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On This Day In Music… April 23, 1978: Sid Vicious Films 'My Way' for 'The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle'

Vicious's snarling take on Sinatra's classic would also inspire his covers of Eddie Cochran's 'Something Else' and 'C'mon Everybody'.

sid vicious my way
Source: YouTube / MadFranko008

Vicious injected 'My Way' with all the arrogance, egotism and nihilism it deserved.

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It is the best scene in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. Against a slow crash of descending strings, a smirking Sid Vicious descends a vast staircase as an audience decked in their best Parisian finery applaud. Wearing skinny leather trousers with a tourniquet around one thigh and a white tuxedo jacket with a padlock around his neck, he swaggers to the mic, opens his mouth and sings.

“And now, the end is near…”

The video for Sid Vicious’s version of “My Way” was filmed in Paris on April 23, 1978, and for many remains not only the definitive expression of all the fatal nihilism of his short, explosive life, but also the ultimate take on Frank Sinatra’s faintly absurd standard, injecting it with all the arrogance, egotism and ridiculousness it deserved.

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sid vicious sex pistols
Source: mega

When Sid spat out 'I did it my way', you couldn't help but believe him.

For a full verse, Sid sings in an exaggerated, out-of-tune parody of Sinatra, before a barrage of punk rock electric guitars kick in, he leaps about the stage, and the real business begins. The warbled drawl becomes a spitting sneer, and the lyrics mangled to include explicit heroin references (“But through it all, when there was doubt, I shot it up or kicked it out”) as well as obscenities like “There were times, I’m sure you knew, when there was f—k, f—k f—k-all else to do”. And you simply cannot take your eyes off him.

It is a mesmerizing, magnetic performance, and if watching it now is tinged with a lingering sadness for Vicious’s volatile, wasted life (he was just 20 years old at the time of filming; he would be dead within 10 months), one nevertheless can’t fail to feel a thrill at the sheer dynamic energy he injects into those four-and-a-bit minutes.

At the euphoric climax the audience throw flowers on the stage, before Vicious pulls out a pistol and shoots them dead, tossing the gun and stalking back up the stairs to a riot of screaming. And how do you follow that?

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“I really like the bit where Sid shoots the audience, especially singing ‘My Way,’“ The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’s director, Julien Temple, told the NME in 1979. “It’s a very good example of the Sex Pistols’ attitude. Especially given Sid’s character as a kind of social actor, or whatever he was, with the annihilation of that song. To me it is tremendous. All the egotism and the individualism and the hypocrisy involved in that song and the audience lapping it up and getting shot to pieces is just wonderful to me.”

“My Way” was originally written in 1969 by a 27-year-old Paul Anka, from a melody lifted from the French pop song “Comme d’habitude” which Anka had heard while holidaying in Paris.

Anka later told the Daily Telegraph how after acquiring the rights to the song it had “sat in a drawer” for two years, until a conversation with Sinatra prompted him to revisit the tune.

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sex pistols
Source: mega

Sid Vicious' rendition of 'My Way' was officially credited to the Sex Pistols.

“Sinatra had started to understand that he needed to do pop songs,” he explained. “At one o’clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?’

“And I started, metaphorically, ‘And now the end is near.’ 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.”

After writing through the night, Anka called Sinatra at 5am. “I called Frank up in Nevada - he was at Caesar’s Palace - and said, ‘I’ve got something really special for you.’”

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Sid Vicious would die just 10 months after filming the 'My Way' video.

The song would later be covered over 100 times – but it was Vicious’s snarling version that remains (along with Sinatra’s) the best-remembered. Anka would later admit to being “destabilized” by Vicious’s rendition, but that “I felt he was sincere about it.” Sid’s version would peak at No. 7 in the British charts, just two places behind Sinatra’s.

Vicious’s recording, still officially credited to the Sex Pistols following Johnny Rotten’s departure, was laid down just weeks before the filming of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, over three sessions in Paris. The first attempt had reportedly been abandoned due to Vicious’s refusal to work with the French musicians, and the second after he failed to turn up at all. The third session, on April 10, was reportedly a drunken, shambolic affair… but somehow resulted in the electrifying vocal performance used in the film.

It also led to two other cover versions which Vicious would make his own. While recording “My Way”, the French session musicians taught him the chords to the Eddie Cochran songs “C’mon Everybody” and “Something Else”. Both tracks were recorded for The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, with Vicious again on vocals – and again turning in blistering performances, this time swapping the sneers for straight-up rock ‘n’ roll swagger that celebrated Cochran as much as his take on “My Way” had mocked Sinatra. Both songs would peak at No. 3 in the U.K. singles chart.

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Sid Vicious moved to New York City with girlfriend Nancy Spungen in August 1978; two months later she was found fatally stabbed in their room at the Chelsea Hotel. After being arrested as prime suspect in her murder, he was released on bail and on February 2, 1979, died of a heroin overdose, aged just 21.

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle was released in cinemas in May 1980, by which time the “cult of Sid” was already well-established. And with the “My Way” video, the musical – and visual – legacy of Sid Vicious was all-but sealed.

Speaking in 1988, Leonard Cohen said: “I never liked this song except when Sid Vicious did it. Sung straight, it somehow deprives the appetite of a certain taste we’d like to have on our lips. When Sid Vicious did it, he provided that other side to the song; the certainty, the self-congratulation, the daily heroism of Sinatra’s version is completely exploded by this desperate, mad, humorous voice. I can’t go round in a raincoat and fedora looking over my life saying I did it my way – well, for 10 minutes in some American bar over a gin and tonic you might be able to get away with it. But Sid Vicious’s rendition takes in everybody; everybody is messed up like that, everybody is the mad hero of his own drama. It explodes the whole culture this self-presentation can take place in, so it completes the song for me.”


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