Sunday night, Red Bank, New Jersey, will host Canadian hit-maker Paul Anka for a show of his greatest hits. An interesting figure in the music industry, along with his personal array of hits, he composed Johnny Carson’s original Tonight Show theme, wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and had the foresight to buy back his master recordings from his record label at age 19. Currently promoting his autobiography My Way and a new album, Duets, he’s parading his decade-spanning catalog of hits on tour, but one song that’s been noticeably missing from his recent live shows is his controversial ’70s hit “(You’re) Having My Baby.” His big comeback hit, it’s since been lambasted by feminists and critics alike, topping several “Worst song of all time” lists and even earning Anka numerous dubious honors and allegations of chauvinism. But could a song that was once performed on “Glee” and by Anka himself on Howie Mandel’s “Bobby’s World” really be that bad?
Taken at face value, it’s a song about a guy who is glad his wife is having his baby. At first listen, it seems harmless enough. Written at a time when Anka, a former teen idol, was transitioning his career into primarily a touring performer, it was released as a tribute to his wife Anne after birthing four of their eventual five children. While he had tested the waters with DJs a few years prior with the concept, Anka eventually recorded it as a duet with his Gospel-based protege Odia Coates. The song topped the charts on August 24th, 1974, the timing of which lead to a tidal wave of controversy.
At the time of its release the women’s lib movement was in full effect, and “(You’re) Having My Baby” managed to alienate and outrage listeners on both sides of the political spectrum. While some critics, like Rolling Stone, blasted it at the time (and today) for being overly sappy and sentimental, the song went beyond standard critical scrutiny into the wider conversation about sexism and misogyny.
One of the main points of contention to feminists was Anka’s use of “my” instead of “our.” To some, singing the lyrics “having my baby” and “what a lovely way of saying that you love me” implied that mothering a child for a man was the pinnacle of achievement women could reach, or that the act of having a baby together somehow wasn’t a partnership. The National Organization for Woman gave Anka their dubious “Keep Her In Her Place” award, and Ms. magazine named him “Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year.” While Anka himself defends using the word as more of a song-“craftsman” choice, claiming “our baby” doesn’t sound right, he did eventually begin ending the song live by altering the lyrics to “having our baby.”
But the controversy didn’t end there. The third verse’s “Didn’t have to keep it/ Wouldn’t put you through it/ You could have swept it from your life/ But you wouldn’t do it” managed to be worded in just such a way to inadvertently anger the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements alike. With the Roe vs. Wade verdict just over a year old, the Pro-Choice contingent thought merely mentioning the option to keep the pregnancy demonized the right to choose. On the other side of the fence, some Pro-Life listeners took suggesting abortion in such a frivolous way trivialized the issue. Anka, who refers to himself as a “libber,” has gone on record saying all he meant was the woman in the song had a choice.
Coming to Anka’s defense at the time was none other than Time who declared “What are you getting on this guy’s case for? We’re in a war. We’ve got a drug plague. We’ve got shit going on in our country. Give him a break, he’s writing a song about his wife.” While plenty of listeners today still rank the song at the top of their Worst Songs Ever lists, it’s hard to write-of the guy who wrote Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady,” Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and, yes, “My Way” for one easily-misinterpreted misstep. Those looking for a more aggressive Paul Anka recording might enjoy this tape of him ferociously yelling at his former bandmates.