What could be better than singing the songs of Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas? That’s what Paul Anka will be doing this week, but it’ll be even sweeter considering he’s performing at one of his favorite venues on its landmark 10th anniversary.
The Smith Center opened on March 10, 2012, with a grand gala concert filmed for a PBS special celebrating the performing arts center’s arrival. Anka’s upcoming show on March 10 at Reynolds Hall will also be filmed for a future PBS program.
“When I started [performing] there, I made the statement and I’ve continued to make it while traveling the world for years, it’s one of the best theaters in the world,” he says of the Smith Center. “For me and the people I know there who have been there for years, it’s a wonderful asset, and it’s a big part of living that other life in Las Vegas that most people outside of the town have no idea exists.”
As any Sinatra or Vegas devotee should know, Anka wrote “My Way,” known as Sinatra’s signature tune, and the 80-year-old artist originally from Ottawa, Ontario, is recognized as the youngest headliner ever to do it on the Las Vegas Strip.
“I was there as a kid but of course those guys put it on the map,” he says of the Rat Pack era. “Just to be in Las Vegas is already a wow, and then with this music from the guy I started with that’s responsible for all of this, it’s a big kick. Then to put it on PBS, what a full-circle moment that is.”
His tour, dubbed “Anka Sings Sinatra: His Songs, My Songs, My Way,” is a powerful return to the stage for the music legend following the pandemic and last year’s release of “Making Memories,” an album of reimagined classics assembled during the time when concerts were shut down. Anka recorded a new version of “My Way” with Michael Bublé and Andrea Bocelli for the new album, which also includes a hit update on his classic “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” with Olivia Newton-John.
“We do a couple of songs [from the album] and I have a new album we just finished coming out on Mother’s Day, but when you get all these years of music and Frank’s stuff, I’d love to do six new songs, but it’s down to two,” Anka says. “I’m happy just going in and making the music and giving it to the record company, and whatever they do with it is great. All that stuff doesn’t matter. The point of it all is that people are back [at concerts], and I’m thrilled. I’ve got such great support from a fan base and I’m indebted to them. If they are coming, I’m going.”
Anka was inspired to re-release “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by a viral moment on social media. Rapper and singer Doja Cat’s video for her song “Streets” became the foundation for a TikTok phenomenon known as the Silhouette Challenge, and the opening audio for all those viral videos is the beginning of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder.”
“All these 16-year-olds were suddenly singing ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder,’ and we were confused, asking ‘What do you know about that song?’,” he says. “I didn’t know what TikTok is and I found this incredible tool. It just took off and it was due to nothing I did, but these kids embraced it, and now 20% of the audience at my shows is these kids running around screaming at my shows.”
All the attention for a song he originally recorded in 1958 helped the new Olivia Newton-John version hit the number one spot on Amazon. “There are going to be a lot of new stars discovered on TikTok,” Anka says. “If you watch, there are some very interesting items you learn from, and the other stuff you bypass, but all they need is that one minute. Record companies don’t matter the way they used to. It’s a different world musically than what I grew up in.”