Diana, by Paul Anka (his 1st and only #1)
9 weeks, from 30th August – 1st November 1957
In which we encounter the best opening line in pop music history. Or is it the worst? I can’t really tell…
Paul loves Diana, and has written a song for her. How does he begin said paean to his one true love? What is his grand opening declaration? It’s: I’m so young and you’re so old, This my darling I’ve been told…
Phew! I’ll bet there was no holding Diana back after she heard that. And the lyrics that follow aren’t much better. You and I will be as free, As the birds up in the trees… I love you with all my heart, And I hope that we will never part… Hold me darling, Hold me tight, Squeeze me darling with all your might… (If I could add a puking emoji right here, I would) This is pure pop-song-as-love-letter-written-by-fifteen-year-old. Elsewhere ‘me’ is rhymed with ‘see’, ‘my lover’ with ‘no other’ and ‘arms’ with ‘charms’… It’s by far the tritest, most banal, utterly cheesiest song we’ve met in this countdown.
But wait… It turns out that this song, which sounds like it was written by a randy fifteen-year-old, was written by… a randy fifteen-year-old! (OK, Paul Anka was sixteen when it was recorded and seventeen by the time it hit #1, but for the purposes of this next paragraph lets imagine he wrote it in his bedroom, aged fifteen). See, Paul had a crush on a girl at church, called Diana, and was thus inspired to write a song entitled ‘Diana’. Simple! Quite how old ‘so old’ is I can’t find any info on. She was probably only nineteen, but part of me really hopes Diana was a forty-five-year-old cougar.
Musically this record is super-diluted rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds like a pastiche of rock ‘n’ roll as recorded for the ‘Grease’ soundtrack. There’s a cheesy sax riff and some ‘doobeedoobees’ from the backing singers. Actually, to refer to this as a ‘rock’ song sounds ridiculous – I take back that last sentence. This is pure, bubblegum pop – a genre we haven’t seen too much of so far (strangely enough for the pop charts) – and I’d put it along with ‘Dreamboat’ and ‘Look at That Girl’, and perhaps ‘Butterfly’, as the purest ‘pop’ chart-toppers thus far.
Earlier I described Guy Mitchell’s ‘Rock-A-Billy’ as a sherbet dib-dab of a song – a song that you can’t resist despite knowing that it cannot be good for you. Well, if that was a sherbet dib-dab, then listening to ‘Diana’ is like drowning in a swimming pool filled with Coca-Cola. And, just as with ‘Rock-A-Billy’, as much as you want to dislike this utter cheese-fest it worms its way in and doesn’t let go. You’ll be belting it out in the shower after a couple of listens, trust me. Then again, I am a sucker for a catchy hook and a silly-but-simple lyric. It’s harder than you think to write a song like this, I’ve heard…
Anka’s voice is pretty strong too – it simultaneously sounds like the voice of a fifteen-year-old, and that of a middle-aged bloke. And by the time he belts out the champagne line: OOOOH, pleeeeeaaasseee stay-eee by me… Diana… you’re won over. Actually, the way he lowers his voice to sing her name does indeed sound like a kid trying to impress an older woman. It’s quite clever, in a way. Anka won’t have any more #1s, but when you’re debut single hits the top and stays there for nine weeks do you really need any more? He’s had a long chart career but is perhaps more famous as a songwriter, having written ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ for Buddy Holly and ‘She’s a Lady’ for Tom Jones. Oh, and ‘My Way.’ So he did alright for himself in the end.
To end, it’s perhaps worth noting how quickly rock ‘n’ roll has diversified since Bill Haley announced its arrival at the top of the charts. In quick succession we’ve had the raw, proto-punk of Lonnie Donegan, a low-key and slightly tropical sounding debut for Elvis Presley, and now this. After a run of very samey sounding #1s, we are getting a little more variety at the top. And I’m excited to hear what will come next!
20 thoughts on “63. ‘Diana’, by Paul Anka”
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Sorry, Diana Ayoub was no cougar. She was born in 1947 so was nineteen when Paul Anka fell in love with her to no avail, From accounts I have read she was still alive in 2002 working in a dress-shop and getting a divorce so her spurning the young Paul may have been a mistake
Notice my typing mistake, she was born in 1937 not 1947, otherwise he’d be singing I’m so old and what I’d like to do with you is illegal
To be fair, when you’re fifteen a nineteen year old would seem very mature… Definitely not cougar territory though. Did she know that the song was about her?
Paul Anka was a 16-year-old in Ottawa in 1957 when his song, Diana, became a worldwide hit, eventually selling 20 million copies. It was widely believed to be about his doomed love for one of his babysitters. Anka didn’t try very hard to discredit the story until he wrote his autobiography, My Way, in 2013. He and Diana Ayoub, the Ottawa woman who inspired Anka’s song, were friends — he calls her his “teen crush” in the book — but she was never his babysitter. In Anka’s telling: “The three-year difference in our ages made romance impossible. The only way to declare myself was through that song.” But in a 1991 Citizen interview, Ayoub said ”Paul has no idea how much that song affected my life,” she said. “I got all the notoriety and none of the benefits
So yes, she certainly knew about the origins of the song and resented it
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I respect Paul Anka for being one of the very few teen idols to write his songs. That’s extremely impressive for one so young and in the infancy of pop music. Even Elvis god bless him didn’t write his songs (though Elvis’ catalogue is way way better let’s not kid ourselves). I personally love “Diana” but “Put Your Hand On My Shoulder” is a better song.
That said, “(You’re Having) My Baby” is one of the worst songs ever, and it was a No. 1 hit in the US during the 70s. Point to the UK there.
Yeah, ‘You’re Having My Baby’ is terrible. ‘Diana’ is great for its opening line alone. And ‘ Put Your Head on My Shoulder’ was recently reimagined by Doja Cat of all people.
I’ve never heard this song before, but I really dug it. It’s very much of it’s time, but in a good way. Very catchy. The saxophone is pretty well utilised in this song. The story behind this song is kinda cute too – it’s just a younger boy having a crush on a slightly older girl he met at Church. That’s something that a lot of people can relate too.
It’s interesting that you’d never heard this before, as when I was a kid it was still fairly well known in a ‘golden oldie’ kind of way. Just goes to show that the music of the 1950s – aside from the giant Elvis, Jerry Lee etc. hits – is on the verge of slipping from the collective conscience.