Taragon Records' second compilation of the recordings of Paul Anka, licensed from the vaults of BMG, picks up where its predecessor, 1999's The Essential RCA Recordings, left off. It is an equally intriguing, if necessarily less complete chronicle of a phase of Anka's career. In the period covered by the disc, 1968 to 1981, the singer had six record label affiliations, only three of which are represented here. They are: two stints on RCA Records, 1968-70 and 1978-81, and one on Buddah, 1971-73. Two of the missing affiliations, a 1971 stay on Barnaby Records and one on Fame Records in 1973, each of which resulted in the release of a lone single, are insignificant. But Anka's 1974-77 stay at United Artists Records was the site of a major comeback during which he scored four Top Ten singles including the chart-topper "(You're) Having My Baby" and two gold albums, so the omission of those recordings gives the present set something of a "before and after" feel. Nevertheless, there is much valuable work here. Anka's early period as a teen idol ended in 1963, and he was off the charts for five years. At the end of 1968, he made a modest comeback with a revival of the 1956 Jesse Belvin R&B hit "Goodnight My Love," which reached the pop Top 40 and became a top five hit on the easy listening charts. He followed with a revival of the Five Satins' 1956 hit "In the Still of the Night," then with a version of the 1955 Moonglows/McGuire Sisters hit "Sincerely," both of which reached the pop and easy listening charts. Meanwhile, his credentials as a songwriter were reaffirmed when he penned an English lyric to the French song "Comme d'Habitude" to create "My Way," which became a signature song for Frank Sinatra. (Included here is a live recording of the song by Anka made the week the Sinatra record peaked in the Top 40.) Thus, having run out the string on '50s revivals, Anka was more than ready to try to score with his own compositions, as "This Crazy World," the thoughtful non-LP B-side to "Goodnight My Love" given its first release since the original 45, bears out. It is a timely comment on the state of things in the late 1960s with the repeated tag line, "This crazy world is coming undone." But his first single after the '50s covers was Tony Romeo's "Happy," a pop/rock effort with an arrangement by John Tartaglia that was reminiscent of the just-released Elvis Presley hit "Suspicious Minds." "Happy" was Anka's fourth consecutive single to reach the pop and easy listening charts, but then he returned to struggling. "She's a Lady," a strong self-written song, got lost as an album track on his non-charting 1970 album 70's, but it was found by Tom Jones, who took it to number one the following year. By then, Anka had decamped for his brief stay at Barnaby, then moved on to Buddah, where he began to fashion the kind of mature, romantic songwriting perspective that eventually would lead him back to the top of the charts as a recording artist, beginning with the single "Do I Love You," which returned him to the pop and easy listening charts. His next single was the ambitious, six-and-a-half-minute "Jubilation" (here running 6:50), a rock-gospel tour de force in the style of Neil Diamond that made the pop charts, but the rest of his stay on Buddah was less successful, even while he continued to chase pop trends, as revealed in the non-LP singles reissued here, including the melodramatic breakup song "While We're Still Young" and the stirring "Hey Girl." After his Fame and United Artists stints, Anka returned to RCA for a final three-year stay surveyed in the final five tracks here, which include the pop Top 40/Top Five easy listening hit "This Is Love," as well as the chart entries "As Long As We Keep Believing" and "I've been Waiting for You All of My Life," though the most personal selection is his initial 1978 RCA single "Brought up in New York (Brought Down in L.A.)." Taragon's title for this collection, Vegas Style, is actually a misnomer, since these recordings find Anka doing his best to meet the pop marketplace rather than retreating to the Vegas showrooms that were paying his bills. It is not a complete collection of his available singles from this period (the non-LP A-side "We Love Each Other" and several B-sides are missing), but it gives a good sense of a talented artist trying to express himself in a commercial vein, circa the early and late 1970s, even if the middle years during which he succeeded are not included.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann