A Toast To 'My Way,' America's Anthem Of Self-Determination (2023)

Frank Sinatra onstage in the 1970s. Though the star was ambivalent at best about the song's message, "My Way" became emblematic of this era of his career. David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images hide caption

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A Toast To 'My Way,' America's Anthem Of Self-Determination (2)

Frank Sinatra onstage in the 1970s. Though the star was ambivalent at best about the song's message, "My Way" became emblematic of this era of his career.

David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

It's hard to imagine two occasions more different than the inaugural ball for President Trump and the funeral for murdered rapper Nipsey Hussle, but they have at least one thing in common: The same song played at both. It's a song that has come to represent a particular idea of American individualism, and in some ways feels even more relevant today than when it was recorded in 1968 by Frank Sinatra.

Released the following year, "My Way" was an unusual song for Sinatra. It's not a love song about a girl, a boy or even a city — it's about me, me, me. Among his fans, it is a subject of controversy: Will Friedwald, author of the book Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer's Art, told me it "would certainly be not on the Top 10 list of anybody who I'd consider a real major Sinatra fan." So how and why did Frank Sinatra come to sing this song? It turns out that when is even more important.

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Like others in his generation, by the late 1960s, Sinatra was feeling the culture slip past him. His ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack years had wound down, as rock and roll became America's dominant music. He was sometimes in the news for the wrong reasons — like when his partnership with the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas reportedly ended in a physical altercation. His output during that era does include some of his greatest vocal achievements, such as the masterpiece album Strangers in the Night — but hits were unpredictable, and the future of his career seemed far from certain. Enter Paul Anka.

Anka was a one-time teen idol, a peer of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, who had grown up in the shadow of singers like Sinatra. On a visit to France, Anka came across a torch song called "Comme d'habitude," performed and co-written by the French pop singer Claude François, that caught his ear. He decided to buy the rights to the song and keep its music, but rewrite the lyrics with his hero in mind. Conductor Don Costa completed the equation, arranging "My Way" for a full orchestra with a big, lush sound.


Jason King, a professor at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, says that in writing "My Way," Anka used Sinatra as a totem for a certain kind of American bravado.

"You could read 'My Way' as a kind of metaphor for the World War II generation that Frank Sinatra represented," he says, "looking back at 20th century history in this kind of cosmic defiance." King says that essentially, Anka wrote a song not for Francis Albert Sinatra the man, but Frank Sinatra the character, who could stand as a kind of cultural figurehead. "Saying, 'Look, I did it the way I wanted to do it, and I did it right. I'm looking back at all this history, and I'm OK with it.' "

Sinatra's youngest daughter, Tina, remembers very clearly the first time she heard her father perform "My Way": "You could feel the energy, electricity, in the room. That song became his that first night," she told NPR at her Beverly Hills home. "I think it was a song waiting for him to happen."

At the time "My Way" was made, Tina was returning from school in Europe for the holidays, and had begun to get involved in politics and the women's movement. She and her dad were moving in different directions personally and politically — and while she loves his performance of the song, she's always been so-so on the lyrics, which she says offer an extremely male perspective on the world.

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"Women are going to ask for respect. I don't know that they're going to want to talk about regrets, they've had a few — do you know what I mean? Maybe because men make more mistakes, and they have more to regret," she jokes, adding that if you're looking for a woman's anthem, try "These Boots Are Made for Walkin' " by her big sister Nancy. But she doesn't dispute the song's anthemic status.

"An anthem is something that everybody, I think, responds to," she says. "And the only difference with dad and 'My Way' is you don't have to stand up."

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Tina Sinatra wasn't the only one who liked the sound of "My Way" but was turned off by its chest-thumping: One of the song's biggest critics was Frank Sinatra himself. Introducing it in 1984 at a concert at Carnegie Hall, he told the audience, "We have a song we haven't done in a long time, and we're gonna drop it in here now. I think we did it for about 10 years, and it got to be a real pain you-know-where."

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"It is this song that really inflates him, and inflates his persona, to stadium-sized proportions," Will Friedwald explains. "Whereas Sinatra's trademark, his patented approach, the thing that people liked most about Sinatra before 'My Way,' was the intimacy: the idea that this is a guy who has experienced life and love the same way that we have." He points out that as a musician, Sinatra tended to be humble, always sharing credit with his writers and orchestrators.

Regardless of how Sinatra felt about it personally, the song became a phenomenon culturally. Though never a Top 10 hit, it stayed on the charts for years, was covered by artists as disparate as Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious, and was named the most-played song at funerals in a poll of funeral directors. The more it shook off its mid-century moorings, the more it came to resonate with people its creators could never have imagined.

"I think Jay-Z would be the classic example, because he has a song called 'I Did It My Way,' which samples the Paul Anka version," offers Jason King. "And in the lyric, Jay-Z actually likens himself to Frank Sinatra."

King says that in a hip-hop context, it's possible to read "My Way" as more of a blueprint for fine living, a mantra for how "to do it your way and don't let anybody else tell you how to live. And that's a metaphor in some ways for hip-hop's own kind of defiance, its own singularity, its own uniqueness."

Ayana Contreras, a Chicago cultural historian and radio producer, agrees that the influence of the song now reaches far beyond its original context. You know that guy who picks up a microphone in a karaoke bar and belts out "My Way" completely irony-free? Whether he's a stockbroker or a construction worker, Contreras says that he's projecting an image of his idealized self.

"I think it really goes back to the aspirational nature of what Frank Sinatra represented for people. ... It was like this fabulosity on a level that we can only hope to achieve: 'I did it the way I wanted to do it. I made it. And here I am,' " she says. "Which is, at its very root, not just aspirational, but a self-determination anthem."

Self-determination — or, in other words, "I did what I had to do / And saw it through, without exemption." What sentiment could be more American than that?

This story was produced for broadcast by Walter Ray Watson. Daoud Tyler-Ameen adapted it for the Web.


What is the message of My Way song? ›

Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' Is America's Anthem Of Self-Determination Made famous by Frank Sinatra — who grew to hate it — "My Way" represents the quintessentially American outlook that nothing in life matters more than living on your own terms.

Does the song My Way suggest choice or freedom? ›

The song, however, had a staying power for decades and became the symbol of self-determination, strength and carving one's own path in life. In the end, the song is about the power of choice in one's life. With the freedom to choose comes the responsibility to accept the consequences, whether good or bad.

What is your favorite line in the song My Way? ›

For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught.

What is the history of the song My Way? ›

The song was, however, originally composed as “Comme d'Habitude” (“As Usual”), written by Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibault along with Egyptian-born French singer Claude François. Canadian singer Paul Anka added the English words, turning it into the classic we now know.

Why was the song the message important? ›

“The Message” has a place in history that is more than a reminder of the true roots of hip-hop, but rather a landmark of socially conscious rap. “The Message” was one of the first commercially successful rap songs providing heavy social commentary.

What is the moral of the story the song of songs? ›

So the song works on two levels—it's celebrating human's desire for intimacy and pointing to humanity's ultimate purpose: to be united with God and his wisdom.

Why are freedom songs important? ›

Freedom songs served as mechanisms for unity in the black community during the movement. The songs also served as a means of communication among the movement's participants when words were not enough. The song "We Shall Overcome" quickly became the unofficial anthem of the movement.

What role did freedom songs play? ›

Music and singing played a critical role in inspiring, mobilizing, and giving voice to the civil rights movement. “The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Albany Movement. “They give the people new courage and a sense of unity.

Is it true that music ministers are the ones responsible for choosing the songs for the Mass? ›

There are specific persons who play an important role in the liturgy. They are called music ministers. They have the responsibility of ensuring that the music is appropriate to the liturgy.

What is the main line of the song called? ›

Verse. Perhaps the most basic and familiar part of a song, the verse is where the song's story — whether it's lyrical or instrumental — begins to unfold. Musically, the verses will usually be identical to one another, while the story contained in the lyrics will play out over the course of several verses.

What is the top line of a song? ›

The topline of a song can be defined as the melody and words a vocalist sings—the elements that go on “top” of the instrumental track. The topline is what you would hear if you were to mute all the instruments and background vocals except for the lead vocal track.

What is the main musical line of a song? ›

Sheet music documents the structure of a song. Often played by a lead instrument or sung by the lead vocalist, the melody is considered a main identifier for a song. It consists of a single line of tones or notes that are heard as some sort of unit.

Who was My Way written for? ›

While singer-songwriter legend Paul Anka has left a long trail of hits over his 60-year career, he admits that early on, he was terrified to pen a tune for Frank Sinatra. “He'd always tease me, 'hey kid, when are you going to write me a song?

What inspired the song Walk This Way? ›

A look at how the hard-rock band, inspired in part by 'Young Frankenstein,' came up with a song that would become a top-10 hit twice.

What impact did The Message have on hip hop? ›

"The Message," issued July 1, 1982, set the pattern for all the hip-hop records that came after. It is, arguably, the single most important hip-hop title ever released. A claim that Rolling Stone Magazine bolstered in 2012 by making "The Message" No. 1 in its cover story, "The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time."

Who made the music for The Message? ›

The Message

What was the 1st rap song? ›

The Sugar Hill Gang's 12-inch single "Rapper's Delight" - released in 1979 - became the first rap song to be played on the radio.

What is the theme of the story meaning? ›

The term theme can be defined as the underlying meaning of a story. It is the message the writer is trying to convey through the story. Often the theme of a story is a broad message about life. The theme of a story is important because a story's theme is part of the reason why the author wrote the story.

What is the moral of the story examples? ›

The moral of a story, however, is the overarching teaching the author is trying to present. Of course, the two can align but they are separate entities. For example, a character might be fighting to release his wrongly-convicted wife from prison because his morals tell him a man's job is to defend his wife.

What does the theme of a song mean? ›

US. 1. a recurring song or melody in a film, musical, etc., often one intended to set the mood, that becomes popularly identified with the work. 2. an identifying song or melody used by a dance band, singer, etc.

Why do some songs motivate us? ›

Listening to music also triggers a release of hormones, like dopamine, that can make us feel good! Studies have shown that not only is dopamine released when we listen to a preferred song, but it may be released as often as each beat of that song!

How important is song for human life? ›

Music exerts a powerful influence on human beings. It can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue, improve your response to pain, and help you work out more effectively.

What is the meaning of freedom songs? ›

Freedom songs were the vows we took to stand together for justice and freedom, they were the pledges we made, each one to the other, to stand side by side through all that we might have to endure.

What do the protest songs represent? ›

A protest song is a song that is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs (or songs connected to current events). It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre.

Why did people make protest songs? ›

Many protest songs are about rank-ism of some kind, and made by people trying to create change, during times when the status quo wants things to stay the same. From the Robin Hood ballads of the 1400s to contemporary hip hop, there's an expressed plea for fairness.

What strategies did the Freedom Riders use? ›

This tactic—nonviolent direct action—utilized sit-ins, strikes, and boycotts to confront injustice. The action was "direct" in the way it confronted and disrupted discriminatory practices such as "whites only" lunch counters and bus terminals and discriminatory hiring practices.

Do churches pay to sing songs? ›

Nearly every song written is copyrighted. To make copies of lyrics for a transparency or computer-generated display during worship, a church, like any other corporate entity, is required by law to pay a fee, most of which is eventually distributed to copyright owners according to usage.

What are the 3 liturgical ministries? ›

Liturgical Ministries
  • Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Eucharistic ministers distribute the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord to the assembled community. ...
  • Leaders of Song and Musicians. It is said that s/he who sings prays twice! ...
  • Greeters. ...
  • Lectors. ...
  • Ushers.

What role did music play in the church? ›

Music has a way of piercing into the deep parts of our soul, that assists in our expression and response to God and to the church. Singing helps unites us to the church. The gospel alone unites believers to one another. However, music is a tool that allows us to do so.

What is the last line of a song called? ›

An outro is the section that ends a song. Therefore, an outro can be considered the opposite of an intro, the section that begins a song. Although the song outro can contain elements that were introduced earlier in the song, it is a part of the song that is not repeated, unlike the chorus and the verse.

What are the 3 parts of a song? ›

Most of today's hit song structures are made up of of three different sections: Verse, Chorus, and Bridge. CHORUS: The chorus has the same melody AND the same lyric each time we hear it. The lyrics sums up the emotional heart of the song.

What is the final part of a song? ›

Outro. This is the end of the song. An outro should signal clearly to the listener that the song is coming to an end. This can be done in a number of ways, but typically is achieved by doing the reverse of the intro—in other words, slowing down.

What are the 5 lines in music called? ›

staff, also spelled stave, in the notation of Western music, five parallel horizontal lines that, with a clef, indicate the pitch of musical notes.

What is the first line of a song called? ›

Intro. This is an easy one – it is found at the beginning and sets up the song, establishing many of the song's important elements, such as the key, tempo, rhythmic feel and even its energy and attitude. You will find that the intro is often the same music without singing over it as the verse or even the chorus.

What are the two lines at the end of music called? ›

End bar lines: Two vertical lines, the second line thicker than the first. This indicates the end of a musical movement or an entire composition.

What are the 4 main elements of a song? ›

Melody, rhythm, pitch, and repetition are employed to created a musical form and evoke an emotional response.

How many lines does each part of a song have? ›

Most pop songs are around 80 bars long and are divided into various sections, each of which is usually 8 or multiples of 8 bars long. These sections are generally labelled alphabetically or given names (like 'verse 1′) for convenience.

What are the music line notes? ›

The five-line staff (often "stave" in British usage) is used to indicate pitch. Each line or space indicates the pitch belonging to a note with a letter name: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Moving vertically upwards, the letter names proceed alphabetically with the alternating lines and spaces, and represent ascending pitches.

Why was the way it is written? ›

“I wrote the song based on having grown up in a small Southern town where certain narrow-minded attitudes were fairly common and impactful on local events,” says the Virginia native.

When was the way it is written? ›

"The Way It Is" is a song by American rock group Bruce Hornsby and the Range. It was released in the United States in September 1986 as the second single from their debut album, The Way It Is.
The Way It Is (song)
"The Way It Is"
Songwriter(s)Bruce Hornsby
9 more rows

Does the song My Way suggest choice or freedom why? ›

The song, however, had a staying power for decades and became the symbol of self-determination, strength and carving one's own path in life. In the end, the song is about the power of choice in one's life. With the freedom to choose comes the responsibility to accept the consequences, whether good or bad.

Is My Way a good funeral song? ›

My Way by Frank Sinatra

An absolute classic, My Way had previously been the number one funeral song for many years running, according to the Co-op's annual funeral music survey.

Why was walk this way important? ›

"Walk This Way" became the first rap song to be played on mainstream rock radio. It also revived Aerosmith's career.

What is the parody of Walk the Line? ›

Walk Hard, a spoof of every musical biopic from Ray to Walk the Line, is guilty on both counts.

What is the message of a song called? ›

The words of a song are called lyrics.

What is on my way mean? ›

Meaning/Usage: Common way of telling someone that you are going to the person. Explanation: This is very straightforward. It is very commonly used. "Don't worry I'm on my way." "Just be patient, I'm on my way."

What does having My Way mean? ›

: to do exactly what one wants to do to or with (something or someone) especially : to have sex with (someone, and especially someone over whom one has control, influence, etc.) He has had his way with many women.

What songs have a positive message? ›

Positive Pop Songs
  • 1. " Have It All" - Jason Mraz.
  • 2. " Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon.
  • 3. " When You Believe" by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.
  • 4. " Try" by P! nk.
  • 5. " Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.
  • 6. " I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas.
  • 7. " Joy" by King & Country.
  • 8. " Lovely day" by Bill Withers.
Jun 26, 2019

What song has the deepest meaning? ›

Perhaps these can help you through some moment in your life in the past, present, or future.
  • “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera.
  • “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.
  • “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers.
  • “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.
  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, Another Song With Meaning.
  • “Firework” by Katy Perry.

What songs have a social message? ›

10 songs for social change
  • Blowin' in the Wind – Bob Dylan. ...
  • Fight The Power – Public Enemy. ...
  • Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday. ...
  • A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke. ...
  • Imagine – John Lennon. ...
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley. ...
  • Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson. ...
  • One – U2.

What are different ways to say on my way? ›

synonyms for on the way
  1. bound for.
  2. headed for.
  3. in passage.
  4. in transit.
  5. on the road.

What does on my way out mean? ›

1. : as someone is leaving. She handed this to me on her way out. : in the act of going away from inside a place : leaving. I was just on my way out when the phone rang.

What does good things are on the way mean? ›

phrase. If you are on your way or well on your way to something, you have made so much progress that you are almost certain to achieve that thing.

Whats a my way? ›

My Way is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or failure of other forms of birth control (such as condom breakage, or missing 2 or more birth control pills).

What is the number 1 funeral song? ›

Popular funeral songs
  • My Way – Frank Sinatra.
  • Angels – Robbie Williams.
  • The Best – Tina Turner.
  • Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler.
  • Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Eric Idle (Monty Python's 'Life of Brian')
  • Time to Say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.
  • You'll Never Walk Alone – Gerry and the Pacemakers.

What's the most popular song played at funerals? ›

Popular music for funerals
  • Candle in the wind – Elton John.
  • Let it be – The Beatles.
  • See you again – Wiz Kalifa.
  • Someone like you – Adele.
  • Supermarket flowers – Ed Sheeran.
  • I'll be missing you – Puff Daddy and Faith Evans.
  • Somewhere over the rainbow – Eva Cassidy.
  • You raise me up – Westlife.

What is a uplifting song for a funeral? ›

Uplifting funeral and memorial songs

“Always Look at the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls. “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.


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