Be sure to get your kudos from the A to Z Challenge team.
Just click the banner above!
Holy smokes! It’s nearly time to go. But we can’t miss visiting with the next dude coming in to record. He’s one of my all-time favorites (though I have to say I’ve never seen a guy change his “image” so often — he had some really HORRID hair cuts!). This album… This one right here… I have played this more than any vinyl album I have. You can barely hear it for the scratches. Please take a minute to get to know Mr. Neil Sedaka!
Neil Sedaka (born March 13, 1939) is an American pop 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.
(I loved Sedaka’s smile. It always seemed so genuine…)
Sedaka was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Mac Sedaka, was a taxi driver and a Sephardi Jew of Turkish origin Neil’s mother, Eleanor (née Appel), was an Ashkenazi Jew of Polish/Russian origin. Neil’s grandparents came to the United States from Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, 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 numerous 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 1970’s, 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.
After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, Sedaka and some of his classmates formed a band called the Tokens (yes, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” 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. 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 Victor, “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 said 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.
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 reached No. 6 on the pop charts in Italy. 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 more chance.
Sedaka then bought the three biggest hit singles of the time and listened to them repeatedly, studying the song structure, chord progressions, lyrics and harmonies before writing his next songs. “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.
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 Victor issued four LPs of his works in the United States and Great Britain 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.
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.
Greenfield suggested that they play a song they had written for the Shepherd Sisters. Sedaka protested that Francis would be insulted by being played such a puerile song, but Greenfield reminded him Francis had not accepted their other suggestions and they had nothing to lose. After Sedaka played “Stupid Cupid”, Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis’ rendition of the song reached No. 14 on the Billboard charts, while it topped the UK Singles Chart.
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, RCA Victor refused to release his new recording, “It Hurts to Be in Love”, because he had not recorded at their own 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, 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 1960’s, 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.
In late 1972, producer Stig Anderson approached Sedaka to write the lyric for a single by a new Swedish pop quartet then known as Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. Sedaka agreed, on the condition he liked the song. Anderson, who had co-written the Swedish original with lyricist Björn Ulvaeus and composer Benny Andersson, intended to enter “Ring Ring” in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest and believed with a strong English lyric it had the potential to become an international hit. He sent a tape of the song together with a rough translation to Sedaka, who within days returned an original lyric, co-written with Phil Cody. The song was entered into the Swedish Eurovision selections on February 10, 1973, but placed third. The band, later renamed ABBA, would make “Ring Ring” the title track of their first album, released on March 26, 1973. The single, credited to Andersson, Ulvaeus, Anderson, Sedaka and Cody, reached number 1 in Sweden and Belgium, and charted in the top 5 in at least four other countries. Sedaka would later say that ABBA’s “songwriting and production are in a class by themselves.”
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).
Sedaka recently has maintained 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.
On April 7, 2006, Sedaka was appearing at the Royal Albert Hall and filming for a 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 “(Is this the way to) Amarillo”, and after one verse, the audience was to be surprised by the appearance of Tony Christie (who had recorded the song) 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, triumphantly arm in arm, as the first half of Sedaka’s concert came to a close.
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 (Sedaka had given Aiken the rights to the song when Aiken sang it on American Idol when Sedaka was a guest judge and mentor to the finalists), among many others. Also in 2007, Donny Osmond released a CD, Love Songs of the ’70’s, which included a cover of Sedaka’s 1975 No. 1 hit “Laughter in the Rain.”
Sedaka 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, and who sang the female part on the Sedaka Billboard Top 20 hit duet “Should’ve Never Let You Go” from 1980, and “Angel Queen” on the Queen Millennia soundtrack; and a son, Marc, a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Samantha, and their three children.
Sedaka’s nephew is FiveThirtyEight political writer Harry Enten.
(Good Lord! I’m totally out of breath and barely touched Sedaka’s career and accomplishments! Should you wish to read more, have a look here!)
“You Mean Everything to Me” was written and sung by Neil Sedaka. It was released in 1960. It became a hit in the US reaching #17 on the US Billboard chart.
The song bears similarity to Paul Anka’s “You Are My Destiny”, and has been covered by many artists in many languages including a Hebrew-language version (written by Chaim Kaynan) which was recorded by Sedaka himself.
(He’s still got the voice, doesn’t he? 🙂 )