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Sedaka, Neil (13 March 1939-Present)

Pianist and singer-songwriter who had two bright flurries of chart activity in the early ’60s and mid-’70s as a recording artist.

Neil was playing piano at the age of eight and attending the Juilliard School of Music’s Preparatory Division by the age of eight or nine.  Artur Rubinstein would later call him one of the best classical pianists in the New York City school system.

As he grew older, his interest was in pop music, and when a neighbour overheard him playing one day, she introduced him to her son, who wrote lyrics and poetry.  His name was Howard Greenfield, and he and Sedaka would collaborate for thirty-something years, first striking gold with Connie Francis’s “Stupid Cupid” in 1958.  During a mind-numbing day of vetting songs they thought might be suitable for Connie, Greenfield suggested “Stupid Cupid”, and Sedaka was reluctant to offer it to her because he thought it might insult her intelligence.  She was smart enough to take it to #14 on the Billboard pop chart.  It was an auspicious if uncomfortable beginning to what would become another important collaborative partnership for Neil:  During the day when they were looking for songs for Connie to sing, she wrote so obsessively in her diary that Neil breached protocol by asking her if she could read it.  After an obvious no, Neil went on to write “The Diary”, his first hit as a recording artist.

It was not the last time he would be inspired to write a song for a girl.  He wrote “Oh! Carol” for his high-school girlfriend Carole King, who just so happened to work in the Brill Building with him and Greenfield.  It hit #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 and started a string of hits that made Sedaka flavor-of-the-month for about two years.  Other successes during this time included the top-ten hits “Calendar Girl” and “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” and the #1 smash “Breaking up is Hard to Do”.  Sedaka scored eight top-forty hits between the years 1960 and 1962.  After that, the hits dried up.

The British Invasion is frequently blamed for this.  Neil continued to write songs for other artists, including “Venus in Blue Jeans” for Jimmy Clanton and “Working on a Groovy Thing” for The Fifth Dimension.  In the 1970s, Neil staged his own American invasion of Great Britain, giving himself a fresh start and the beginnings of a comeback that would culminate with a brand new record contract courtesy of Elton John, who signed him to Rocket Records and offered vocal support on 1975’s “Bad Blood”.

It was “Laughter in the Rain” that would become Neil’s biggest hit, reputedly the biggest-selling single in the U.K. in the 1970s, and another #1 for Neil in the States.  He and Greenfield also penned “Love Will Keep Us Together” which became a runaway hit for Captain & Tennille and garnered Neil a Grammy.  In 1976, a new, jazz-blues rendition of “Breaking up is Hard to Do” went to #8 on the Billboard pop chart, only the second song to win top-ten success for the same artist in two different incarnations.  (The Ventures were the first with two versions of “Walk Don’t Run”.)  It also went to #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

The fickle winds of fame blew away as quickly as they had come, once again, for Neil, as he wouldn’t return to the top twenty until 1980 with a duet with his daughter Dara entitled “Should’ve Never Let You Go”, which peaked at #19 on the pop chart, his last top-forty hit.

He has continued to record and tour, however, throughout his bumpy career, anchored by his wife Leba, to whom he has been married since 1962.

As recently as 26th October 2007, Neil was honored at Avery Fisher Hall, a tribute to his fifty years of hits that included the aforementioned Captain & Tennille, Connie Francis, and Dara Sedaka.  Other notables on hand were Natalie Cole, David Foster, and Paul Shaffer.

Neil Sedaka and Dara Sedaka recordings
Should’ve Never Let You Go (Phil Cody/Neil Sedaka)
You’re So Good For Me (Dara Sedaka/Neil Sedaka)