Canadians Who Topped the British Singles Chart

Canada-UKTopping the UK Singles Chart has proven to be one of the most challenging feats for a Canadian recording artist over the years. Less Canadians than you would think have crowned the chart and many you would assume have done so have not. From the 1950s until the present, only eight Canadians have scored a #1 hit in Britain: four women and four men. No bands have made the grade. There were a few who were able to hit the top as a featured artist (Drake), a group with a Canadian member (The Archies), or a collaboration (DVBBS with Borgeous and Tinie Tempah) but for the purposes of this list, we will count these simply as honourable mentions.

Paul AnkaThe first Canadian recording artist to score a number one hit in Britain was Ottawa’s rock and roll pioneer Paul Anka. He charted a total of 15 songs in the UK from 1957 until 1974 but it was only his first that hit the top: “Diana”. The song spent a total of 25 weeks on the chart including nine weeks at #1. It sold over a million copies in the land of Buckingham.

Terry JacksWinnipeg’s Terry Jacks scored two hits in the UK. “Seasons in the Sun” reached number one there in 1974 as it did just about everywhere else. It had been 17 years since a Canuck was on top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANorth Vancouver’s Bryan Adams has landed 36 songs on the UK charts. Only one of them hit the top, and that was “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” in 1991. The blockbuster smash which remained on top for 16 weeks also propelled his album Waking Up the Neighbours to the top of the British Albums chart, something that hadn’t happened since Neil Young’s Harvest in 1972.

Celine DionCéline Dion (Charlemagne, QC) is the only Canadian to score more than one chart-topper in Britain. “Think Twice” was her first in 1994. The second was of course “My Heart Will Go On” in 1998. Surprisingly, though, the former was a bigger hit than the latter. “Think Twice” remained on the charts for 31 weeks and spent seven of them on top. Celine has enjoyed 30 charting singles in the UK.

Nelly FurtadoWith 18 hits in Britain, Victoria’s Nelly Furtado was fortunate to have one of them crown the chart, and that one was 2006’s “Maneater”. Nelly was the only Canadian artist to receive a BRIT award during the noughties decade.

Carly Rae Jepsen1Six years after Nelly topped the British charts, her BC sister, Mission’s Carly Rae Jepsen did the same with “Call Me Maybe,” the best-selling international single of the year. The song remained on the UK charts for 48 weeks, four of them at #1. Carly has seen four charting singles in Britain so far.

Robin Thicke2Though he’s from California, Robin Thicke is a Canadian citizen (he has dual citizenship). His “Blurred Lines” reached #1 in 2013 and is still on the UK charts having spent 51 weeks thus far.

KieszaThe most recent Canadian to hit #1 in the United Kingdom is Calgary’s Kiesza. “Hideaway” is her 2014 debut single, and she became a household name in Britain before most Canucks had heard of her. With the seven names above, Kiesza is in pretty blessed company.


“Tears Are Not Enough” by Northern Lights

Notable Canadian band manager Bruce Allen organized a project to record a charity single for African famine relief in response to Britain’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Jim Vallance in an interview told the story of how things came together in writing and recording the song “Tears Are Not Enough” sung by a supergroup of Canadian artists called Northern Lights.

…in 1985, David [Foster] returned to Vancouver for a year. He and his wife Rebecca bought a house in the same neighbourhood where Bryan Adams and I lived, but we didn’t see much of them. One day I ran into David in the lobby of Little Mountain Sound Studio, where he was producing an album for Paul Hyde and Bob Rock’s group, The Payolas. He approached me in a panic and said, “You have a home studio, right?” I replied that I did.

Visibly excited, David told me he’d just got off the phone with Quincy Jones, who’d just finished recording a Michael Jackson / Lionel Ritchie song for African famine relief called “We Are The World”. Quincy played the song for David over the phone, and said he wanted David to record a Canadian song for Africa — and it had to be finished in the next week or two so it could be included on the U.S. album release!

“We Are The World” was written in response to Bob Geldoff’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, recorded and released the year before (1984). Geldoff’s song raised millions of dollars for Africa, and had already made a significant difference to those suffering from drought and famine. Quincy hoped that a Canadian song might help make a difference too.

David already had a melody, borrowed from a song he’d been working on, and he had a title, “Tears Are Not Enough”, which had been provided by Paul Hyde and Bob Rock. It was nearly twenty years later (2004) when I finally heard the story behind the “title”:

Paul and Bob had been in the studio with Foster on the day that Quincy Jones called. Several weeks earlier they’d written a song called “Tears Are Not Enough”, and after the call from Quincy they played their song for David, thinking it might be suitable for the Famine Relief recording. “So, what do you think?” they asked, when they’d finished presenting the song. “Nice title”, David replied.

The next morning (Friday, February 1, 1985) David arrived at my home studio. He played me his melody on the piano. It was a pretty ballad with an interesting, circular chord progression. He also mentioned Paul and Bob’s title, “Tears Are Not Enough”, which I thought was excellent.

With the melody and the title we had enough to get started, so began recording the track right away. Using his Emulator synthesizer David laid down a piano, followed by a Moog bass, then a bell sound. I added drums and percussion. An hour or two later we had a “basic track” (it was only intended to be a quick “demo” recording, but it worked so well we ended up using it for the final recording).

Then we started working on the lyrics:
We can close the distance
Only we can make the difference
Don’t you know that tears are not enough

It was a good start, but David had to rush away for a session with The Payolas, promising to return the following day. I continued work on the lyrics while my wife Rachel [Paiement] wrote a few lines in French — after all, it was a Canadian song for Africa!

The next day Bryan Adams arrived from Los Angeles and hurried over to help. He looked at the lyrics I’d written so far and immediately suggested an improvement. “How about ‘we can BRIDGE the distance’?”, he said. It was perfect, and with that we were off and running.

We finished the lyric later that evening, then Bryan and Rachel recorded the vocals. The demo was completed at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

Meanwhile, David enlisted Bryan’s manager Bruce Allen to help assemble a roster of performers. Bruce was well-connected in the music industry, and in quick succession Joni Mitchell and Neil Young agreed to participate. Then Kim Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot. Burton Cummings came on board, and so did Geddy Lee and Corey Hart.

Comedians John Candy and Catherine O’Hara offered their services, along with legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and David Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer. Dan Hill, Jane Sibbery, Sylvia Tyson, Robert Charlebois … the list of participants grew by the hour.

I suggested we record the vocals at Manta Studios [in Toronto], where I’d recorded Bryan Adams’ first album (and also Barney Bentall, Lisa Dal Bello and Cano). The room was big enough to accommodate a large group, and I also knew that veteran engineer Hayward Parrott could handle the complex task of recording 30 soloists … plus a chorus of 50!

Michael Godin (A&M Records) contacted Manta owner Andy Hermant, who generously donated the studio. On Saturday (February 9, 1985) we flew to Toronto to prepare for the mammoth recording session planned for the following day.

During the flight we reviewed the lyric sheet and the list of artists and determined who would sing which line. We decided the song should begin with Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot (“As everyday goes by …”), then move to Burton Cummings (“How can we close our eyes …”), then to Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, and so on.

The session took place on Sunday, February 10, 1985. It was a bitter cold day, but hundreds of fans gathered outside Manta to watch the “stars” arrive. Gordon Lightfoot drove himself to the studio in a pick-up truck. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell arrived by taxi. Platinum Blonde arrived in a white stretch limo.

Just as Quincy Jones had done in Los Angeles, Foster taped a poster in the studio lobby that said, “Leave your egos at the door”. Everyone gave 200 percent, and at the end of the day we had the makings of a magical record.

One of the funniest moments happened during Neil Young’s performance. He’d sung his line once or twice already, but Foster still wasn’t happy and asked Neil to try again. When Neil asked why, David told him he was out of tune. “That’s my style, man”, Neil shot back.

For me, one of the highlights was sitting on the studio floor a few feet from Joni Mitchell while she carved graceful lines in the air with her hands as she sang. Another special moment was meeting Richard Manuel, singer and pianist for “The Band”. In fact, Joni Mitchell and “The Band” are two of my biggest musical influences. I was in “fan heaven”, meeting them and hearing them sing lyrics I’d written!

After completing the vocal session in Toronto, David and I returned to Vancouver and booked time at Pinewood Studios and Little Mountain Sound where more instruments were added to the track, including Loverboy’s Doug Johnson and Paul Dean, who contributed keyboards and guitar. Steven Denroche, a member of the Vancouver Symphony, was called in to play French Horn…

One important Canadian artist unable to attend the Toronto recording session was Bruce Cockburn, who was performing in Germany at the time. Cockburn ‘s manager, Bernie Finkelstein, wondered if there wasn’t a way Bruce could record his vocal at a studio in Germany and have it edited into the finished product at a later date. It was a nice idea, but to meet our deadline Bruce’s contribution would have to be filmed and recorded sometime in the next 48 hours. In a moment of weakness I volunteered to fly to Germany!

The good news is, Air Canada provided a free ticket. The bad news is, there were no direct fights — so I had to fly from Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to London, London to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Hamburg … a 44-hour round-trip. I arrived in Hamburg just in time to catch Bruce’s performance at a club on Tuesday evening. I met him backstage, for the first time, after the show.

I’d brought a cassette tape of the song, which Bruce hadn’t heard yet. But before I could even play the tape, Bruce dropped a bomb. He said he hadn’t yet decided if he wanted to participate in the project!

Bernie had neglected to tell me that Bruce hadn’t made up his mind yet — and I’d just spent 22 hours on a #$&@ airplane! In my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged stupor my first reaction was to reach across the table and grab Bruce by the throat with both hands. Instead, I used every ounce of diplomacy I could muster. I told Bruce how magical the session in Toronto had been … how it was truly a special project, and that everyone was looking forward to his involvement, which was true!

Bruce eventually came around, and he agreed to meet me at a Hamburg recording studio the following morning. It took less than an hour to complete Bruce’s audio and video recording, then it was back to the airport for the 22-hour return flight to Vancouver (via Frankfurt, London and Toronto).

I met one of the film people at the airport in Toronto during my two-hour lay-over, and I handed him the Cockburn footage to edit into the video. After spending a much-needed night in my own bed in Vancouver, I flew to Los Angeles the next morning to deliver Bruce’s audio track. Foster and his assistant Chris Earthy met me at the airport, and we rushed over to Kenny Roger’s “Lion’s Share” studio where Cockburn’s vocal was edited into the audio mix that engineer Humberto Gatica had nearly completed.

“Tears Are Not Enough” reached #1 on the Canadian charts and helped raise more than $3-million for African Famine Relief.

Lyrics and Vocalists

As every day goes by, how can we close our eyes (Gordon Lightfoot)
Until we open up our hearts (Burton Cummings)

We can learn to share and show how much we care (Anne Murray)
Right from the moment that we start (Joni Mitchell)

Seems like overnight, we see the world in a different light (Dan Hill)
Somehow our innocence is lost (Neil Young)

How can we look away, ’cause every single day (Bryan Adams)
We’ve got to help at any cost (Liberty Silver and Loverboy’s Mike Reno)

Chorus (sung by the nine singers above):

We can bridge the distance
Only we can make the difference
Don’t ya know that tears are not enough

If we can pull together
We could change the world forever
Heaven knows that tears are not enough

It’s up to me and you to make the dream come true (Carroll Baker, Ronnie Hawkins, and Murray McLauchlan)
It’s time to take our message everywhere (Corey Hart)

C’est l’amour qui nous rassemble
d’ici a l’autre bout du monde (Véronique Béliveau, Robert Charlebois, and Claude Dubois)

Let’s show them Canada still cares (Bruce Cockburn)
You know that we’ll be there (Rush’s Geddy Lee)

(Chorus – all 18 singers above)

And if we could try (Bryan Adams and Don Gerrard)
Together you and I (All 44 Singers)
Maybe we could understand the reasons why (Zappacosta and Dalbello)
If we take a stand (Rough Trade’s Carole Pope and The Payola$ Paul Hyde)
Every woman, child and man (Salome Bey, Platinum Blonde’s Mark Holmes, and The Parachute Club’s Lorraine Segato)
We can make it work for God’s sake lend a hand (Loverboy’s Mike Reno)

(Chorus – all the above singers plus Paul Anka, Liona Boyd, actor John Candy, Tom Cochrane, Tommy Hunter, Martha Johnson (M+M), actor Eugene Levy, pop pianist Frank Mills, Kim Mitchell, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, David Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer, Jane Siberry, Sylvia Tyson (Ian & Sylvia), dj Barry Harris, actress Catherine O’Hara, and Wayne St. John)

The “Tears Are Not Enough” project was one of the finest moments in Canadian music history.

Les Yeux de la Faim

It didn’t receive much attention outside of Quebec but Francophone artists banded together to record an additional charity single for African famine relief. Celine Dion, Rene & Nathalie Simard and others lent their voices to the beautiful “Les Yeux de la Faim“.

Recording Certifications (1973-75)

The biggest development in the Canadian music industry in the mid-70s was that the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association) began to present various certification awards (gold, platinum, diamond, etc.) to albums and singles that attained sales of a defined number of units. Albums that sold 50,000 copies were certified “Gold”; 100,000 “Platinum”; 200,000 “2x Platinum”; 1 million, “Diamond”. On 1 August 1975, the first three Canadian albums were certified Platinum: Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Four Wheel Drive, Beau Dommage’s self-titled album, and Paul Anka’s Anka.
In the mid-70s, the world was being swept up in ABBA fever. Canadians were taken up in this whirlwind as well but another foreign band became Canada’s favourite and was by far more successful in Canada than in another other country. Its name was Supertramp. Canada’s love affair with Supertramp was to continue on well beyond its retirement in 1982. Two of the band’s albums were to reach diamond status. In terms of homegrown talent, the mid-70s was one of the most productive periods in Canadian music history. The biggest year of the decade for Canadian music was 1974. Three of the Top 10 songs of the year (including #1) were by Canadian artists. But let’s begin with 1973.


The two biggest Canadian songs of the year were “Last Song” by Edward Bear (#16) and “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray (#50). The third biggest was by a short-lived outfit called Skylark (“Wildflower” – #52). The most significant thing about this Vancouver-based band was that one of its members went on to become an internationally famous music producer and composer, responsible for smash hits from such artists as Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Chicago, Josh Groban, and many others. His name? David Foster. We will profile him later on in a special entry dedicated to Canadian music producers.
British-born Keith Hampshire never became a superstar but had two big hits in 1973: “Daytime Night-time” and his cover of Cat Stevens’ “First Cut is the Deepest”. Another import from the U.K. was Scottish-born Murray McLauchlan, one of the most significant folk singers of the 70s. He had a big hit in ’73: “Farmer’s Song”. New Brunswick’s French folk singer Edith Butler began composing her own material in 1973 and, with growing recognition (she won a number of awards) and popularity, she found her albums going gold in the 80s.
One-hit wonders duo Gary and Dave scored with “Could You Ever Love Me Again”. They were fairly popular in Europe but left the music business to become airline pilots. Another short-lived outfit was The Defranco Family, comprised of five Italian-Canadian siblings. Their debut single “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” reached #3 on the Billboard charts and sold 2 million copies. They were also successful with “Abra-Ca-Dabra” and “Save the Last Dance for Me”.
The real-life brother of hoser “Doug McKenzie” (eh), Ian Thomas got going with the hit “Painted Ladies” from his debut album. It reached #4 in Canada and #34 in the U.S. He’d started out in the band Tranquility Base at the turn of the decade. Several other Top 40 hits followed well into the 80s: “Liars”, “Coming Home”, “Hold On”, “Chains”, and “Levity”. We like “I Really Love You” (a 70s synthesizer ballad) and “Harmony”, both of which received radio airplay.
Chilliwack, named after a medium-sized city in British Columbia, grew out of a 60s band called The Collectors. They made the Top 10 in ’73 with “Lonesome Mary” and scored several more hits in the decade culminating in their and #1 hit in the early 80s: “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)”.


“We had joy. We had fun. We had seasons in the sun.” These words typified the year, and the song that housed them, after spending four months on the charts, was not only the biggest of the year but also of the decade; it sold 11 million copies worldwide making it one of the most successful singles of all-time. Previously, we’d mentioned The Poppy Family, consisting of a husband-wife duo who scored two big hits. After their divorce, the husband—Terry Jacks—embarked on a brief solo career, which yielded this one lone hit. It won a Juno Award two years in a row for best-selling single, resulting in Winnipegger Jacks himself being awarded with male artist of the year in 1974. After the success of “Seasons in the Sun”, Jacks moved on to producing for such artists as The Beach Boys, Nana Mouskouri, DOA, and the aforementioned Chilliwack.
The third biggest song of 1974 was Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” and the ninth was Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby”. Andy Kim and Joni Mitchell had big hits this year with “Rock Me Gently” and “Help Me” respectively.
The Guess Who scored a hit with “Clap for the Wolfman” (#68 of the year). As we’d mentioned, Randy Bachman had left the group. And what was good ol’ Randy up to? Forming his own band. The early 70s was a time of sappy, soft rock, which wasn’t for everyone. The last echoes of harder rock that had dominated the 60s faded out with the retirement of Creedence Clearwater Revival in ’72. But Randy Bachman picked up the slack that same year when he, with brothers and friends, formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive. They began recording in 1973 but it took a year before radio began airing their gearhead, workingman rock. Were they popular? You bet. Their rock anthem “Takin’ Care of Business” continues to be popular today and finished the year ’74 in 66th spot. They did even better with the song that launched arena rock, always a favourite at roller and skating rinks—”You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”—the 16th biggest song of the year.
Believe it or not, there were two bands whose albums outsold B.T.O.’s. Their names? Harmonium and Beau Dommage. Unlike B.T.0. they were each able to achieve multi-platinum certifications for a couple of albums. Three of Harmonium’s albums appear in Bob Mersereau’s “Top 100 Canadian Albums”.
Canadian news anchor Byron MacGregor read a newspaper editorial written by Gordon Sinclair about the United States which garnered such a huge response that he was asked to record “The Americans” over the soundtrack “America the Beautiful” performed by The Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The record became a big hit, reaching #4 on the Billboard singles chart and #1 in Canada. It finished the year ’74 in 67th place. It was re-released in 1979 after the Iran hostage crisis and in 2001 after the 9-11 Attacks. The recording has sold over 3 ½ million copies and all of his proceeds have been donated to The American Red Cross.
1974 was also the year that saw the debut from new age guitarist (one of the best in the world) Liona Boyd. Italian Montrealer Gino Vanelli realized his breakthrough with “People Gotta Move”. And Diane Juster, after becoming popular via performances of her songs by Julie Arel began to shine on her own.


Paul Anka, teamed up with Odia Coates, continued his comeback with three huge hits: “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” (the biggest Canadian song of the year), “I Don’t Like To Sleep Alone”, and “(I Believe) There’s Nothing Stronger Than Our Love”. Bachman-Turner Overdrive also scored a hat trick with “Hey You” (2nd biggest Canuck tune of the year), “Roll On Down the Highway”, and “Quick Change Artist”. The Stampeders had two big hits: “New Orleans” and “Hit the Road Jack”. Quebec’s Michel Pagliaro scored an English hit with “What the Hell I Got”.
A newcomer that year was Hagood Hardy. “The Homecoming”, an easy listening tune of great beauty, was the third biggest Canadian hit of the year. Hardy was born in the U.S. as his mother was an American citizen. After studying at the University of Toronto, he played the vibraphone in jazz clubs before recording solo works. Later on, he scored the music for CBC-TV’s “Anne of Green Gables” series. Pianist Andre Gagnon came out with a winning album, Neiges. It became the first Canadian album to reach multi-platinum status in the country and won a Juno Award for Album of the Year. Children’s music got a big boost when Raffi released his debut album.
1975 also saw the debut of one of the most popular singers of the late-70s, Dan Hill. This year he scored a moderate hit; his “You Make Me Want to Be” broke into the Top 30.

Paul Anka

Born: 1941, Ottawa, Ontario
Debut: 1955
Genres: Pop / Adult Contemporary / Jazz
–  Canadian Music Hall of Fame
–  Canadian Walk of Fame
–  Hollywood Walk of Fame
–  Juno Award in 1975 for Composer of the Year
–  Wrote over 400 songs
–  3 Number One Hits, 13 Top Ten Hits, 25 Top Thirty Hits
Biggest Hits:
“Diana” (1957)
–  Peaked at #1 on the charts.
–  2nd biggest-selling single of all-time worldwide.
“Lonely Boy” (1959)
–  Peaked at #1 on the charts.
–  4th biggest single of the year in Canada.
–  5th biggest single of the year in the U.S.
Top 20 Hit Singles:
<Peak Chart Position in the Billboard Hot 100>
–  “Crazy Love” (1958) <#15>
–  “Let the Bells Keep Ringing” (1958) <#16>
–  “You Are My Destiny” (1958) <#7>
–  “My Heart Sings” (1959) <#15>
–  “It’s Time to Cry” (1959) <#4>
–  “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” (1959) <#2>
–  “My Home Town” (1960) <#8>
–  “Puppy Love” (1960) <#2>
–  “Summer’s Gone” (1960) <#11>
–  “Dance On Little Girl” (1961) <#10>
–  “Tonight My Love, Tonight” (1961) <#13>
–  “The Story of My Love” (1961) <#16>
–  “Eso Beso (That Kiss!)” (1962) <#19>
–  “Love Me Warn and Tender” (1962) <#12>
–  “A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine” (1962) <#13>
–  “You’re Having My Baby” (1974) <#1>
–  “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” (1975) <#8>
–  “I Believe There’s Nothing Stronger” (1975) <#15>
–  “One Man Woman/One Woman Man” (1975) <#7>
–  “Times of Your Life” (1976) <#7>

Peak Positions in the Canadian RPM charts (from mid-1964 onward):

–  “Goodnight My Love” (1969) <#23>
–  “Do I Love You” (1972) <#16>
–  “You’re Having My Baby” (1974) <#1>
–  “Let Me Get to Know You” (1974) <#13>
–  “I Believe There’s Nothing Stronger” (1975) <#1>
–  “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” (1975) <#1>
–  “One Man Woman, One Woman Man” (1975) <#4>
–  “Make It Up to Me in Love” (1977) <#34>
Hits He Wrote for Others*:
–  “My Way” (1969) – for Frank Sinatra
–  “She’s a Lady” (1971) – for Tom Jones
–  Theme of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962)
* Although he composed these for other singers, for some of them, he sang his own version as well.
David Cobb in Canadian Magazine quoted a Parisian reviewer commenting about Paul Anka after seeing him perform in Paris: “A finger of Johnnie Ray, a touch of Frankie Laine, the zest of Elvis Presley, several drops of the Platters – shake and serve. That’s the Paul Anka cocktail.”
Simply put, Paul Anka was Canada’s first international rock and roll superstar, first teen-idol, and should be regarded as the godfather of Canadian pop.
He was born into a tightly-knit family in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. His parents owned a two-storey restaurant and lounge, The Locanda, which was a popular hangout for the city’s Lebanese community and offered free meals to singers who performed there. When Paul became a teenager, he knew he wanted to be a singer and in show business. His father felt that show business was not legit and that he should become a proper businessman. But through the support of his mother, his dad gradually softened up. He studied some piano and sang in the St. Elijah Syrian Orthodox Church choir.
He began to sing everywhere and assembled a vocal group called the Bobbysoxers. Among the venues where they performed was a local topless club. Anka says he was too young to be there, so they made him remain in the dressing room when he wasn’t on stage. Even gutsier was his practice of secretly borrowing his mother’s car, before he was old enough to obtain a license, to drive across the river to Hull, Quebec to perform. One night, the car broke down on the bridge and he kept pushing it on in first gear until the piston shot through the hood.
In those days, New York City was the end-all and be-all of the world’s entertainment industry. Anka dreamed of going. He discovered a contest put on by Campbell’s Soup of collecting labels, the victor winning a free trip to New York. He spent three months’ collecting the soup labels and won the contest. He was mesmerized by the city and vowed to return.
In the summer of 1956, Anka went to Los Angeles to visit his uncle. He worked at a playhouse selling snacks during intermissions. Everyday he would go through the yellow pages and call record companies to ask for an audition. One day his uncle drove him to Modern Records / RPM and he performed a song he wrote called “Blau-Wile Deveest Fontaine”. He was signed onto this same label as B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, among others. The song became the flipside of “I Confess” and was released as a single that year. It did not become as successful as Anka had hoped.
When he returned home, at only 14 years of age, he was invited to appear on CBC TV’s shows “Pick the Stars” and “Cross-Canada Hit Parade”. His parents suggested that, in case his career in singing fails to take off, he should have a backup plan of something more practical. So, while still writing songs, Anka took some journalism courses and landed a job with the Ottawa Citizen (newspaper). Whenever there was a rock concert in Ottawa—Fats Domino, The Platters, Chuck Berry*—Anka was there, always attempting to make it backstage to meet the stars. He succeeded in sneaking into Domino’s dressing room to get his autograph. Manager Irving Feld caught him and kicked him out but not before Anka suggested that he take down his name so he could hire him for one of his shows one day. During those days in Ottawa, Anka also met and befriended such Canadian acts as The Diamonds and The Four Lads.
*A piece of trivia: apparently Chuck Berry was inspired to write his song “Sweet Little Sixteen” after seeing an Ottawa fan.
Breakthrough … More Like Smashthrough
Later that year, Paul’s parents gave him $100 to return to New York to visit record companies with some of the new songs he had written. He stayed at the President Hotel with the group The Rover Boys who introduced him to ABC-Paramount producer Don Costa. Anka sang to him a song he wrote about a former babysitter. The song’s name was “Diana”. Costa liked it and the song was recorded. At 16, Paul was too young to sign the recording contract, so his father came down to New York to sign on Paul’s behalf. The song was sent to radio stations around the English-speaking world. Everyone sat back and watched it scale the charts, higher and higher, on both sides of the Atlantic. When it reached number one, Paul Anka was now an international pop star and teen idol. “Diana” went on to sell over 10 million copies, becoming the second biggest of all-time after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”.
Promoters began to ring up Anka expressing their desire to send him on a world tour. As fate would have it, the man who’d kicked Anka out of Fats Domino’s dressing room, and who’d been told by Anka to take down his name in case he needed him in the future—Irving Feld—arranged Anka’s tour and became his manager. In late 1957, Paul Anka embarked on a 91-city tour of Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.. Later in 1958, he toured Japan and then, with Buddy Holly, Australia. He also became the first pop star from North America to play behind the Iron Curtain. Feld ended up saving Anka from the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly as is explained in Canada’s Jam Pop Encyclopedia:
[Paul Anka] also did a set of concert dates at the Olympia in Paris, breaking all previous attendance records. It was in 1959 that Anka appeared in Feld’s biggest rock n’ roll show of all [The Winter Dance Party Tour]—it featured Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Dion and the Belmonts, and others. Fate sidestepped Anka when Feld told him the he wanted him to stay 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.
Prior to Holly’s demise, Anka wrote a #1 hit song for him that became one of his last: “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. “Diana” was followed up with several more songs that did well on the charts: “It’s Time to Cry”, “My Heart Sings”, “You Are My Destiny”, “Crazy Love”, “Put Your Head On My Shoulder”, “Puppy Love”, “My Home Town”, and “Dance on Little Girl”. Reminiscing about his string of hits, Don Costa said in 1975, “He just couldn’t write a bad song”.
He was also invited to appear in a couple of motion pictures in addition to writing songs featured in them. These included The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (with Mickey Rooney) and Girls Town. Though both films are considered by most as turkeys, the song “Lonely Boy”, featured in the latter film was another number one hit and the 4th biggest song of the year 1959 (5th in the U.S.).
Shedding Hair
There comes a time in every young man’s life, when, with impending hair loss, hormone deceleration, and a mutating metabolism, the realization takes hold that one cannot be a teen machine forever. Anka found that the strenuous rock and roll grind was repressing rather than utilizing his talents, and began to change his style and image into a lounge act. He debuted at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and became the youngest artist to headline the Copacabana in New York. It was June 1960; Anka was 20 years old and a millionaire. Instead of resting on his laurels and sailing off into the sunset, he continued catering to the adult market and scoring songs for movies in which he starred. Such films included Look In Any Window (1961) and The Longest Day (1962). His theme-song for the latter film was nominated for an Oscar.
In 1962, Anka left ABC-Paramount, which sent shockwaves through the recording industry. He also stunned everyone by making a bold but incredibly smart business move: he bought the rights to all his songs. The record company settled on a quarter-million dollars and told him he was nuts. But with countless reissues and covers of his songs over the years, he made a fortune. Anka felt strongly about owning the rights to his own songs, so he made a landmark deal with his new record company—RCA Victor—in which he produced his own masters through his own company for release on RCA. His new songs, however, became only moderate hits. Perhaps his biggest success was composing the theme song for The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson which debuted in 1962.
Rock stars are notorious for attracting women and, by this point, you are probably wondering about Paul’s love life. He had written the song “Puppy Love” for Mouseketeer and actress Annette Funicello. The two were dating but their hectic careers presented too much of a strain for them to continue with their relationship. Anka ended up marrying a European model named Anne DeZogheb. They tied the knot in Paris in 1963.
The British invasion, with the Beatles leading the march, was blamed for stalling the careers of many North American singers like Paul Anka. He later commented that he saw the Beatles perform in Paris and bought some of their records but didn’t think they’d wipe everyone in the U.S. and Canada off the charts. But that’s exactly what they did.
Anka did manage three or four noteworthy hits after the British Invasion in the 60s. He must have figured that if the Europeans could storm the American charts, why can’t North Americans score on the European charts. He spent considerable time performing in Europe, and his song “Ogni Volta” was the first multi-million seller in Italian history. When in North America, he worked primarily in Las Vegas hanging out with the “Rat Pack” and Frank Sinatra.
I’ll Do It My Way
What ultimately turned Anka’s career around in the U.S. and Canada was a string of events at the end of the decade that began during a visit to France in 1968. Paul was listening to the radio and heard the Claude Francois song “Come d’Habitude”. He felt there was something to the song and sought to buy the rights. He succeeded at no cost.
Later on, Paul was having dinner with Frank Sinatra and a few friends. Sinatra told him he was quitting the business, that he was sick of it. Anka was devastated. He really looked up to Sinatra and couldn’t believe he was retiring. He decided he had to do something.
At one o’clock in the morning in his New York apartment during a thunderstorm, Paul Anka sat down at his piano, pulling out the song he’d heard in France. He subtly reworked the melody and began to think up some English lyrics. “What would Frank say if he were singing this melody?” he thought while playing it on the piano over and over again. And the words began to come out. “And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…”. Wikipedia quotes Paul as saying:
I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was “my this” and “my that”. We were in the “me generation” and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: “I ate it up and spit it out.” But that’s the way he talked. I used to be around steam rooms with the Rat Pack guys – they liked to talk like Mob guys, even though they would have been scared of their own shadows.
He finished off the song at 5AM. He called up Sinatra who was at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and played him the song. Sinatra was blown away and wanted to record it immediately. Apparently, Anka’s record company was furious, thinking that he should have kept the song for himself. But Anka had written it for Sinatra. Frank Sinatra recorded the song in only two takes in less than half an hour. He rang up Paul in New York and played it for him over the phone. Anka says, “I started crying. It was the turning point of my career.” The song, of course, was “My Way” and was released in 1969. Not only did it pull the plug on Frank Sinatra’s plans of an early retirement, it became his signature song. It saved the careers of both Anka and Sinatra. The song has been covered by countless artists over the years, including Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, and Nina Simone.
An interesting bit of trivia is that David Bowie had been asked to pen English lyrics to “Comme d’Habitude” in 1968. He came up with “Even a Fool Learns to Love”. But because Anka had already bought the rights to the original French version, Bowie’s was never released. “Life on Mars” became Bowie’s riposte to losing out on the fortune.
Paul Anka also wrote “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones in 1971 which became the Welsh singer’s biggest hit.
Comeback and Glide
In terms of his own recordings, after 1963, Anka had hit the Top 40 only once through the remainder of the 1960s (“Goodnight My Love” in 1969). In the 1970s all that changed when he began recording ballads. He teamed up with songstress Odia Coates and released “You’re Having My Baby”. Not only was it a number one hit, it finished in 7th place in RPM’s Top 100 singles of the year. Follow-up singles “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” and “I Believe There’s Nothing Stronger” topped the charts as well. He was awarded a Juno Award in 1975 as composer of the year. In 1980, Paul Anka was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Gliding on the successes of those songs, he recorded less frequently, though continually, after 1975. In 1983, Anka teamed up with Peter Cetera and momentous Canadian producer David Foster and released “Hold Me ‘Til The Morning Comes”. His 1998 album Body of Work features duets with such singing giants as Celine Dion, Patti LaBelle, Tom Jones, and Frank Sinatra. In 2005, he recorded the album Rock Swings, which is—you guessed it—swing versions of classic rock songs like Van Halen’s “Jump”, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and others. Its success prompted the 2007 follow-up Classic Songs: My Way, consisting of more big-band arrangements of contemporary standards (Bryan Adams’ “Heaven”, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You”) and featuring duets with Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Buble.
In 2005, Paul Anka was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. He has also been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the American equivalent). A street in Ottawa is named “Paul Anka Drive” in his honour.

Birth of Canadian Rock ‘n Roll (1950s)

In the 1950s, Canada continued contributing new musicians to the world stage in the genres of country (Tommy Hunter), jazz (Moe Koffman, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and guitarist Lenny Breau), and classical (Pierrette Alarie, Lois Marshall, Louis Quilico, Léopold Simoneau, and contralto Maureen Forrester). Following in La Bolduc’s footsteps were Quebec artists who enriched the landscape of Canadian music by singing folk music in fabulous French. It wasn’t until Beatlemania swept Canada in the 1960s that Quebec artists began to perform pop and rock; for now, folk was the genre of choice. An important word on this is best summed up by the Canadian Music Encyclopedia: 

In Québec, the history of popular music unfolded quite differently. Instead of copying Americans, French Canadians created their own style of pretty and simple poetry inspired by traditional folk songs and played on the guitar by chansonniers (“songmakers” or singer-songwriters).

First and foremost among these chansonniers was the inspired genius of Félix Leclerc, who deservedly became Canada’s first international folk superstar. Second in rank to him was Jean-Pierre Ferland who started out as a folk musician in the 50s, but in the 70s switched to pop/rock releasing some critically-acclaimed albums. Other chansonniers included Yves Albert and Jacques Labrecque. In 1956, Raymond Lévesque scored a big hit with his “Quand les hommes vivront d’amour”. Its message of brotherhood and search for justice, its folky guitar and jazzy piano made it, amongst changing pop styles, a timeless classic of chanson québécoise. The song has been performed by many French singers.  

Percy Faith became Canada’s second easy listening star (after Guy Lombardo). In the following decade he scored a massive hit with his “Theme from a Summer Place”, the number one single of the year on 1960′s Billboard chart. 

Nearly-forgotten Winnipeg songstress Gisele MacKenzie (no relation to Bob and Doug, eh), after getting her own CBC radio show, recorded some songs of her own which became hits in 1955. 

Prior to American Bill Haley’s revolutionary comet-clocking chart-topper, Canada had already set itself up to usher in the rock ‘n roll era with its hit R&B group The Four Lads. Following suit were The Crew Cuts and The Diamonds. These three Toronto-based quartets launched the rock era in Canada by converting some American R&B tunes into rock and by creating some original selections of their own.  

With all this activity in the 1950s, Canadians would never have believed what was to happen in 1957. Their first anglophone international pop superstar arrived from within the nation’s capital. And he was of neither European nor African descent, but Asian. He released a single that rocketed up to Number One on both sides of the Atlantic and became the second best-selling single of all-time (after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”). He was Canada’s first real teen-idol, scored several more chart-toppers in the late 50s, became a millionaire while still a minor, switched from rock to adult contemporary in the 60s, wrote the theme for the Tonight Show, composed Tom Jones’ biggest hit, foiled Frank Sinatra’s plans of an early retirement by writing his signature song, and rekindled his own singing career with several chart-toppers in the 70s. To date, he has written some 400 songs. He should be regarded as the godfather of Canadian pop. And his name is Paul Anka.