1939 – Neil Sedaka is born in Brooklyn, N.Y. His biggest hit is “Bad Blood,” a millionselling song in 1975 that tops Chart Toppers’s Hot 100 for three weeks. He also writes “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which Captain & Tennille take to No. 1.
Career beginnings, 1960s success
Sedaka was born in Brooklyn, New York on 13 March 1939. His father, Mac Sedaka, a taxi driver, was the son of Turkish-Jewish immigrants; his mother, Eleanor (Appel) Sedaka, was of Polish-Russian Jewish descent.
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. He took to the instrument immediately. 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. He also maintained an interest in popular music, and when he was 13, a neighbor heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring poet and lyricist. The two began writing together.
The best-known Billboard Hot 100 hits of his early career are “The Diary” (#14, 1958), a song that he offered to Little Anthony and the Imperials; “Oh! Carol” (#9, 1959); “You Mean Everything to Me” (#17, 1960); “Calendar Girl” (#4, 1960); “Stairway to Heaven” (#9, 1960); “Run Samson Run (top 30, 1960); “Little Devil” (#11, 1961); “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” (#6, 1961); “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (#1, 1962); and “Next Door To An Angel” (#5, 1962). “Oh! Carol” refers to Sedaka’s Brill Building compatriot and former girlfriend Carole King. King responded with her answer song, “Oh, Neil”, which used Sedaka’s full name. A Scopitone exists for “Calendar Girl”. Sedaka wrote another hit, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, for his then close friend Annette Funicello.
In 1961 Sedaka began to record some of his hits in Italian. At first he published Esagerata and Un giorno inutile, local versions of Little devil and I must be dreaming.
A similar sharing came earlier with Sedaka and singer Connie Francis. As Francis explains at her concerts, she began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single Who’s Sorry Now?. She was introduced to Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written for her. Francis began writing her diary while the two played the last of their songs. After they finished, Francis told them they wrote beautiful ballads but too intellectual for the young generation . Greenfield suggested to Sedaka a song they had written that morning for another girl group. Sedaka protested, believing Francis would be insulted, but agreed to play “Stupid Cupid”. Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis’ song reached #14 on the Billboard charts.
While Francis was writing her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused, Sedaka was inspired to write “The Diary”, his first hit single. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis’ hits such as “Fallin” and “Where the Boys Are”.
On an episode of the quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1965, Sedaka’s secret was that he was to represent the United States in classical piano at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, and he played “Fantasy Impromptu” on the show. Panelist Henry Morgan made a point that the Russians, at least older ones, hated rock and roll. Sedaka’s participation in the competition, which Van Cliburn won in 1958, was cancelled by the USSR because of Sedaka’s rock and roll.
Between 1960 and 1962, Sedaka had eight Top 40 hits, but he was one of many American performers of the era whose popularity was decimated by the British Invasion and other changes. His commercial success declined rapidly after 1964 — he scored only two minor hits in 1965, none of 1966 singles charted, and when his RCA contract ended in 1967 it was not renewed, leaving him without a record label.
Although Sedaka’s stature as a recording artist was at a low ebb in the late Sixties, he was able to maintain his career through songwriting. Thanks to the fact that his publisher, Aldon Music, was acquired by Screen Gems, two of his songs were recorded by The Monkees, and other hits in this period written by Sedaka included The Cyrkle’s version 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 US Top 20 hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969, and “Make the Music Play” was included on Frankie Valli’s charting album Timeless.
Sedaka revived his solo career in the early 1970s. Despite his waning chart appeal in the USA in the late Sixties, he remained very popular as a concert attraction, notably UK and Australia. He made several trips to Australia in this period to play cabaret dates, and his commercial comeback began when the single “Star Crossed Lovers” became a major hit in Australia. The song went to #5 nationally April 1969.
Later that year, with the support of Festival Records, he recorded a new LP of original material entitled Workin’ On A Groovy Thing 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.
The single lifted from the album, “Wheeling West Virginia”, reached #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, who subsequently embarked on a successful collaboration with expatriate Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen.
In 1972 Sedaka embarked on a successful English tour and in June recorded the Solitaire album in England at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, working with the four future members of 10cc. As well as the title track, which was successfully covered by Andy Williams and The Carpenters, it included two UK Top 40 singles, including “Beautiful You” which also charted in America — Sedaka’s first US hit in ten years.
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, which started the second phase of his career and included his original version of the hit song “Love Will Keep Us Together” (a US #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”
He worked with Elton John, who signed him to his Rocket Records label. Sedaka returned with a flourish, topping the charts twice with “Laughter in the Rain” and “Bad Blood” (both 1975). John provided backing vocals for the latter song. The flipside of “Laughter in the Rain” was “The Immigrant” (US pop #22, US AC #1), a wistful, nostalgic piece dedicated to John Lennon, which recalled the by-gone era when America was welcoming of immigrants, in contrast to the U.S. government’s then-refusal to grant Lennon permanent resident status.
Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote “Love Will Keep Us Together”, a No. 1 hit for Captain and Tennille and the best-selling record of 1975. The song says “Sedaka is back” in the coda; Toni Tennille sang this in an ad lib while laying down background vocals.
Sedaka was the opening act for the The Carpenters. According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story by Ray Coleman, Richard Carpenter fired Sedaka, which resulted in a media backlash against The Carpenters after Sedaka announced he was off the tour. This was before, however, Karen and Richard recorded Sedaka’s “Solitaire,” which became a Top 20 hit for the duo. Richard Carpenter denied that he fired Sedaka for “stealing their show,” stating they were proud of Sedaka’s success. However, Sherwin Bash was fired as The Carpenters’ manager.
“Solitaire” would find success again in the 21st century, when American Idol finalist Clay Aiken sang the song when Sedaka appeared as a judge in the second season, won by Ruben Studdard. The “guest judge” has since been eliminated. Aiken explained that the song was his mother’s favorite and that she begged him to sing it when she learned that Sedaka would be on the show. After he was awarded a recording contract, he added “Solitaire” as the B-side to his single “The Way,” whose sales were faltering. When “Solitaire” moved to the A-side, radio and record sales responded and the single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart, one of the biggest hits of 2004. Sedaka was invited back to American Idol to celebrate its success and could be seen in the audience several times.
In 1975, Sedaka recorded a new version of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” The 1962 original was fast-tempo and bouncy teen pop, but the remake was slower and in the style of a jazz/torch piano arrangement. Lenny Welch had recorded the song in this style in 1970. It reached #8 on the pop charts in early 1976, making him the second artist to hit the US Top Ten twice with separate versions of the song. (The Ventures had hits in 1960 and 1964 with recordings of “Walk, Don’t Run”. Elton John later accomplished the feat twice, with 1991’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and 1997’s “Candle in the Wind”.)
Sedaka’s second version of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. The same year, Elvis Presley recorded the Sedaka song “Solitaire”. This was followed by a #16 hit in 1976, “Love in the Shadows.” In 1980, Sedaka had a Top 20 hit with “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” which he recorded with his daughter, Dara.
Sedaka is also composer of “Is This The Way to Amarillo”, a song he wrote for Britain’s Tony Christie. It reached #18 on the UK charts in 1971, but #1 when reissued in 2005, thanks to a video starring comedian Peter Kay. Sedaka recorded the song in 1977, when it became a #44 hit. On April 7, 2006, during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Sedaka was presented with an award from the Guinness World Records: British Hit Singles and Albums as writer of the best-selling single of the 21st century so far, “Amarillo”.
Ben Folds, an American pop singer, credited Sedaka on his “iTunes Originals” album as inspiration for song publishing. Hearing Neil had a song published by the age of 13 gave Folds the goal of also getting a song published by his 13th birthday.
Sedaka continues to perform. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in October 2006.
A concert performance on 26 October 26 2007 at the Lincoln Center in New York City honored the 50th anniversary of Sedaka’s debut in show business. Guests included Captain and Tennille, Natalie Cole, Connie Francis, and Clay Aiken.
During his 2008 Australian tour, Sedaka premiered a new classical orchestral composition entitled “Joie de Vivre”.
Other musical works
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, 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 around the songs of Sedaka, titled “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.
Sedaka attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, graduating in 1956. He has been married to his wife, Leba, since 1962. They have two children: daughter Dara, a recording artist and vocalist for television and radio commercials and son Marc, a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, California.
Pop culture references
Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (August 2008)
In the Friends episode “The One With the Two Parties”, Ross says that he is wearing the same glasses frames as Neil Sedaka.
In the lyrics to mini-opera “Billy the Mountain”, on the album Just Another Band from L.A. by Frank Zappa and The Mothers, it is alleged that some people say Studabacher Hoch “could sing just like Neil Sedaka.”
In the Boy Meets World episode “Killer Bees”, Alan Matthews is being sarcastic when he says he couldn’t find tickets to the Neil Sedaka concert.
In Career Day on That ’70s Show, Kitty starts out singing “Bad Blood” on the radio, which makes everyone, including Fez and Hyde’s mother sing, too, in the lunchroom.
On the Canadian sketch comedy show Second City Television, Eugene Levy portrays Sedaka during a sketch entitled Farm Film Report Celebrity Blowup. The sketch also features John Candy and Joe Flaherty who make references to Sedaka’s career and then watch as he explodes while performing.
* 1959 Rock with Sedaka
* 1961 Circulate
* 1961 Neil Sedaka Sings Little Devil and His Other Hits
* 1963 Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits (Re-released in 1975 and 1992)(RCA 2627)
* 1969 Workin’ On A Groovy Thing (Festival 1969)
* 1971 Emergence (UK)
* 1972 Neil Sedaka (UK)
* 1972 Solitaire (UK)
* 1973 The Tra-La Days Are Over (UK)
* 1974 Laughter in the Rain (UK)
* 1974 Live at the Royal Festival Hall (UK; live)
* 1974 Sedaka’s Back (USA)
* 1975 Overnight Success (UK)
* 1975 The Hungry Years (USA)
* 1976 Let’s Go Steady Again (RCA Victor edition; Compilation of mid-1960s hits)
* 1976 Pure Gold (Another compilation of early 1960s hits)
* 1976 Sedaka Live in Australia at the South Sydney Junior Leagues Club
* 1976 Steppin’ Out
* 1977 Neil Sedaka and Songs — A Solo Concert (Live 2-LP)
* 1977 A Song
* 1977 Neil Sedaka and Songs
* 1978 All You Need Is the Music
* 1979 In the Pocket
* 1979 Oh Carol! and Other Big Hits (Re-release of 1960s hits)
* 1979 Let’s Go Steady Again (RCA Camden edition; different compilation from the 1976 RCA Victor album of the same name)
* 1981 Now!
* 1984 Come See About Me
* 1986 The Good Times
* 1991 Timeless — The Very Best of Neil Sedaka (Includes both old and new songs)
* 1993 Love Will Keep Us Together (Compilation and new songs)
* 1994 Laughter In The Rain: The Best Of Neil Sedaka, 1974-1980
* 1995 Song Cycle (Songs culled from “Emergence” , previously unavailable in USA)
* 1995 Classically Sedaka
* 1997 Tales of Love (and Other Passions)
* 2000 The Singer and His Songs
* 2003 Brighton Beach Memories — Neil Sedaka Sings Yiddish
* 2003 Oh! Carol: The Complete Recordings, 1955-66 (8-CD box with previously unreleased material)
* 2006 The Very Best of Neil Sedaka: The Show Goes On (2-CD, 46-track career retrospective recordings); tie-in with release of DVD (filmed 7 April 2006) in London, Neil Sedaka: Live at the Royal Albert Hall–The Show Goes On
* 2006 The Miracle of Christmas
* 2007 Neil Sedaka: The Definitive Collection (2-CD career retrospective including never-released early-career demos)
* 2008 The Miracle of Christmas (special 2-disc version)
* 2009 Waking Up Is Hard to Do (children’s recording)
* “The Diary” (US #14, 1958)
* “I Go Ape” (UK #9, 1959)
* “Oh! Carol” (US #9, UK #3, 1959)
* “Stairway to Heaven” (UK #8, 1960)
* “You Mean Everything to Me” (US #17, 1960)
* “Calendar Girl” (US #4, UK #8; 1960)
* “Run, Samson, Run” (US Top 30)
* “You Mean Everything to Me” (UK #45, 1960)
* “Little Devil” (US #11, UK #9; 1961)
* “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” (US #6, UK #3; 1961)
* “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (US #1, UK #7; 1962)
* “Next Door to an Angel” (US #5, UK #29; 1962)
* “King of Clowns” (UK #23, 1962)
* “Let’s Go Steady Again” (UK #42, 1963)
* “Oh! Carol”/”Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”/”Little Devil” (re-issue) (UK #19, 1972)
* “Beautiful You” (UK #43, 1972)
* “That’s When the Music Takes Me” (UK #18, 1973)
* “Standing on the Inside” (UK #26, 1973)
* “Our Last Song Together” (UK #31, 1973)
* “A Little Lovin'” (UK #34, 1974)
* “Laughter in the Rain” (UK #15, 1974, US #1, 1975)
* “The Immigrant” (US #22, 1975) (dedicated to John Lennon)
* “Bad Blood” (US #1, 1975)
* “The Queen of 1964” (UK #35, 1975)
* “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (US #8, 1976)
* “Love in the Shadows” (US #16, 1976)
* “Amarillo” (US #44, 1977)
* “Should’ve Never Let You Go” (US #19, 1980)