gave music lovers a teen idol who was an alternative to the bad boy image of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. But as things would turn out, Paul Anka was more than just a pretty face, he was also a very good songwriter. So good in fact that even Buddy Holly recorded a tune that Paul had written, "It Doesn't Matter Any More". Anka also appeared in one of the biggest rock n' roll shows of its time, "The Winter Dance Party", featuring Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts, and others. Fate sidestepped Anka when his manager, Irvin Feld, told him the he wanted him to stay behind because he'd promised his father he'd keep an eye on him, thus missing the fateful plane crash of February 3, 1959 that killed Holly, the Big Bopper and Valens.
Anka continued to release singles every few months, but none of them could match his earlier success and by early 1959, many thought Anka might have been a one hit wonder with "Diana." Then, Paul was chosen to play a role in a low budget movie called "Girl's Town". In the movie he sang "Lonely Boy", which quickly shot to the top of the U.S. charts, giving him his second number one hit. Throughout the rest of the year, Anka turned out a string of top twenty hits including, "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "It's Time to Cry" and "Puppy Love", written for Annette Funicello, and later a hit for Donny Osmond as well.
Now eighteen, Anka began changing his style and image to appeal to the adult customers of the supper clubs. He debuted at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and in 1960, he became the youngest performer to headline the Copacabana. The result was his popularity began fading with teenagers. He continued to record, placing 7 songs in the top forty in 1961 and 1962, the most successful of which was "Dance On Little Girl". He also appeared in more movies, the most notable being The Longest Day in 1962, for which he wrote the title song.
As the teen idol craze began to cool off in the early '60s, Paul Anka was dropped by ABC, which was looking for younger stars and picked up by RCA. In the first of many shrewd business moves, Anka bought the rights to his old masters, and made a fortune on reissues alone. He continued moving toward a nightclub career as well as hosting television variety shows like Hullabaloo, The Midnight Special and Spotlight.
In 1962, when Johnny Carson took over the NBC "Tonight Show" from Jack Parr, he commissioned Anka for a new theme song. Paul suggested a song that he had already written called "Toot Sweet". After a lyric was added in 1959 it was re-named "It's Really Love" and under that title, was recorded by Annette Funicello on her LP, "Annette Sings". Under a deal with Carson, Johnny became the "author" for copyright purposes and got a piece of not only the publishing but the composer's share too. Both Anka and Carson's names were listed as writers and the two began collecting BMI performance royalties. The pair got $200 in royalties every time the show aired...and it ran for 32 years, 52 weeks a year, 5 nights a week -- which works out to $1,664,000.00 -- not bad for an old tune that had been re-cycled.
In 1964, The Beatles and the rest of "The British Invasion" hit North America and Paul Anka's "teen idol" image became hopelessly out of style. Although he continued to release new material, Paul failed to place a single record on the charts during the rest of the sixties.
The one bright spot for Paul during the decade was his song writing. In 1968 he took a song by French singer/songwriter Claude Francois' called "Comme d'habitude" and re-wrote it for Frank Sinatra, calling it "My Way". The record became an international hit and Sinatra's theme song. He followed up with "She's A Lady", which became a million seller for Tom Jones.
In 1971, he signed with a new label, Buddah Records, whom he thought was more in tune with his record buying audience. After years of not having a hit record, he was once again getting FM radio airplay, placing hits on Billboard's Hot 100 that included "Do I Love You" (# 53) "Jubilation" (# 65) and "Let Me Get To Know You" (# 80).
In 1974, Paul signed with United Artists, a company known for it's middle of the road music. His first release "(You're) Having My Baby" shot to the top of the charts. Based on feedback from a new feminist movement, Anka began performing the song as "(You're) Having Our Baby." His songs were now being directed to the new "adult contemporary" market and he teamed with singer Odia Coates to score two more Top Ten hits with "One Man Woman", and "I Don't Like To Sleep Alone". Continuing to establish himself as a top Las Vegas act, his 1975 hit "Times Of Your Life" reached number 7 and was used by Kodak for a successful advertising campaign.
More chart success kept coming with "Anytime, I'll Be There" (#33 in 1976), "Everybody Ought To Be In Love" (#75 in 1977), "This Is Love" (#35 in 1978), "I've Been Waiting For You All Of My Life" (#48 in 1981) and "Hold Me 'til The Mornin' Comes" (#40 in 1983).
On a sad note, Odia Coates died of breast cancer on May 19th, 1991. She was 49.
Paul Anka became a United States citizen in August, 1990, but came back to his Canadian roots when he became part owner of the new National Hockey League franchise in his birth town of Ottawa. Things turned sour and Anka ended up suing the Ottawa Senators in 1992 for $41 million over an undisclosed breech of contract claim. Later in the year, Anka starred in and wrote songs for the soundtrack of 'Ganesh', which was his first Canadian movie role.
In 1996, Anka sued his dentist after having a tooth fall out and into the audience of a show he was performing at Bally's in Las Vegas while performing "Diana". That same year, Paul released his 112th album, "Y Amigos", featured Spanish and English duets with friends old and new. The LP "A Body of Work" followed in 1998.
In 2003, Anka returned with an exclusive concert in Bologna, organized by Italian company Mapei during the CERSAIE exhibition. He also recorded a new rendition of "My Way" with alternate lyrics dedicated to the sponsor of the evening. In 2006, he recorded in duet with 1960s Italian hitmaker Adriano Celentano a new cover of "Diana", with Italian lyrics by Celentano-Mogol and with singer / songwriter Alex Britti on the guitar. The song immediately reached #3 on the charts.
Today, Paul Anka is a multimillionaire, due to his night club successes, record and publishing royalties as well as investments that include two publishing houses. He is the house entertainer in Las Vegas at The Trump Plaza Casino and lives with his family in Carmel, California.