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Paul Anka: Rock Swings

Duncan Heining By

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A while ago, me and Mrs. O'Groove were at the Diamante Dance Academy, Chelmsford —I kid you not—for our regular lesson, when our teacher, Natasha Fellowes, put on this big band version of Van Halen's "Jump." Turned out it was off Paul Anka's Rock Swings album (2005). No particular reason but I've always had a soft spot for the number but this was a hoot. More than that, the arrangement takes what was a quick jive and turns it into a nice swinging fox-trot.

Now, that could have been it -a minor chagrin. But then, I started to share the track with friends. Their smiles had a cruel, hard edge to them and not the shared enjoyment I had hoped for. Worse than that, I only went and bought the record. It came. I played it. I enjoyed it. Not all of it. I need you to understand that even in my moment of uttermost shame not all sense of decorum deserted me. Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" is one drip too many and there is nothing to be said in support of Survivor's "Eye of a Tiger," even if Anka's take is nothing like as grim as the original. But some of Rock Swings is actually pretty good.

I'm not convincing you, am I? Best shot, okay? Anka has a good voice, excellent time and phrasing and like all good singers can make nonsense sound, well, almost sensible. Sinatra and Bennett had that skill in spades and, let's be honest here, most rock lyrics are unutterable cobblers. It takes talent to sing words as daft as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana or Oasis' "Wonderwall" and get away with it. Fortunately, I have no offspring to be mortified by their old man singing along to a Spandau Bollox "True." But, and I insist, Rock Swings has something and, what's more, I caught it.

Patrick Williams' Neal Hefti-like arrangement of "Jump" has a really spring in its step. There's a YouTube video of Anka performing the tune at Montreux in front of an audience so unhip it's a wonder their arses stay on. Check it out and you may ask if all my marbles are in one place. But it's so much fun, I nearly bought a round. As for Randy Kerber's clever Latin setting of the Pet Shop Boys' "It's a Sin," it's a good song and works just as well as the original. The biggest shock is reserved for Lionel Ritchie's sopping wet "Hello." It's the kind of song newly-weds choose for their first wedding dance and deserves all the ignominy that implies. Yet, Kerber and Anka turn it into something tender and charming with more than a hint of Henry Mancini.

As for "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Wonderwall" and Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," they're just plain bonkers, good bonkers that is. Perhaps, I'm alone in the pleasure I get from Rock Swings. Maybe I should be. For one, Mrs. O'Groove wants it clear that she wants no part of it. But if I'm not, if there are others out there who get this record, maybe we can form a self-help group. Maybe, we can talk each other out of it. Maybe even find a way back into decent society. Gives us a call. Drop me a line—"Hello, is it me you're looking for? I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your smile, you're all I ever wanted and these arms are open wide...."

Track Listing: It's My Life; True; Eye of the Tiger; Everybody Hurts; Wonderwall; Blackhole Sun; It's a Sin; Jump; Smells Like Teen Spirit; Hello; Eyes Without a Face; Lovecats; The Way You Make Me Feel; Tears in Heaven.

Personnel: Paul Anka: vocals; Randy Kerber: piano; Mike Lang: piano; Mike Valerio: bass; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Luis Conte: percussion; Larry Koonse: guitar; Dean Parks: guitar; plus other instruments and orchestra.

Title: Rock Swings | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Verve Music Group

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