For possibly the first time in my adult life, this year I celebrated the New Year at home, sans party.
Yet the question of, “What song do I play?” lingered until the final countdown to midnight.
My quiet New Year’s Eve of two was joined by another, a dear friend. Like always, we listen and chat about music as if it’s the only subject we know. And as fate would have it, we grew up in the prime of early 2000s pop-punk, which also happened to coincide with our prime of angst. So naturally, it’s a frequented music topic. At the peak of our discussion, enters Frank Sinatra by a bold statement from my guest,
’My Way’ is the first punk rock song.
Call it egotistic. Stubborn. But whatever you call it, ‘My Way’ is punk rock in lyric form. The very same DIY mindset in which punk found its voice can be found in each rejection of establishment through the words of ‘My Way.‘ While ‘My Way’ might not technically be the first punk song, it certainly is in mindset. In 2019, NPR’s All Things Considered labeled “‘My Way’ America’s anthem of self-determination.” What is more patriotic (and punk) than championing individualism? Even Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols understood, eventually covering the song, recreating lyrics and performing in his own way of course.
Though infamously known to refer rock ‘n’ roll as “brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression,” Sinatra, as with the characteristics of punk, was an attest to strong will and self-reliance. At one point Sinatra was so tired of being controlled by his label, Capitol Records, he decided to create his own, Reprise Records. The new label meant total ownership for himself and for other artists. Reprise Records meant standing up to establishment. Sounds pretty punk – even for a guy who didn’t even like his own ‘My Way’.
Perhaps the distaste for rock ‘n’ roll was the conflict between himself and what he was to be. As much as the ideologies of punk defy what is the norm, there is still a lingering sense of deniability.
And it’s not just Sinatra. So much of music is inspired by defiant action of societal norms whether the artist likes it or not. Sometimes it’s pure in its intent, but mostly, it’s out of spite. Take Daft Punk for example: the electronic duo was originally named Darlin’ until a review described their music as “a daft punky thrash.” Thus, Daft Punk was formed. What was once criticism quickly became an act of rebellion with their ownership of being daft punk. We heard it in Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, particularly in her song, ‘Royals’, with every rejection through “we don’t care.” It’s heard throughout all 68 minutes of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And, not to forget the key moment that led us to that album – think almost every Taylor Swift hit.
By now, it’s creeping closer and closer to midnight and I still don’t have a song. Any decent host has considered the important, sometimes unnoticed key in any successful New Year is the song that welcomes it. Over the past few years, I rang in the New Year to a variety of songs. In 2018 it was ‘All the Small Things’ by Blink 182. In 2019, it was Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. 2020 was infamous modern party classic, ‘Doses and Mimosas’ by Cherub.
This year I felt undeniable pressure to find a song that encapsulated the year behind us, while also looking forward to the year ahead. I thought of my guest’s palpable reverence for ‘My Way’. A song that proudly celebrates the brash gumption of self against life’s challenges in a year characterized by much beyond our control seemed like a more than suitable fit to welcome the New Year.
For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say all the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
But I did it my way
As we shouted the words of ‘My Way’ from the tops of our lungs in the most personal way, it felt good to acknowledge the one thing we could control – ourselves.