Jun 25, 2014

Doc Pomus, The Drifters, Paul Anka, and Frank Sinatra

So we were cleaning up after dinner, washing the dishes, watching "Classic Arts Showcase" on the TV. Placido Domingo was singing "My Way." My first thought was, "This song only works for Sinatra." But then another thought hit me. The melody and chord structure are not that far off from "Save the Last Dance for Me."

Pretty unlikely, right?

"Save the Last Dance for Me" was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (the story is here). The first recording, by The Drifters, was released in 1960.




"My Way" was originally a French pop ballad, "Comme d'habitude," written in 1967 by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux. Paul Anka acquired the rights to the melody, and wrote new words for Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in December 1968 (the story is here).







Both melodies start with pickups, landing on the third of the key on beat 1 of the first full measure, then hang around the third for a few bars, then drop to finish the first phrase (it's a 4-bar phrase in "My Way," a 5-bar phrase in "Last Dance").

The second 4-bar (or 5-bar) phrase of each song starts with pickups, landing on the fourth of the key in the first full bar of the phrase, ending the phrase on the third of the key.

The third 4-bar phrase of "Last Dance" starts with the IV chord; the third phrase of "My Way" also moves to the IV in the third bar of the phrase. The melody in both cases then continues to climb: "My Way" reaches the sixth step of the key, while "Last Dance" reaches more dramatically to the ninth above the initial tonic.

The fourth 4-bar phrase begins on the third of the key in both songs, moves up a bit to the fourth, then down to the tonic note.

The bridges are not at all similar. The bridge to "My Way" adds drama to the song, while the bridge to "Last Dance" seems kind of unrelated.

Below are chord charts for the A sections of "Last Dance" and "My Way" (the changes to "Comme d'habitude" are nearly the same as "My Way"). Aside from the 5-bar phrases, it's almost as though Francois and Revaux took the harmonic template of "Last Dance," and recrafted it with more sophisticated detail. The same thing could be said about the melody.

But as I said above...pretty unlikely, right?

Both songs are shown here in C, for easier comparison.






The basic harmonic template of the first 8 bars is a common one: first phrase tonic, changing at the end of the phrase; next phrase dominant (or II V, which is just an elaboration of V), back to tonic at the end of the phrase. Movement to the IV, as in the third phrase, is quite common, too.

This pattern reminds me of a similar group of tunes, that share a template very close to this one (let's call them the "Samba d'Orfeu/I Could Have Danced All Night" group). I'll save that for another post.


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