The strings swirl, Sid Vicious descends a staircase and begins doing his best Chairman of the Board impression (even if it sounds a bit more like Dracula than Sinatra), and then everything implodes in his cover version of “My Way.” The bassist gave the song a punk-rock makeover for his star turn in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle shortly before his death in 1979. When people finally saw it, upon the film’s release in May 1980, it became one of Vicious’ iconic moments — mostly because, as he sings, he did it his way.
Paul Anka wrote “My Way” in 1968 using the music to a French pop hit by Claude François, “Comme d’habitude,” and coming up with lyrics that he felt suited to its intended singer. “I said, ‘If Frank were writing this, what would he say?'” Anka recalled in a 2007 interview with England’s The Telegraph. “I used words I would never use: ‘I ate it up and spit it out,’ but that’s the way he talked. … I called Frank up in Nevada — he was at Caesar’s Palace — and said, ‘I’ve got something real special for you.'” The song made it to Number 27 on the Hot 100 in 1969 and became one of Sinatra’s signature songs.
Vicious made “My Way” his when he recorded it in England in 1978. In the same way that the original was tailor-made to fit Frank Sinatra, Vicious liberally rewrote the lyrics for himself using words like “cunt,” “queer” and references to his recreational activities like, “When there was doubt, I shot it up or kicked it out.” Around the time he recorded the song, he also shot his now-iconic scene in the movie, which ends with him blowing the audience away with (of course) a pistol.
“I really like the bit where Sid shoots the audience, especially singing ‘My Way,'” the film’s director, Julien Temple, said in a 1979 NME interview. “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.”
Vicious moved to New York City with girlfriend Nancy Spungen that August. Spungen died in October 1978 of a stabbing, and Vicious was arrested as the prime suspect. He was released on bail and four months later he died of a heroin overdose on February 2nd.
When Rolling Stone reviewed the Swindle album in 1979, it described the song as “buffoonish but now gruesomely ironic,” given that Vicious was already dead. The single eventually made it up to Number Seven on the U.K. chart. In addition to becoming the most memorable part of the Swindle movie, Vicious’ recording later perfectly capped off Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.
One person who was not amused by the cover, though, was Anka. He told the Telegraph, he was “somewhat destabilized by the Sex Pistols version. It was kind of curious, but I felt he was sincere about it.”