Neil Sedaka - Biography

By J Poet


Neil Sedaka has one of the longest running careers in pop music. He was a founder of the do-wop group The Tokens (although he quite before they became successful); one of the most successful teen songwriters to come out of the Brill Building, first with songwriting partner Howard Greenfield, and later on his own: a teen idol in the 50s with eight Top 10 hits, a smooth adult pop crooner in the 70s and today, a living legend. Although he never won a Grammy himself, songs like "Stupid Cupid”, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”, “Laughter in the Rain”, and “Love Will Keep Us Together” have left an indelible mark on pop culture. His songs have been recorded by ABBA, the Carpenters, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Carole King, Nana Mouskouri, Elvis Presley, Dinah Washington, and Andy Williams, to name just a few. In 2007, Sedaka received the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and ‘Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” is listed by BMI as one of the most performed songs of the 20th century.


Sedaka was born in Brooklyn in 1939. His second-grade teacher told his parents he had an innate musical talent and his mother got a part-time job so she could buy him a piano. In 1947, he won a piano scholarship to Juilliard’s children’s program and began practicing five hours a day. At 16, Artur Rubinstein named him one of the finest classical pianists in New York City high schools. Meanwhile, he’d started composing pop songs with a neighborhood friend, lyricist Howard Greenfield. He started a doo-wop group in high school, the Tokens, but after their singles on a small indie label went nowhere he quit. [The tokens later waxed the worldwide smash “The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimohew)”.]


Sedaka and Greenfield were writing a song a day, and taking them to New York publishers, looking for a songwriting deal. In 1957 they got signed as songwriters by Aldon Music, run by Al Nevins and Don Kirshner. Aldon also signed Sedaka as a solo act. The first song Sedaka had recorded was “Never Again”, which he wrote with his cousin Eddie Grossman; Dinah Washington cut it for Mercury Records. Sedaka made a few singles for Krishner that didn’t become hits, but when Connie Francis recorded “Stupid Cupid”, the Sedaka/Greenfield team took off. Between 1958 and 1963 songs written by Sedaka and Greenfield sold over 25 million copies worldwide.


Sedaka had finished high school and was studying classical piano at Juilliard, but he quite to pursue his pop career. “Stupid Cupid” brought him to the attention of RCA Records who signed him in 1958 and had immediate success with “The Diary,” His fourth single, “Oh! Carol”, written for Carole King, was a Top Ten hit and made him a ten idol. Neil Sedaka (1959 RCA) included his hits and was nominated for a Best Performance by a Top 40 Artist Grammy. At the same time, dozens of artists were recording Sedaka/Greenfield songs, including Connie Francis who had a #5 hit and gold record with “Where the Boys Are”. Sedaka tour all around the world and developed a recording style that included multi-tracking his vocals for a fuller, richer sound. His second album, Circulate (1961 RCA) demonstrated his versatility with a selection of pop classics delivered in an “adult” (i.e. non rock) style. From 59 to 62 Sedaka had hits with his singles “Calendar Girl”, “Little Devil” and “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen”, but it was “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” that give him his first #1 hit, and another Grammy nod. Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits (1962 RCA) became his first hit album.


In 1964 The Beatles hit, pop music changed and RCA dropped Sedaka. He continued having with other artists including The Monkees. Peggy Lee, and the 5th Dimension. He also had international markets hit albums recorded in Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese, although they were never issued in the US. In 1972 he dropped Greenfield in favor of Phil Cody, a lyricist who could write in a more contemporary style. He moved to London - his singles were doing better in Britain – and made several albums with the Strawberry Studio Band (10cc) Solitaire (1972 Polydor UK) and The Tra-La Days Are Over (1973 Polydor UK). Elton John signed Sedaka to his new Rocket Record label and they put together Sedaka's Back (1975 Rocket/MCA, 1998 Varese Sarabande) a compilation of his two British albums. It included three hits “Laughter in the Rain”, “The Immigrant", and "That's When the Music Takes Me”. The album went gold and The Captain & Tennille tool “Love Will Keep Us Together” to #1 and a Grammy for Record of the Year. Overnight Success (1975 Rocket UK) and The Hungry Years (1975 Rocket/MCA, 1998 Varese Sarabande) followed, the latter with a ballad version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”.


In 1976 he was back in the US. His NBC TV special, Neil Sedaka: Steppin' Out, with Bette Midler did well and he made four albums for Elektra: Steppin' Out (1976 Elektra, 1998 Varese Sarabande), A Song (1977 Elektra), In the Pocket (1980 Elektra), which included the hit “Should've Never Let You Go”, which he recorded with his daughter Dara, and Neil Sedaka: Now (1981 Elektra). A new hits compilation Timeless - The Very Best of Neil Sedaka, (1991 Polydor UK) went Platinum in England.


Sedaka still plays Vegas regularly, but has recorded infrequently since the early 80s. Come See About Me (1983 MCA) is a collection of R&B covers, Classically Sedaka (1995 Vision) is a collection of tunes by Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, with new lyrics by Sedaka, Tales of Love and Other Passions (1997 Castle) includes standards and Sedaka songs with a jazz trio led by pianist Andy LaVerne and Brighton Beach Memories: Neil Sedaka Sings Yiddish (2003 Sameach) a selection of folk and pop songs Sedaka learned from his mother’s family.



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