Sedaka in 1965
||(1939-03-13) March 13, 1939
||Brooklyn, New York City,
||Singer-songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist, record producer
||RCA Records, MGM Records, Polydor Records, Rocket, Elektra Records, Neil Sedaka Music, Razor & Tie Records
HIDDEN ERROR: Usage of “nationality” is not recognized
Neil Sedaka (born March 13, 1939) is an American pop/rock singer, pianist, composer and record producer. Since his music career began in 1957, he has sold millions of records as an artist and has written or co-written over 500 songs for himself and others, collaborating mostly with lyricists Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody.
Early life: Juilliard and the Brill Building
Sedaka was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Mac Sedaka, was a taxi driver and a Sephardi Jew of Turkish origin (“Sedaka” and “Sadaka” are variants of “tzedakah“, which translates in both Hebrew and Arabic as the word charity). Neil’s mother, Eleanor (née Appel), was an Ashkenazi Jew of Polish/Russian origin. Neil’s grandparents came to the United States from Constantinople, then the capital of Ottoman Turkey, in 1910. He grew up in Brighton Beach, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Sedaka is a cousin of the late singer Eydie Gormé.
He demonstrated musical aptitude in his second-grade choral class, and when his teacher sent a note home suggesting he take piano lessons, his mother took a part-time job in an Abraham & Straus department store for six months to pay for a second-hand upright. In 1947, he auditioned successfully for a piano scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music‘s Preparatory Division for Children, which he attended on Saturdays. His mother wanted him to become a renowned classical pianist like the contemporary of the day, Van Cliburn, but Sedaka was discovering pop music. When Sedaka was 13, a neighbor heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring poet and lyricist. They became two of the legendary Brill Building‘s composers.
Sedaka and Greenfield wrote songs together throughout much of their young lives. When Sedaka became a major teen pop star, the pair continued writing hits for Sedaka and a litany of other artists. When The Beatles and the British Invasion took American music in a different direction, Sedaka was left without a recording career. In the early 1970s, he decided a major change in his life was necessary and moved his family to Britain. Sedaka and Greenfield mutually agreed to end their partnership with “Our Last Song Together”. Sedaka began a new composing partnership with lyricist Phil Cody, from Pleasantville, New York. After Sedaka returned to the United States, the Sedaka-Greenfield team eventually reunited and continued until Greenfield’s death in 1986.
Rise to fame with RCA Victor: the late 1950s
After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, Sedaka and some of his classmates formed a band called The Tokens. The band had minor regional hits with songs like “While I Dream”, “I Love My Baby”, “Come Back, Joe”, and “Don’t Go”, before Sedaka launched out on his own in 1957. Eventually, after a few personnel changes, in 1961, the Tokens hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts with the international smash “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“. Meanwhile, the very young Sedaka’s first three solo singles, “Laura Lee”, “Ring-a-Rockin'”, and “Oh, Delilah!” failed to become hits (although “Ring-a-Rockin'” earned him the first of many appearances on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand), but they demonstrated his ability to perform as a solo singer, so RCA Victor signed him to a recording contract.
His first single for RCA, “The Diary“, was inspired by Connie Francis, one of Sedaka and Greenfield’s most important clients, while the three were taking a temporary break during their idea-making for a new song. Francis was writing in her diary, Sedaka asked if he could read it, and Connie promptly replied with a “no.” After Little Anthony and the Imperials passed on the song, Sedaka recorded it himself, and his debut single hit the Top 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 14 in 1958.
However, his next two singles did not fare so well. His second single, a novelty tune titled “I Go Ape“, just missed the Top 40, peaking at No. 42 but it became a more successful single in the United Kingdom with a No. 9. The third single, “Crying My Heart Out for You“, was a commercial failure, missing the Hot 100 entirely, peaking at No. 111 but it also became a very successful single on the pop charts in Italy with a No. 6. RCA Victor had lost money on “I Go Ape” and “Crying My Heart Out For You” and was ready to drop Sedaka from their label. But Sedaka’s manager, Al Nevins, persuaded the RCA executives to give him one last chance.
Knowing he would not get another chance if he failed again, and desperate for another hit, Sedaka himself bought the three biggest hit singles of the time and listened to them repeatedly, studying the song structure, chord progressions, lyrics and harmonies—and he discovered that the hit songs of the day all shared the same basic musical anatomy. Armed with his newfound arsenal of musical knowledge, he set out to craft his next big hit song, and he promptly did exactly that: “Oh! Carol” delivered Sedaka his first domestic Top 10 hit, reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100 in 1959 and going to No. 1 on the Italian pop charts in 1960, giving Sedaka his first No. 1 ranking. In the UK, the song spent a total of 17 weeks in the top 40, peaking at no.3 (4 weeks). In addition, the B-side, “One Way Ticket“, reached No. 1 on the pop charts in Japan. Sedaka had dated Carole King when he was still at high school, which gave him the idea to use her name in the song. Gerry Goffin – King’s husband – took the tune, and wrote the playful response “Oh! Neil”, which King recorded and released as an unsuccessful single the same year. Thus, this was the only time the melody of the song was used by a popular artist and a future sensation around the same time.
Big hits in the early 1960s
After establishing himself in 1958, Sedaka kept churning out new hits from 1960 to 1962. His flow of Top 30 hits during this period included: “Stairway to Heaven” (No. 9, 1960); “You Mean Everything to Me” (No. 17, 1960); “Run, Samson, Run” (No. 27, 1960); “Calendar Girl” (No. 4, 1961; also reached No. 1 on the Japanese and Canadian pop charts); “Little Devil” (No. 11, 1961); “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” (No. 6, 1961); his signature song, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” (No. 1, two weeks: August 11 and 18, 1962); and “Next Door to an Angel” (No. 5, 1962). Singles not making the Top 30 during this period included “Sweet Little You” (No. 59, 1961) and “King of Clowns” (No. 45, 1962). RCA issued four LPs in the United States and Great Britain of his works during this period, and also produced Scopitone and Cinebox videos of “Calendar Girl” in 1961, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” in 1962, and “The Dreamer” in 1963. (His second LP was the only one made in the big band style with songs combined in a single record.) He made regular appearances on such TV programs as American Bandstand and Shindig! during this period.
Writing for other performers
When Sedaka was not recording his own songs, he and Howard Greenfield were writing for other performers, most notably in their earliest days Connie Francis. Francis began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single “Who’s Sorry Now?“. She was introduced to Sedaka and Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written for her. Francis began writing in her diary while the two played the last of their songs. After they finished, Francis told them they wrote beautiful ballads but that they were too intellectual for the young generation. Sedaka suggested to Greenfield a song they had written that morning for a girl group. Greenfield protested because the song had been promised to the girl group, but Sedaka insisted on playing “Stupid Cupid“. Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis’ song reached No. 14 on the Billboard charts.
While Francis was writing in her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused to let him peek into “that little book/ the one that has the lock and key,” Sedaka was inspired to write “The Diary”, his own first hit single. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis’ hits, such as “Fallin'” and the “Theme from Where the Boys Are“, the film in which she starred. This hit the Top 5 on the Billboard pop singles chart and Francis had several No. 1 singles. “Where the Boys Are” eventually became her signature song.
Sedaka and Greenfield also wrote some of Jimmy Clanton‘s hits, such as “Another Sleepless Night,” “What Am I Gonna Do?” and “All the Words in the World.” Sedaka himself recorded each of these three songs: “Another Sleepless Night” appears on his Rock With Sedaka debut album; “What Am I Gonna Do?” was the B-side of “Going Home to Mary Lou” and appeared on his 1961 album Neil Sedaka Sings “Little Devil” and His Other Hits; and “All the Words in the World” was recorded but was kept in the RCA vaults until 1977, at the height of Sedaka’s return to popularity, when it was released on the album Neil Sedaka: The ’50s and ’60s.
Sedaka was very popular in Italy. Many of his English-language records were released there and proved quite successful, especially “Crying My Heart Out For You” (Italian No. 6, 1959) and “Oh! Carol” (Italian No. 1, 1960).
In 1961, Sedaka began to record some of his hits in Italian, starting with “Esagerata” and “Un giorno inutile”, local versions of “Little Devil” and “I Must Be Dreaming”. Other recordings were to follow, such as “Tu non-lo sai” (“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”), “Il re dei pagliacci” (“King of Clowns”), “I tuoi capricci” (“Look Inside Your Heart”), and “La terza luna” (“Waiting For Never”). “La terza luna” reached No. 1 on the Italian pop charts in April 1963. Cinebox videos exist for “La terza luna” and “I tuoi capricci”. From a language standpoint, his recordings in Italian had very little American accent. RCA Victor’s Italiana department distributed his records in Italy and released three compilation LPs of Sedaka’s Italian recordings.
Sedaka also recorded several songs in Spanish, a handful of songs in German, and one single apiece in Hebrew, Japanese, and Canadian French. His English-language recordings were also quite popular internationally; “One-Way Ticket to the Blues” and “Calendar Girl” reached No. 1 on the Japanese pop charts in 1959 and 1961. He enjoyed popularity in Latin America for his Spanish-language recordings. Many of these were pressed onto 78 rpm discs.
The year 1962 was one of the most important of Sedaka’s career, with “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” reaching No. 1 and “Next Door to an Angel” reaching No. 5. But after 1962, his popularity began to wane. His singles for 1963 had moderate success: “Alice In Wonderland” (No. 17), “Let’s Go Steady Again” (No. 26), “The Dreamer” (No. 47), and “Bad Girl” (No. 33). “Bad Girl” would be Sedaka’s last Top 40 hit in the U.S. until 1974.
In 1964, Sedaka’s career began a sharp decline, hastened by The Beatles‘ arrival on the radio and TV, and the rest of the so-called British Invasion. When describing the Beatles’ effect on his career in the mid-1960s, Sedaka put it brusquely: “The Beatles—not good!” From 1964 to 1966, only three of his singles cracked the Hot 100: “Sunny” (No. 86, 1964), “The World through a Tear” (No. 76, 1965), and “The Answer to My Prayer” (No. 89, 1965). His other singles from this era—”The Closest Thing To Heaven”, “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart”, “Let The People Talk”, “The Answer Lies Within” and “We Can Make It If We Try”—all missed the Hot 100, the same fate since Sedaka’s third U.S. single, and became commercial failures.
To make matters worse, Sedaka’s employers at RCA Victor refused to release his new recording, “It Hurts to Be in Love“, because he had not recorded it in their studios, as stipulated by his contract. Sedaka attempted another recording of this song in RCA’s studios, but the results were unsatisfactory. Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, the song’s co-writers, offered it instead to one of Sedaka’s friends, Gene Pitney. Pitney took the existing musical track, replacing Sedaka’s lead vocal track with his own. Everything else was Sedaka’s, including his own arrangement and backing vocals, piano-playing, and usual female backup singers. Pitney ended up with a No. 7 hit for himself and his record label, Musicor, in 1964.
For the remainder of his tenure with RCA Victor, Sedaka never fully recovered from the effects of Beatlemania, the loss of “It Hurts to Be in Love” to Pitney, or the failure of his recordings. RCA refused to renew his contract when it expired in 1966. As a result, Sedaka was left without a recording label.
Although Sedaka’s stature as a recording artist was at a low ebb in the late 1960s, he was able to maintain his career through songwriting. Because his publisher, Aldon Music, was acquired by Screen Gems, two of his songs were recorded by The Monkees. Other hits Sedaka wrote in this period included The Cyrkle‘s versions of “We Had a Good Thing Goin'” and “Workin’ On a Groovy Thing“; a Top 40 R&B hit for Patti Drew in 1968; and a Top 20 pop hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969. Also, “Make the Music Play” was included on Frankie Valli‘s charting album Timeless.
On a 1965 episode of the quiz show I’ve Got a Secret, Sedaka’s secret was that he was to represent the United States at the 1966 Tchaikovsky classical piano competition in Moscow. Unaware of Sedaka’s secret, panelist Henry Morgan challenged Sedaka with the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy had outlawed rock ‘n’ roll music, and that any Western music young Russians wanted had to be smuggled into the country. Once Sedaka’s secret had been revealed, he impressed the show’s panelists with his performance of Frederic Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu“. Morgan’s warning turned out to be valid, however: Despite Sedaka’s classical roots, his “other” life as a pop star spurred the Soviet Union to disqualify him from entering the competition.
Sedaka also made an appearance in the 1968 movie Playgirl Killer, where he performed a song called “The Waterbug”.
Struggles of the late 1960s to early 1970s
Neil worked to revive his solo career in the early 1970s. Despite his waning chart appeal in the USA in the late 1960s, he remained very popular as a concert attraction, notably in the UK and Australia. In 2010, as a guest on Australian disc jockey Bob Rogers’ radio show, he thanked Rogers and Australian music fans for standing by him during that challenging time: “You know, Bob, in my lean years—I called them The Hungry Years—it was Bob Rogers and Australia who welcomed me.” Sedaka made several trips to Australia to play cabaret dates, and his commercial comeback began when the single “Star-Crossed Lovers” became a major hit there. The song went to No. 1 nationally in April 1969—giving Sedaka his first charting single anywhere in four years. It also came in at No. 5 in Go-Set magazine’s list of the Top 40 Australian singles of 1969.
Later that year, with the support of Festival Records, he recorded a new LP of original material entitled Workin’ on a Groovy Thing (released in the United Kingdom as Sounds of Sedaka) at Festival Studios in Sydney. It was co-produced by Festival staff producer Pat Aulton, with arrangements by John Farrar (who later achieved international fame for his work with Olivia Newton-John) and backing by Australian session musicians including guitarist Jimmy Doyle (Ayers Rock) and noted jazz musician-composer John Sangster.
One of the tracks from the album, “Wheeling, West Virginia,” reached No. 20 in Australia in early 1970. The LP is also notable because it was Sedaka’s first album to include collaborations with writers other than longtime lyricist Howard Greenfield; the title track featured lyrics by Roger Atkins and four other songs were co-written with Carole Bayer Sager.
Emergence and Solitaire
In 1971, Sedaka released the Emergence album. Singles from that album included “I’m A Song (Sing Me),” “Silent Movies,” “Superbird,” and “Rosemary Blue.” Emergence and the next year’s Solitaire album were both released on the RCA Victor label, marking a short-lived reunion between Sedaka and RCA. Good friend and New York music impresario Don Kirshner attempted to make the U.S. release of “Emergence” a comeback for Sedaka, but the album and single releases had no appreciable success, and RCA showed little interest in promoting the album. After the failure of “Emergence” in the US market, Sedaka left New York and moved his family to the UK.
In 1972, Sedaka embarked on a successful English tour and was introduced by Harvey Lisberg to the four future members of 10cc (best known to American audiophiles for “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do for Love“) with whom he recorded the Solitaire album at their Strawberry Studios in Stockport. As well as the title track, “Solitaire“, which was successfully covered by Andy Williams (UK Top 5 singles chart) and the Carpenters (US Top 20), it included two UK Top 40 singles, one of which (“Beautiful You”) also charted briefly in America, Sedaka’s first US chart appearance in ten years. However, the album’s minor performance generated little interest in restarting Sedaka’s career.
Return to success in the Mid-1970s
A year later he reconvened with the Strawberry team, who had by then charted with their own debut 10cc album, to record The Tra-La Days Are Over for MGM Records, which started the second phase of his career and included his original version of the hit song “Love Will Keep Us Together” (also a US No. 1 hit two years later for Captain & Tennille). This album also marked the effective end of his writing partnership with Greenfield, commemorated by the track “Our Last Song Together.” They would reunite, however, and begin composing together again before Greenfield’s death in 1986. From 1974 onward, Sedaka’s records were issued in Europe and around the world on the Polydor label. His first album of new material with Polydor was Laughter in the Rain.
Career with The Rocket Record Company
Elton John and Sedaka met at a party in London in 1973. When John learned Sedaka had no American record label, he suggested Sedaka sign with his Rocket Record Company, Limited, and Sedaka accepted the proposition. When John visited Sedaka at his London apartment, they discussed plans for relaunching his career in the United States.
John said he had “always been a Sedaka fan anyway”. He went on to say:
- So the basic plan was as simple as finding out what he wanted to have on his album – which turned out to be a compilation from his British albums. It had been like Elvis coming up and giving us the chance to release his records. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Sedaka returned to the U.S. album charts with the release of Sedaka’s Back, a compilation of songs from three albums he had already recorded in the UK—namely “Solitaire,” “The Tra-La Days Are Over,” and “Laughter in the Rain.” It was only the second Sedaka album ever to chart in the U.S. Sedaka was known principally as a singles artist up to that point in his career; his only other American charting album was Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits, a compilation of his early singles. Although the single was released in the autumn of 1974 and was very slow in building in sales and at radio, eventually Sedaka found himself once again topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (February 1, 1975) with “Laughter in the Rain.” It was Sedaka’s second No. 1 single thus far at that point in his career (after 1962’s original version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do“) and solidly reestablished Sedaka’s popularity in America.
One of Sedaka’s most well-received compositions during this period was the second single, “The Immigrant” (US pop No. 22, US AC No. 1). Critics hailed its beautiful orchestration and evocative lyrics: wistful, nostalgic, and no doubt enhanced and embellished by both pride and disillusion with the contemporary state of affairs in the United States. The third consecutive Billboard Top 30 hit from Sedaka’s Back was the uptempo rocker “That’s When the Music Takes Me” (US pop No. 27, US AC No. 7), originally from the 1972 Solitaire album. This song was a rarity at the time as it was one of the few songs Sedaka had written by himself, without a collaborator. It remains today his standard curtain-call concert closer. In the US, Sedaka’s records were issued first on the Rocket label (1974–77) and on the Elektra label (1977–81).
Writing for artists of the 1970s
Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote “Love Will Keep Us Together,” a No. 1 hit for Captain & Tennille and the biggest hit for the entire year of 1975. Toni Tennille paid tribute to Sedaka’s welcome return to music-business success with her ad lib of “Sedaka is back” in the outro while she was laying down her own background vocals for the track. “Captain” Daryl Dragon and Toni also recorded a Spanish-language version of the song the same year that cracked the top half of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (“Por Amor Viviremos,” US pop No. 49).
In 1975, Sedaka was the opening act for The Carpenters on their world tour. According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story by Ray Coleman, manager Sherwin Bash “deliberately” fired Sedaka at the request of Richard Carpenter, allegedly because Sedaka was becoming more popular than the Carpenters. The firing resulted in a media backlash against The Carpenters after Sedaka publicly announced that he was off the tour. This was before Karen and Richard recorded Sedaka’s “Solitaire,” which became a Top 20 hit for the duo. Richard Carpenter denied that he had Sedaka fired for “stealing their show,” according to the widely-spread rumor. Richard Carpenter responded that he and Karen were proud of Sedaka’s success. Bash was fired as The Carpenters’ manager shortly thereafter. According to The Carpenters Story: Only Yesterday, a 2007 U.K. television biography, Bash claims that he was fired by Richard following a concert in Las Vegas after Sedaka, the opening act, introduced Tom Jones, who was in the audience. Bash states that it is customary for the headliner (in this case, The Carpenters) to introduce special guests. Bash stated that, after Richard fired him, Richard also fired Sedaka from the tour and Sedaka then fired Bash.
Overnight Success/The Hungry Years
In late 1975, Sedaka’s most successful year of his career continued as he earned yet more chart success with the release of his second Rocket Records album, The Hungry Years. This album was an American edition of Sedaka’s British Polydor album “Overnight Success.” The first single, “Bad Blood,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard 100 and stayed there for three weeks (October 11, 18 and 25, 1975), was certified Gold® by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and was the most individual commercially successful single of his career. Elton John provided uncredited backing vocals for “Bad Blood.” Despite their later falling out that resulted in Sedaka moving from Elton’s Rocket Records to Elektra, Sedaka has credited John as being responsible for his successful return to the U.S. pop music scene. John has stated, “I only appear on the records of people I really know or like.”
Another highlight from “The Hungry Years” was Sedaka’s new version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” His 1962 original, a No. 1 hit single, was upbeat; the remake was a slow ballad, based on a similar arrangement by a Lenny Welch 1970 recording. Sedaka’s version hit No. 8 on the Hot 100 in early 1976, making him the only artist to ever record an entirely reinterpreted version of a song where both versions reached the Billboard Top 10. The 1976 ballad version also hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.
Later in 1976, Sedaka released a third (and final) album with Elton John’s label The Rocket Record Company, Steppin’ Out. The first single, “Love in the Shadows,” was an uncharacteristically solid rock song featuring a scorching guitar solo. While it peaked at No. 16 on the Hot 100, it was the first of his three “comeback” albums’ debut singles not to hit No. 1—or even the Top 10. The second single was the album’s title track, once again featuring Elton on uncredited backing vocals. While it cracked the Top 40 (peaking at No. 36), it would also signal the beginning of a slowdown in Sedaka’s music sales and radio play not unlike what he experienced in 1964 when The Beatles and the “British Invasion” arrived.
By this point, Elton John was starting to lose interest in Sedaka. Members of John’s inner circle, jealous of Sedaka’s success, worked to undermine the friendship by telling John falsehoods about Sedaka. Consequently, when it was time to renegotiate Sedaka’s contract with Rocket, John did not offer Sedaka the amount of money he was looking for, and he did not promote Steppin’ Out as extensively as he had Sedaka’s Back and The Hungry Years. Sedaka subsequently left Rocket and signed with Elektra Records.
Sedaka met John again several times after his departure from Rocket, and he described their meetings as “cordial, but cold”. The coldness eventually thawed, however and in the foreword to Sedaka’s 2013 biography, John wrote of their friendship in glowing and positive terms.
Transition from Rocket to Elektra
Sedaka’s new US label, Elektra, did not put as much effort into promoting Sedaka’s music as Elton John had at Rocket Records, and that, combined with the arrival of the disco era, marked another downturn in Sedaka’s career.
His first Elektra album, A Song, enjoyed only moderate success. Things got worse with his 1978 album All You Need Is the Music which was a dismal failure, because as Sedaka attempted to release disco-themed music himself in the late 1970s, his album sales were weak and singles could not get a foothold on the radio. However, on one track of “All You Need Is the Music” was a beautiful ballad called “Should’ve Never Let Her Go.” Sedaka released the song but it was not a success. In his next album, 1980’s In the Pocket, he released an early single in the autumn of 1979, “Letting Go,” which peaked just above the Hot 100. For the second single in the winter of 1980, Sedaka changed the lyrics and title to “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” and re-recorded the song with his then-17-year-old daughter, Dara. Their father-daughter duo, along with Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Nat “King” (posthumously) and Natalie Cole (via recording manipulation in “Unforgettable“, 1991) are the only father-daughter duets to reach the Top 40. Neil and Dara’s pairing would return Neil to the Top 20 for his last Hot 100 charted single, and also the Top 5 on the Adult Contemporary Chart.
Reissue of RCA-era recordings
Throughout the 1970s, Sedaka’s former record company, RCA, reissued his 1960s-era songs on compilation LPs on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels, a practice which continues to this day. The idea was to capitalize on Sedaka’s newfound popularity by making his RCA-era recordings available to younger generations of fans.
Sedaka also released a final album of new material with RCA, consisting of a live concert he gave in Sydney. The album was released on the RCA International label in Australia and Europe as Neil Sedaka on Stage in 1974. It saw a US release on the RCA Victor label in 1976 as Sedaka Live in Australia. The album’s songs were mostly cover versions of rock and pop songs from the previous 25 years, such as “Proud Mary“, “Everything Is Beautiful” and “The Father of Girls”.
For decades, RCA and Sedaka have disputed the ownership rights of Sedaka’s original master tapes from his late 1950s/early 1960s hits. RCA has released various repackagings of his old hits, prompting Sedaka to rerecord his old hits and make them sound as close and authentic to the originals as possible.
1980s and 1990s
Sedaka released one final album with Elektra – Neil Sedaka: Now in 1981. None of the songs on this album made any significant waves on the pop music charts.
During this time, Sedaka lost his father to cancer. Sedaka’s mother and father had moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the 1970s. Mac Sedaka had a tumor in his colon, and had it surgically removed. After that, they thought he would recover, but the cancer had spread to his bones. Neil was at his bedside singing his father’s favorite song, “Pictures From The Past” (a song he had recorded twice, in 1965 and 1981), when his father briefly awoke from his coma and then died a moment later, on June 6, 1981.
Meanwhile, due to the failure of “Now”, Sedaka left Elektra and signed with Curb Records. Sedaka recorded two albums on the Curb label – Come See About Me in 1983 and The Good Times in 1986. Both of these albums fared poorly on the charts and in sales, with only modest success for the singles released from those albums. After 1986, Sedaka was once again left without a record label.
He then created his own music label, ensuring that his catalog of hits would find the marketplace, and he released occasional CDs of self-produced new, original material. He also proved to be a popular concert draw on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, performing for thousands of adoring fans. To this day, he maintains a rigorous tour schedule.
American singer-songwriter Ben Folds credited Sedaka on his iTunes Originals album as an inspiration for his own song-publishing career. When Folds heard that Sedaka had a song published by the age of 13, Folds set a similar goal, despite the fact that Sedaka did not actually publish until he was 16.
In 1985, songs composed by Sedaka were adapted for the Japanese anime TV series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. These included the two opening themes “Zeta-Toki wo Koete” (originally in English as “Better Days Are Coming”) and “Mizu no Hoshi e Ai wo Komete” (originally in English as “For Us to Decide”, but the English version was never recorded), as well as the end theme “Hoshizora no Believe” (written as “Bad and Beautiful”). Due to copyright restrictions, the songs were replaced for the North American DVD.
In 1994, Sedaka provided the voice for Neil Moussaka, a parody of himself in Food Rocks, an attraction at Epcot from 1994–2006.
A musical comedy based on the songs of Sedaka, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, was written in 2005 by Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters; it is now under license to Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
A biographical musical, Laughter in the Rain, produced by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield and starring Wayne Smith as Sedaka, had its world premiere at the Churchill Theatre in the London borough of Bromley on March 4, 2010. Sedaka attended the opening and joined the cast onstage for an impromptu curtain call of the title song.
Into the 21st century
Now in his 70s, Sedaka maintains a rigorous concert schedule in the U.S. and around the world. He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1983, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was an October 2006 inductee of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. On November 15, 2013, Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters in Los Angeles gave him their Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award at a luncheon in his honor.
In May 2003, near the end of the second season of the Fox TV series American Idol, Sedaka appeared as a guest judge and mentor to the five remaining finalists. (The “guest judge” aspect of the series has long since been discontinued.) Several of the contestants’ performances from Sedaka’s songbook sparked particular praise from the guest judge. One of those performances came from eventual third-place finalist Kimberley Locke, who sang “Theme from Where the Boys Are“. The Sedaka/Greenfield composition was originally recorded by Connie Francis and became her signature song. Sedaka termed Locke’s performance “ear-licious.”
Eventual Season 2 runnerup Clay Aiken chose Sedaka’s 1972 song “Solitaire” for his performance. As Aiken explained to the studio and TV audiences, host Ryan Seacrest, and the four total judges, “Solitaire” had long been one of his mother’s all-time favorite songs. When she learned that Sedaka was going to be a guest judge and that the finalists would be singing Sedaka’s songs, she begged him to sing “Solitaire”. The performance was uniformly given extraordinarily high praise by the judges (including perennial skeptic Simon Cowell). Sedaka dissolved into tears, telling Aiken that he officially passed ownership of the performance of “Solitaire” to Clay, offering to record and produce a single of the song or an entire CD with him.
Although it did not appear on his debut CD itself, Aiken recorded and added “Solitaire” as the B-side to the single “The Way,” whose sales were faltering. “Solitaire” was quickly moved to the A-side, and radio airplay and single and download sales responded immediately. “Solitaire” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart and was, in fact, the top-selling single for all of 2004. It also hit the Top 5 on Billboard ’s Hot 100. Sedaka was invited back to American Idol to celebrate the success of “Solitaire” several times, as it continued to reach new milestones. Since then, Aiken has mined the Sedaka songbook again, recording a cover of probably Sedaka’s best-known song, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” on the “deluxe version” of his 2010 CD release, Tried and True.
Sedaka continues to be seen in the American Idol studio audience—most recently on May 19, 2011, when Seacrest had Sedaka stand and greet the audience on-camera during Season 10’s “Top 3” results show.
Amarillo – Guinness World Record
On a business trip to New York in mid-1971, Harvey Lisberg, who was a longtime fan of Sedaka, asked Don Kirshner if he’d written anything new. Kirshner took Lisberg to a small room with a piano where Sedaka was already seated, and he tapped out a few songs. One of these was the Sedaka/Greenfield composition “(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?” which Lisberg loved and placed with his artist Tony Christie who recorded and released it in 1971. The song did relatively well on the UK singles chart, reaching the Top 20.
It lay dormant for more than three decades, when UK comic Peter Kay lip-synched it for a 2002 video in his TV series Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights. For the 2005 annual Comic Relief charity drive, he solicited a number of celebrity friends of his and updated the video, and it became an enormous hit. The original 1971 Tony Christie single was re-released to radio and CD/download sales, and hit No. 1 for seven weeks and was the biggest hit in Britain for all of 2005.
When interviewed for an “extras” feature for a DVD set of a concert filmed in London on April 7, 2006 (see below), Sedaka jokingly had heard that Christie had retired and was “golfing in Spain.” The sudden revival of “Amarillo” summoned Christie back to the UK for an unexpected return to fame. Sedaka also released the song in the U.S. in 1977 as the shortened “Amarillo,” but it was only a mid-chart entry, peaking just shy of the Top 40. In early 2006, the song received new life yet again when a dance beat was added and the lyrics were revised to become a novelty hit, released as “Is This the Way to the (England) World Cup?”, to mark the appearance of the England football team at that summer’s FIFA World Cup finals .It was used yet again later that summer by the Central Band of the Royal British Legion prior to the Men’s Finals of the 2006 Wimbledon tennis tournament.
On April 7, 2006, Sedaka was appearing at the Royal Albert Hall and filming for the above-referenced CD/DVD package, when he was interrupted mid-concert by a gentleman who walked onstage from the wings. The planned scenario was that Sedaka was to begin performing “Amarillo”, and after one verse, the audience was to be surprised by the appearance of Christie for an eventual duet. But at the interruption, a seemingly annoyed Sedaka asked, “What is this?” The interloper was a representative from Guinness Records, and he was there to present Sedaka with an award from Guinness World Records: British Hit Singles and Albums for composing “(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?“, the most successful UK single of the 21st century (up to that date, of course). After the presentation, Sedaka proceeded into “Amarillo”, Christie entered onstage to an eruption of cheers from the audience, and after the successful duet performance, the two men walked offstage together as the first half of Sedaka’s concert came to a close – with the entertainer the latest recipient of a new Guinness World Record.
New recording contract, new chart success
Since Sedaka had lost his recording contract in the mid-1980s, he had used his own business, Neil Sedaka Music, to finance the recording, production, and distribution of new CDs and repackaging of his existing catalog of music. Because of ongoing disputes with RCA Records over the ownership of Sedaka’s original late 1950s/early 1960s hits, in 1991, Sedaka re-recorded those early recordings, note-for-note. Sedaka has taken meticulous care of his voice over the years and still sings in the original keys recorded in his youth. This allowed him to repackage his catalog to include both his early recordings along with his mid- to late 1970s hits and later recordings.
In early 2007, Sedaka signed his first recording contract in nearly two decades with Razor and Tie Records, a small-but-growing, New York-based independent label with a talent roster that also includes Joan Baez, Vanessa Carlton, Foreigner, Joe Jackson, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The first release was The Definitive Collection, a life-spanning compilation of his hits, along with outtakes and songs previously released but unavailable in CD and/or download format. It debuted in the Top 25 on Billboard‘s Top 200 Albums chart in May 2007, one of the highest-charting albums of his entire career. It also includes It Hurts to Be in Love, Sedaka’s version of the Gene Pitney hit which RCA had refused to release in 1964. Best known as a “singles artist,” this album chart activity was considered a significant comeback for the veteran entertainer. The last time Sedaka had an album on the Top 200 albums chart was in 1980, with his 1979 album In the Pocket – when “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” the 1980 duet with Sedaka and his daughter Dara, was Sedaka’s last Top 20 hit on the Hot 100 singles chart.
Waking Up Is Hard to Do was Sedaka’s next release with Razor and Tie, hitting the albums chart in May 2009. The CD was a children’s album that used the melodies of many of Sedaka’s best-known songs but changed the lyrics to fit, and hopefully have fun with, the everyday lives of babies and toddlers, along with their parents, grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers. The CD title is an example. Lastly, The Music of My Life entered the albums chart in February 2010 and comprised almost all new material. The first track, “Do You Remember?,” is Sedaka’s first foray into spicy salsa and was produced by music producer, composer, and pianist David Foster. “Right or Wrong,” co-written with original music partner Howard Greenfield, was done in traditional street-corner, layered doo-wop vocal harmonies with Sedaka overlaying his own voice to achieve the effect for which he was well known in his “early” heyday of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The final track, “You”, has been previously released, but was remastered for this project and is one of several titles dedicated to his wife and career guide of nearly 50 years, Leba. Neil Sedaka Music continues to be listed as co-producer along with Razor and Tie.
A concert performance on October 26, 2007 at the Lincoln Center in New York City paid homage to the 50th anniversary of Sedaka’s debut in show business. Music impresario (and producer for The Music of My Life track “Do You Remember?”) David Foster served as emcee. Other guests included The Captain and Tennille; Natalie Cole; Connie Francis; recording legend and decades-long Sedaka friend and former manager Don Kirshner; and new Solitaire “owner” Clay Aiken, among many others. Also in 2007, Donny Osmond released a CD, Love Songs of the ’70s, which included a cover of Sedaka’s 1975 No. 1 hit “Laughter in the Rain.”
During his 2008 Australian tour, Sedaka premiered a new classical orchestral composition entitled “Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life).” Sedaka also toured The Philippines for his May 17, 2008, concert at the Araneta Coliseum.
In early 2010, his original uptempo version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (performed by a group of uncredited singers) was being heard as the impetus for a series of insurance TV commercials, featuring actor Dennis Haysbert assuring that TV viewers not insured by Allstate can break up with their current insurer without much ado at all.
On September 11, 2010, Sedaka performed to a public and TV audience at the Hyde Park, London, venue of the “Proms in the Park” for the BBC. The UK continues to be probably Sedaka’s most welcoming nation, and has been since first moving his family there (temporarily) four decades ago. The irony of the place whose music scuttled his “first” career, namely the Beatles and the British Invasion, and yet has constantly welcomed him with open arms for more than 40 years, is not lost on him, he has stated in many interviews. Indeed, it was his work with the musicians who would, in a few years, become the hit-making group 10cc that brought him back to the U.S. as a major star with No. 1 hits and a number of other major Top 40 singles. The UK always takes up a major portion of Sedaka’s touring year in the 21st century.
In early 2011, Sedaka recorded two duets (“Brighton” and “The Immigrant“) with singer Jim Van Slyke for Van Slyke’s Neil Sedaka tribute album, The Sedaka Sessions. LML Records released this album in August 2011.
Sedaka attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, graduating in 1956.
He and his wife Leba (née Strassberg) have been married since 1962. They have two children: a daughter, Dara, a recording artist and vocalist for television and radio commercials (who sang the female part on the Sedaka duet “Should’ve Never Let You Go”), and a son, Marc, a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Samantha and three children.
All-time No. 1 hits
- “Oh! Carol” – (Italy), 1960
- “One-Way Ticket to the Blues” (Japan), 1960
- “Calendar Girl” – (Canada) & (Japan), 1961
- “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (1962 version) – US Billboard Hot 100, 1962
- “La terza luna” – (Italy), 1963
- “Star-Crossed Lovers” – (Australia), 1969
- “Laughter in the Rain” – US Adult Contemporary, 1974; US Billboard Hot 100, 1975
- “The Immigrant” – US Adult Contemporary, 1975
- “Bad Blood” – US Billboard Hot 100, 1975–76
- “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (1975 version) – US Adult Contemporary, 1976
- 1968 – Playgirl Killer
- 2005 – The King of Queens (one episode, as himself)
- 1980 – “The Toni Tennille show” (one episode as himself)