Send Neil Sedaka to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
The Neil Sedaka
Biography by Michael Turner
Appreciating Neil Sedaka
Those who have followed the career of Neil Sedaka, are overwhelmed by a great sense of awe. This 75 years youthful, international superstar is a complete musician, because there has always been a duality between his classical roots and that of the rock ní roll singer song-writer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Neil Sedaka began his interest in music at the age of four, by listening to the radio programme, The Make - Believe Ballroom. At the age of 8, Neil began playing the piano for five hours a day. A year later, Neilís music teacher at the Julliard Prepí School, encouraged Mac and Eleanor to buy their son a piano. Neil had set his sights on being a Doctor of Classical Music. At the age of 13, whilst playing the piano at a hotel resort in the Catskill Mountains, Ella Greenfield approached Neil, suggesting that he should write songs, with her 16 year old son Howard, who wrote poetry. This was totally alien to Neil but on 11th October 1952, the two began to write over 500 songs in a partnership that lasted into the 1980s.
In 1956 whilst at the Abraham Lincoln High School, Neil was selected as one of the best seven New York high school classical pianists; by the legendary Artur Rubinstein. Neil was awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Julliard School of Music. He was invited to tour Russia. When the host country learnt of his affiliation with Rock ní Roll, Neil received a telegram in Russian cancelling his tour.
Much to his motherís apprehension, Neil was dividing his time between pop music and classical studies. Sedaka thus started out as an intellectual tunesmith who could always write sophisticated pop songs. In 1956, Sedaka formed a high school group called The Tokens. They were discovered by record producer, Morty Craft. Neil accepted his invitation to play the chimes on The Willows song, Church Bells May Ring. Craft then issued two Tokens singles which were regional hits. Neil had outgrown his group and went solo, releasing his first single on the Decca label. On Snowtime, backed with Laura Lee, Sedaka had multi-tracked his lyrics and was one of the first artists to achieve this skill; which he says, he has subsequently refined by more acute timing. The next single Ring - A- Rockiní also failed to dent the national charts. In 1958, Morty Craft produced Neilís Stupid Cupid, recorded by the first lady of rock ní roll, Connie Francis. Neil played the piano at the session. This was Neilís first international hit as a songwriter. Neilís eyes took a while to register all the zeros on his first royalty cheque. The sum of $34,000 was beyond his comprehension. This was more money than his taxi driver father had seen in a lifetime!
In 1958, whilst playing at the Esther Manor near Monticello in New York state, Neil met 16 year old Leba Strassberg, daughter of the owners, Esther and Irving. Neil knew he was going to marry Leba before he even spoke to her! Neil, being ever true to his word, did so at the manor in 1962. This highly competent business woman has been Neilís auxiliary driving force and his manager since the mid - Ď70s. Leba has said that, ďNeil may not be the worldís greatest songwriter, singer or performer, but nobody can do all three better.Ē
In 1958, Neil and Howie became contracted to publishers Al Nevins and Don Kirshner as songwriters at 1650 Broadway. This music factory was the Brill Building and nick-named Tin Pan Alley. It bristled with such talents as: Neil Diamond, Carole King and Paul Simon. Amid the song-writing, Neil vigorously exercised his magic fingers with a piano pounding solo on stable-mate Bobby Darinís Bullmoose, flip-side to Dream Lover. Neilís demo songs were sold to other artists, but he had always wanted to record his own voice.
Record producer Steve Sholes, who had discovered Elvis Presley for RCA, contracted Sedaka for this internationally potent label. The hits were worldwide. The greatest hit was Oh! Carol. The lyrics were penned in honour of his former girlfriend Carole King. The tune was inspired by Brazilian composer Villa Lobos. Neil was providing what the record playing public demanded, by innovatively studying the musical qualities of the chart toppers worldwide. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, has become his greatest copyright. This song was technically innovative for the period because it contained a G minor 7 chord change. Sedaka had the intelligent perception to compose melodies that kept the listener guessing, by employing unexpected chord changes. His favourite song of the first collection is, Calendar Girl because going through the months of the year was so original.
By 1963 after selling some 25 million records, Neil was riding the wave of international success. However, in Britain and in the USA the wave crashed, due to what Neil calls the ďBritish InvasionĒ. Groups were replacing many solo artists. His record sales progressively dwindled. Like all stars, Neil knew that after five years, his popularity would fade. The singles were released less frequently until 1966. Nevertheless, Neil was still writing technically excellent songs: more being released in the US than in the UK. However, RCA had locked Neil into a formula by writing what he calls ďsandwichĒ songs. The lyrics were positioned between the tra-la-las and dooby - doos that opened and closed the songs. Despite Neil wanting to deviate from the doo-wop Sedaka sound, RCA still restricted his creativity, feeling sure that they had gauged the public mood. The last few singles, like Grown-Up Games with its sudden tempo change, and the Latin rumba beat of We Can Make It If We Try, did show Neilís compositional diversity, but the change had come too late.
On the 1961 Circulate album, Neilís Portuguese rendidition of A Felicidade proved his adeptness for singing in a foreign tongue, that was a common reqirement in the Ď60s. Therefore, from 1963 to 1965, RCA flew Neil around the world to capitalise upon his international success by recording his hits in: Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese and Hebrew. Famous songs of the host countries were cut and the Sedaka record collector is treated to the accompanying instruments native to each country. His phonetically learnt pronunciation was 99% perfect. Ironically, Neil recorded five LPs in foreign languages and only two in English. Other LPs were compiled from his hit singles. There were two very unusual LPs from 1964 and 1966 respectively, which lamentably, the American and British public have been denied. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, Neil cut an instrumental LP of his greatest hits along with a new track called Time Marches On. Neil played the piano, accompanied by tropical instruments. Four songs were recorded in a studio setting at Chequers night club in Sydney, Australia. The songs were sang in English, Italian and Hebrew.
This LP marked the end of Neilís contract with RCA. However, Neil would not typically accept a career change. Henceforth, Sedaka proved to be a tenacious artist who could draw upon his wealth of experience and musical ability. Neil and Howie continued their association with Don Kirshner as songsmiths for his Screen Gems Columbia. It was a frustrating time for a man who had been parading his talents in the worldís top night spots to be confined to a piano in secluded surrounds. It was even more tantalising to record the high quality demo records for other artists. For instance, Lesley Gore recorded, Magic Colours. Neil co-wrote and produced, When Love Comes Knocking At Your Door for the Monkees. Puppet Man was a hit for Tom Jones and The Fifth Dimension. Kirshner also employed Sedaka as a humble session musician. Neil received $32 for playing keyboards on the Archies 1969 hit Sugar Sugar.
Australia still appreciated Neilís cabaret acts and provided an important source of income. This popularity, the involvement of SGC, along with Neilís perpetual creativity, led to the recording in a tiny New York demo studio of the heart wrenching Star Crossed Lovers. The touching melody was complemented by Howieís sensitive inter-religious lyrics. Again Britain was not privileged to have this song grace our airwaves. Whilst in recording oblivion, Neil was ecstatic when this song reached No.1 in Australia. Versions were released in French and Italian. The former was for the French Canadian market. However, the record was withdrawn in favour of a cover version, by a more contemporary artist. Consequently, this is the rarest Sedaka record of all time: even Neil does not have a copy! The following year of 1969, naturally led to the Australian LP project, Working On A Groovy Thing. Some of the songs were composed with the subsequently famous Carol Bayer-Sager. The multi-tracking Sedaka trademark and the rich unique sound, was a tribute to all the musicians and the Australian music industry.
By 1970 the singer - songwriter had returned to prominence. Inspired by Carole Kingís Tapestry album, Neil attempted a comeback. Neil remembered the faithful British and brought his wife and two young children to London. Through SGC, Sedaka still had contacts with RCA. Due to the positive response at his concerts, two albums of a matured tuneweaver, who had proved that he could develop with the times, produced the Emergence and Solitaire albums. They were of limited commercial success. The hit single from the latter album was Thatís When The Music Takes Me. This was one of the first big hit songs to which Neil wrote the lyrics. For this album, Sedaka had collaborated with Phil Cody, whose ability to paint pictures with lyrics, provided Neil with an additional quality and freshness, that he rightly perceived as contributing to his longevity amid the changing times. Sedaka deserved higher profile promotion and signed to MGM for The Tra La Days Are Over album, and was the second, recorded with pop group 10CC. This title confirmed that Sedaka was a songwriter of the Ď70s and Standing On The Inside asked for acceptance. The label was consumed by Polydor which released an even greater hit album, Laughter In The Rain. The title track was the biggest Ď70ís single hit in the UK. At a party in Neilís Mayfair flat, Elton John offered to launch Neilís records in the USA on his Rocket label.
The album Sedakaís Back re-established Neil in North America. Although Sedaka was resolute in looking forward, he re-recorded Breaking Up Is Hard To Do as a ballad. This was musically unique. It made US chart history when in 1975, the song reached the top ten. It was the only song of two versions to be a hit twice for the same artist! There were modernised versions of Beautiful You and Baby Donít Let It Mess Your Mind. His association with The Carpenters resulted in Richard adding a string arrangement to Standing On The Inside.
Love Will Keep Us Together from the Tra La Days Are Over album, launched The Captain & Tennille as a 3 million seller. Being the most broadcasted song in the USA in 1976, it earned Sedaka the coveted Grammy Award. Scores of other artists such as Tony Christie and Andy Williams had multi-million sellers with numbers like, Amarillo and Solitaire respectively. Consequently, in the USA, Neil set a presidence with radio airplays. Out of the 140 songs which had been broadcasted over a million times in a year, three belonged to Sedaka. Neil was the first artist to gain six BMI Awards for 400,000 annual airplays per song. These acolades continued and ensured that by the late Ď80s, Sedaka was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In the Ď60s, Sedakaís television and live performances were limited by comparison to his second career. This was because Neil had been shackled to a single's career. Now with greater creative control, he was able to co-produce records. Singles were taken from albums, which in the Ď70s, were released on an annual basis. Although Sedaka admitted that each song was written with a single in mind, there were songs which this sensitive, kind and loving man, was writing for his family. These included: Lebaís Song - Anywhere Youíre Gonna Be; Let Daddy Know for both Marc and Dara; and Superbird for Marc and later My Son and I. Second only to the Sinatras, there was the 1980 US top 20 duet with his daughter, Should Have Never Let You Go. Dara wrote Nanaís Song for Lebaís mother, who is the loveliest lady one could meet. When I visited her, Neil, who appreciates his fans by staging conventions, gave me one of the most exciting days of my life, by spending nearly two hours with me! I experienced his friendliness, famous smile and eloquent answers. Neilís modesty was evident when he stated that his multi-talents were God-given. It was obvious that his peers have always found him a joy with whom to work. The Argentineans called his first Spanish album, Our Friend Neil Sedaka.
Sedaka songs are heard worldwide. During my adventurous travels of the world, I have been surprised to hear One Way Ticket To The Blues on the radio of a ramshackled bus in Quito, Ecuador, and Calendar Girl in Monrovia, Liberia. My emotions were surpassed by Neilís, when he was travelling incognito on a tour bus in Bejing, China. The tour guide said that because there were so many Americans aboard, he would sing a famous American song. After he sang Oh! Carol, Neil exclaimed that it was his song! I have acquired a greater feel for Neilís international stature by talking to people in the streets of Mexico City and Buenos Aires, Argentina; especially when they sang in their Latin accents, Run Samson Run and Que Suerte respectively. It is amazing that Neil can cross cultures and fill concert halls in: the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya, Japan, Australia, Europe, South Africa, Chile, and Uruguay. Neil was one of the first American rock and rollers to perform live in these countries.
Popologist Paul Gambaccini told me that the most noteworthy qualities of Neil Sedakaís career were his musicianship and the number of artists with whom he has worked. Neil has sung background vocals or played the piano on records by: Phil Cody, Elton Johnís drummer Nigel Olsson and Las Vegas entertainer and actor of Licence To Kill fame, Wayne Newton. In 1991, Neil dueted Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, with Norwegian singer Sissel KyrkjebÝ. Elton John sang background vocals on Steppiní Out and the US No. 1, Bad Blood.
Throughout the 1990s, Neil kept reinventing himself. He perpetuated his philosophy believing that continued success, depended upon keeping the public guessing. In 1991 for the Timeless CD, Neil dueted Laughter In The Rain with daughter Dara and again on the subsequent album with Stupid Cupid and I Go Ape. The latter was a rap version! This was Sedaka versatility. The title track, Love Will Keep Us Together was reworked as a ballad. Additionally, this CD carried songs of a Greek flavour and subsequent releases were also subtly thematic. The best kept secret in the USA, was Neilís 1994 participation on an American childrenís charity CD compiled by various artists. Neil sang Deck The Halls. It was not until 2002 that British collectors added this gem to their collections!
On BBC Radio 2ís ďOpen HouseĒ in 1977, Pete Murray suggested to Neil, that he record an album of classical piano tracks; especially those which he had performed in concert. In the late Ď80s, Neil intensified writing lyrics and was sufficiently confident to uniquely compose sophisticated and spiritual lyrics that would best respect the tunes of the great masters. During moments of intense inspiration, Neil scribbled lyrics on his arm and napkins. Lee Holdridge who had arranged and conducted Neilís favourite album Emergence, was recalled to exquisitely produce this one take, six live session recording, with a 75 piece symphony orchestra, which gave this 1995 chart CD magical qualities.
The 1998 Tales Of Love jazz styled album bore some American evergreen standards that Neil wished he had written. The Circulate album had been recorded in this vein. However, Neil now considered that he was mature enough to record the definitive rendition.
Neilís 1970s re-emergences significantly enhanced his catalogue of recordings. This has ensured continued demand for worldwide concerts. BBC disc jockey Ed Stewart told me that Neil is an ace talent! Sedaka is one of the few artists who can reproduce his studio sound on stage. Furthermore, Neil is one of the few performers who can hold an audience in awe, by staging concerts accompanied by just one instrument. Such an LP was issued in 1977 and a subsequent piano and voice concert was broadcast by BBC Radio 2 in 1994. Normally Neil is backed by his long standing group but harmonises with a philharmonic orchestra, for live recordings, such as the 1974 Live At The Royal Festival Hall album and the 1995 Classically Sedaka video.
Due to the advent of DVD, we learn from what must be, two Sedaka inspired releases in 2001, that during 1965 Neil made a foray into low budget horror films. Sting Of Death featured Neil singing two songs as an unseen guest singer. In the subsequent Playgirl Killer, Neil portrayed a rock and roll singer named Bob and sang Waterbug.
Neil sang Yes Sir, Thatís My Baby on the soundtrack of the 1974 film Smile. This video has yet to be released on DVD.
Neilís irrepressible and incessant creativity, ensures that there is still more to discover about his fascinating and diversely talented life. Meanwhile, in every concert, as Neilís golden vocal chords continue Turning Back the Hands of Time, we may wonder, how will Neil surpass himself? Perhaps his genius conceals infinite bounds. Let us hope that Neil can transcend them for many years to come; as we await yet another pending CD release and hopefully and belatedly, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
MICHAEL TURNER © 2018
Michael has attended Neilís concerts and fan club conventions since the 1970s. In Neilís mother-in-lawís New York apartment, Michael and Neil spent nearly two hours in conversation. A revealing 17 minute recorded interview is part of this DVDís special features. Michael has collected records of his pop idol by trawling the used record shops in: England, Israel, Italy, Canada, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile. On British Talk Radio Neil described Michael as, ď... a great great fan.Ē He wrote to Michael, ď I marvel at how you get the records.Ē Being a Sedaka expert, Michael wrote the biograpical notes for the UK 1995 Classical Concert Tour. Consequently, Leba told Michael, that from reading it, even Neilís closest friends had learnt more about his career.
This biography was originally written by Michael Turner © 2005-2018
This petition and the scripts are created and written by Jef Van Gorp, Belgium, Arendonk, Belgium -