Born 13 March 1939, Brooklyn, New York City, NY
Neil Sedaka's high voice and syrupy arrangements are not everybody's cup of tea. Yet he has managed to survive in the music business for more than 55 years and was one of the few teen idols of the late 50s / early 60s to make a successful comeback in the 1970s, with more mature material.
Born a Sephardic Jew of Turkish descent, Neil Sedaka was groomed by his parents to become a concert pianist. He was educated at NYC's prestigious Juilliard School of Music and none other than Arthur Rubinstein chose him as the best New York High School Pianist in 1956. But he was also fond of popular music and started writing pop songs in 1953, with Howard Greenfield (1936-1986), who lived in a neighbouring apartment in Brooklyn. Neil wrote the music, Howard the lyrics and their partnership would stay intact for some 20 years. By 1956 the duo felt confident enough to send demos of their songs to Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, who recorded their "Bring Me Love" with the Clovers and "Passing Time" with the Cookies in that year. Atlantic artists LaVern Baker ("I Waited Too Long") and Clyde McPhatter ("Since You've Been Gone") would score pop / R&B hits with their songs in 1959.
Prior to that, Neil had formed a vocal group, the Tokens, and cut four Sedaka-Greenfield compositions with them for Morty Craft's Melba label in April 1956. Neil sang lead on the A-side of their first single, "While I Dream". The Tokens didn't last long, but one of the original members, Hank Medress, would reform the group in 1959 and score a # 1 in late 1961 with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
Neil's first solo session took place in October 1957, with the rocker "Ring A Rockin'" as the key song. It was first released on the small Legion label, then on Guyden, but in spite of an appearance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, it didn't bring Neil the chart success he hoped for. When Al Nevins and Don Kirshner started a new publishing company in May 1958, Aldon Music, the first writers they signed were Sedaka and Greenfield. Working from the Brill Building on Broadway, they would soon be joined by other songwriting teams like Carole King / Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil. "Stupid Cupid", recorded by Connie Francis in June 1958 (with Neil on piano), gave them and Aldon their first hit (# 14 US, # 1 UK). They also wrote Connie's follow- up hit, "Fallin'" (# 30). Sedaka would record both "Stupid Cupid" and "Fallin'" himself for his debut LP in 1959.
Neil was unhappy with the way Little Anthony and the Imperials had recorded his song "The Diary" and took the song to RCA, where Steve Sholes signed him to the label. His version of "The Diary" peaked at # 14 in late 1958 ; the flip was one of Neil's best rockers, "No Vacancy", with a prominent sax role for King Curtis. Sedaka followed this up with the frantic "I Go Ape", which made the UK Top 10 (# 9), but stalled at # 42 in the USA. It is still unclear who is responsible for the pianistic fireworks on "I Go Ape". Neil insists he played piano on his sessions, but the session logbooks document Ernie Hayes as the keyboard player. That Neil could play a mean rock n roll piano was shown by his guest performance on Bobby Darin's "Bullmoose", recorded in March 1959. The next RCA single, "You Gotta Learn Your Rhythm and Blues", failed to chart, but his fourth 45 for the label would establish him as an inter- national star. "Oh Carol" (an ode to fellow Aldon songwriter Carole King) peaked at # 9 in Billboard and was a Top 10 hit in many other countries. During the next three years hit after hit rolled off the drawing-board - "Stairway To Heaven", "Calendar Girl", "Little Devil" "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen", "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" (his first # 1 in the USA, summer 1962), "Next Door To An Angel" - all characterized by Neil's high-pitched, multi-tracked vocals and strong melodies.
Sedaka thought that the good times would never end. But though he still scored four hits in 1963 (only one Top 20, "Alice In Wonderland"). his decline began to set in during that year. He began to repeat himself instead of changing with the times. Aldon Music was sold to Columbia Pictures and Al Nevins no longer produced his records. Hugo & Luigi were assigned to Neil's sessions, but Sedaka often had disagreements with them. Then, in 1964, the Beatles and their ilk invaded America and Sedaka's kind of music was no longer in demand. After two very minor hits in 1965-66, RCA dropped him. Neil stopped recording and performing, but still wrote for other artists, scoring occasional hits (Patti Drew, The Fifth Dimension, Tom Jones, Tony Christie).
In the 1970s he would make a spectacular comeback, which started in England. In 1971 he relocated to the UK, where he recorded four new albums in three years. These spawned five British hit singles in 1973-74 and Sedaka began to happen again. Nevertheless, he now had no record company in the States. Long-time fan Elton John almost fainted when he heard this, and immediately signed Neil to his Rocket Records. The Rocket LP "Sedaka's Back" was a combination of material from three UK albums, "Solitaire", "The Tra-La Days Are Over" and "Laughter in the Rain". After a dry period of eleven years, 1975 was to become the most succesful year of Sedaka's entire career. He topped the Billboard charts twice, with "Laughter In The Rain" and "Bad Blood" (both co-written by Phil Cody, his new lyricist) and his composition "Love Will Keep Us Together" was the biggest US hit of the year, in a version by Captain and Tennille. Also, Neil recorded a new slow version of "Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do", which went to # 8. His final entry on the singles charts (# 19 in 1980) would be a duet with his daughter, Dara Sedaka, "Should 've Never Let You Go". From 1980 until 1985 he recorded for Elektra and Curb. He reappeared on the (album) charts in 2007, with the compilation CD "Definitive Collection" on Razor & Tie (# 22).
A British musical about his life, "Laughter in the Rain", was reasonably successful in 2010. In September 2012 Neil celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with wife Leba Strassberg.
He has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (in 1983), but not (yet) in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sedaka has written more than 500 songs and sold over 40 million records.
More info : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Sedaka
Autobiography : Neil Sedaka, Laughter In The Rain : My Own Story. New York : Putnam, 1982. 253 pages. Out of print.
Official website : http://www.neilsedaka.com/
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Brian Gari, Ken Emerson, Fred Bronson.
Dik, February 2013
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