Singer, songwriter, pianist
Singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka has enjoyed two different periods of success during his career. He first caught the music industry’s attention when one of his compositions, “Stupid Cupid,” provided a smash for singer Connie Francis in 1958. Sedaka went on to record his own hits, including “Oh, Carol,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” but the British invasion of the 1960s forced him to concentrate solely on his writing. He made an amazing comeback during the 1970s, however, with songs like “Laughter in the Rain” and “Bad Blood.”
Sedaka was born March 13, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York, to a musical family. Both parents played the piano, though his father drove a taxi for a living, and Sedaka’s grandmother was a concert pianist who had studied with the founder of the Juilliard School. One of Sedaka’s elementary school teachers noticed his own potential with the instrument, and urged his parents to get him private lessons. Soon afterwards he was given a scholarship to Juilliard’s preparatory school division, where he studied for eight years.
But while Sedaka earnestly tried to develop his skills as a classical pianist, he also became interested in popular music, and listened to it on the radio. He was encouraged in his interest by one of the other teenage boys in his family’s apartment building; one day, neighbor Howard Greenfield asked him to write some music to go with one of his poems. Thus, when they were thirteen and sixteen respectively, the songwriting team of Sedaka and Greenfield was born. Meanwhile, Sedaka’s interest in popular music was helping him adjust in other areas of his life. Something of a social outcast in his adolescence, Sedaka saw his social status improve as a result of performing pop songs. “It worked in my favor,” he told Norma McLain Stoop in After Dark. “Not only was I invited to parties, but I was suddenly the life of every party I attended.”
Even while they were teenagers, however, Sedaka and Greenfield tried to put their talents on display for a wider audience than just their immediate friends. Especially after 1954, when Sedaka was captivated by the Penguins’ rendition of “Earth Angel” and convinced Greenfield to turn their efforts towards rock and roll and rhythm and blues, they attempted to market their compositions to record companies and music publishers. They managed to sell a few songs to Atlantic Records; some of them were recorded by artists such as LaVern Baker and Clyde McPhatter. As for Sedaka’s progress towards a classical career, he was chosen to play on the radio for the New York Times’s Musical Talent in Our Schools competition in 1956; shortly afterwards he graduated from high school and matriculated at Juilliard at the college level.
Born March 13,1939, in Brooklyn, New York; son of Mac (a taxi driver) and Eleanor Appel Sedaka; married Leba Margaret Strassberg; children: Dara, Marc. Education: Attended Juilliard School of Music from age nine to seventeen, then attended two years of Juilliard’s college division.
Pop vocalist, songwriter, and pianist; professional songwriter from the late 1950s to the present, recording artist and concert performer in the United States, 1958-63 and 1974—; in England 1970-74. Appeared on television shows, including “American Bandstand,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”; had own television special on NBC, c. 1976, “Neil Sedaka Steppin’ Out.”
Awards: Composition “Love Will Keep Us Together,” as recorded by the Captain and Tennille, received Grammy as Best Record of the Year, 1975.
Addresses: Home — Westport, Connecticut; Record company— MCA/Curb Records, 445 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022.
While Sedaka was still at Juilliard, he and Greenfield found work as songwriters with Aldon Publishing Company, owned by Don Kirshner and Al Nevins. Kirshner and Nevins also employed other talented composers: Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil. One of the Sedaka-Greenfield efforts, “Stupid Cupid,” was forwarded to singer Connie Francis. It climbed the Top Forty charts, and its success gave Sedaka the incentive to leave Juilliard and concentrate more fully on his pop career. “Stupid Cupid” helped Sedaka gain more attention from the music industry as well. At the urging of his Aldon employers, he cut a demonstration tape singing his own songs. When Steven Sholes of RCA Records heard it, he signed Sedaka to a recording contract.
Sedaka’s first hit single for RCA was “The Diary,” which did fairly well in 1958, rising to number fourteen on the charts. “Oh! Carol,” which he and Greenfield wrote for colleague King, fared even better, hitting the Top 10. Amazed at his success, Sedaka confided to Tom Nolan in Rolling Stone: “I had to keep pinching myself to believe it…. I can’t describe to you the feeling of pushing the buttons in the car and… there were my songs blaring on the radio.” He also did well with concert performances, and appeared on the television shows “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Sedaka continued to ride the charts through the early 1960s, scoring hits with “Little Devil,” “Calendar Girl,” “Sweet Sixteen,” and “Next Door to an Angel.” In 1962, he surpassed his previous popular height with the chart-topping “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”
But like many other pop and rock-and-roll acts that bloomed during the same period, Sedaka’s appeal as a performer was severely reduced by the onslaught of new musical groups from Great Britain, including the Beatles. He also held RCA responsible, however, for not giving him enough creative freedom to vary his style: “The most I could do was change the tempo a bit,” he complained to Nolan. “’Little Devil’ sounded like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Next Door to an Angel’ was very similar to ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.’ So… I blew a good thing.” Undaunted by this turn in his fortunes as a recording artist, Sedaka concentrated on his songwriting, and continued to compose hits for acts like the Fifth Dimension and Tom Jones.
He also continued to perform abroad, and, ironically, the stage for his later comeback was set in England—whose artists helped cause him to lose his first popularity. In 1970 Sedaka moved to England for a while, and though he played medleys of his old hits during concerts, he put most of his efforts into new songs. He released a few albums in England, and made the charts there with singles like “That’s Where the Music Takes Me” and the smash ballad, “Laughter in the Rain.” While in England, Sedaka also became acquainted with British pop superstar Elton John, who had formed his own record label, Rocket Records. By 1974, John had agreed to help him with his U.S. comeback, rerecording some of Sedaka’s British hits on Rocket for American release.
The result was the aptly titled album Sedaka’s Back. In addition to “Laughter in the Rain,” which succeeded in bringing Sedaka back to the attention of U.S. fans as a performer, the disc also included a song he had written with Greenfield called “Love Will Keep Us Together.” The pop duo the Captain and Tennille also recorded this number, making it a smash hit and scoring a Grammy for Best Record of the Year. But Sedaka had a smash of his own waiting in the wings. In 1975 he released The Hungry Years, and along with it, the hard-driving single “Bad Blood.” It raced up the charts rapidly. Somewhat controversial, it was labeled misogynistic because it included the word “bitch” in the lyrics. Sedaka, however, was pleased with the change it made in his image, feeling that the public had previously perceived him as too wholesome. The Hungry Years also included a remake of his previous hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”—this time sung as a mellow, torchy ballad. This version proved successful enough to make the Top 10, just as the original had years before.
Shortly afterwards, Sedaka switched from Rocket to Elektra Records. He has not fared as well as he did with John’s company, but he did garner a hit in 1980 from a duet single he recorded with his daughter Dara, “Should’ve Never Let You Go.” Later he changed to MCA/Curb Records. Sedaka also published his autobiography in 1982, Laughter in the Rain: My Own Story.
“The Diary”/“No Vacancy,” RCA, 1958.
“I Go Ape,” RCA, c. 1959.
“Oh! Carol,” RCA, 1959.
“Stairway to Heaven,” RCA, 1960.
“Calendar Girl,” RCA, 1961.
“Little Devil,” RCA, 1961.
“Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” RCA, 1961.
“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” RCA, 1962.
“Alice in Wonderland,” RCA, 1963.
“Let’s Go Steady Again,” RCA, 1963.
“Bad Girl,” RCA, 1963.
“Laughter in the Rain,” Rocket, 1974.
“That’s Where the Music Takes Me,” Rocket, 1974.
“The Immigrant,” Rocket, 1974.
“Bad Blood,” Rocket, 1975.
(slow version) “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Rocket, 1975.
“Love in the Shadows,” Rocket, 1976.
(With daughter, Dara) “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” Elektra, 1980.
(With Dara) “Your Precious Love,” MCA/Curb, 1983.
Neil Sedaka, RCA, 1959.
Circulate, RCA, 1961.
Little Devil and Other Hits, RCA, 1961.
Italiano, RCA, 1964.
Sedaka’s Back, Rocket, 1974.
The Hungry Years, Rocket, 1975.
Steppiri Out, Rocket, 1976.
A Song, Elektra, 1977.
All You Need Is the Music, Elektra, 1978.
In the Pocket, Elektra, 1980.
Now, Elektra, 1981.
Laughter in the Rain: My Own Story, Putnam, 1982.
After Dark, September 1976.
Rolling Stone, December 4, 1975.
Seventeen, September 1976.
"Sedaka, Neil." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sedaka-neil
"Sedaka, Neil." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/sedaka-neil
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