This is the twenty-seventh in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” was originally about the repeal of Prohibition.
By the middle of the 1970s, the Four Seasons were in a bit of a pickle. Their lead singer, and most famous member, Frankie Valli, had tremendous problems with hearing loss, so he was no longer able to be the lead singer for the group.
In a clever move, rather than disbanding, the group brought in two new band members (by “the group,” I basically just mean Valli and co-founder Bob Gaudio) who would sing the lead vocals for the group while Valli would contribute occasional bridges, just to make his presence felt in the group (as he WAS still the most famous member of the group). New drummer Gerry Polci and bassist Don Ciccone were the two main vocalists on the album Who Loves You…
Polci was the lead vocalist on the song that became “December, 1964 (Oh What a Night).”
The tune would become a massive hit, and helped cement the Four Seasons as a group able to succeed in the (then) current pop charts.
The song was a catchy tune about a young man losing his virginity.
However, the original title of the song showed what the original topic of the song was.
Originally, the tune was titled “December 5th, 1933,” which happens to be the day that the Constitutional Amendment was passed repealing Prohibition.
So the song was initially a tune about the day Prohibition ended, which certainly would be a cool backdrop for a wild night, I am sure.
But Valli felt that the topic wasn’t interesting enough, so he asked Gaudio (who co-wrote the song, along with his wife, Judy Parker) to change it. Parker was not a big fan of the topic, either, so they complied and, well, the rest is hit single history!
Isn’t it funny how they kept the same title structure of the original tune?
MUSIC LEGEND: Kanye West wrote “Gold Digger” after seeing Jamie Foxx play Ray Charles in “Ray.”
STATUS: Surprisingly False
“Gold Digger” was a massive hit single by Kanye West that came out in 2005. You practically couldn’t go anywhere in the late Summer/early Fall of 2005 without hearing this tune on the radio (I was on a road trip down to Washington DC from New York that August and we literally heard it six times on five different stations in an hour – yes, one station played it more than once in an hour!).
The song samples the classic Ray Charles hit “I Got a Woman”…
Jamie Foxx sings the Charles parts of the song, which is interpolated throughout the song.
Foxx, of course, won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charles in the 2004 film, Ray.
So naturally, folks believed that West wrote the song after seeing Foxx in Ray. However, West actually wrote the song a number of years earlier (before the Ray film even began pre-production), with the intention of giving it to a female rapper.
When rapper Shawnna decided to pass on the track, West sat on it until 2005, when he decided to re-write the tune, which was originally from a female’s perspective (presumably a “Gold Digging” woman).
Around THIS time, West HAD seen the film Ray, and yes, his viewing of the film inspired him to add the Charles sample and have Foxx sing that part of the song.
However, the song was written first.
MUSIC LEGEND: David Bowie adapted the song Paul Anka used to write “My Way” before Anka!
STATUS: Basically True
In 1967, Claude François had a hit in France with the Jacques Revaux song “Comme D’Habitude” (lyrics by Claude François and Gilles Thibaut)…
In 1969, singer/songwriter Paul Anka acquired the rights to the song and used the tune to write a brand-new song (lyric-wise) called “My Way.”
Anka gave the song to Frank Sinatra, who used it as the title track to his 1969 album…
It was a big hit for Sinatra, and is now one of his most famous songs.
However, interestingly enough, another artist actually used the song BEFORE Anka got to it! And that artist was a young unknown singer by the name of David Bowie!
In 1968, Bowie (who had released an album already, but it was a small release and he was not very well known at all) wrote the song “Even a Fool Learns to Love,” based on the tune from “Comme D’Habitude.”
Bowie could not get a company to release the song as a single, and before he knew it, “My Way” was international success.
Bowie luckily found success in 1969 with his own hit single, “Space Oddity,” and his career was well on its way, but he did not forget about the whole “My Way” incident, and on his 1971 album Hunky Dory he had a song called “Life on Mars?” which is an ever so slight satire of Sinatra’s style of songs, especially “My Way.”
So in the end, while Bowie had to wait a little bit longer to become famous, we at least got two great songs out of the bargain, “My Way” and “Life on Mars?,” so we, the listener, come out pretty well in this affair!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: "Comme D'Habitude", "December, "Even a Fool Learns to Love", "Gold Digger", "I Got a Woman", "Life on Mars?", "My Way", 1963 (Oh What a Night)", Bob Gaudio, Claude François, David Bowie, Don Ciccone, Frank S, Frankie Valli, Gerry Polci, Jacques Revaux, Jamie Foxx, Judy Parker, Kanye West, Paul Anka, Prohibition, Ray, Ray Charles, Shawnna, The Four Seasons