Almost everyone knows the songs of Neil Sedaka, a Rock giant from the beginning
By Phill Marder
(Ninth in a series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
During one segment of the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert, a shot of Neil Sedaka was flashed on the screen behind the stage. A terrific singer, masterful pianist and a writer of some of Rock’s most enduring hits, Sedaka deserved to be on the stage in person – as an inductee.
It’s long past time for Neil Sedaka to get the recognition he deserves as one of the greats of early Rock & Roll. As one of Rock’s founding fathers, his impact on the infant musical form was immeasurable.
He didn’t have the classic rocker look or sound of Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran or Jack Scott. In fact, he was the opposite, looking like the kid next door who carried the lunchpail to school each day, hoping the local bully would be looking the other way when Sedaka passed by. Appropriately, Sedaka, while in high school, was among New York City’s outstanding classical pianist, earning a scholarship to Julliard. But he wanted to be part of “the in crowd” and, along with childhood friend Howard Greenfield, who served as his lyricist, Sedaka began writing pop songs. Soon he hit it big with “Stupid Cupid” by rock’s first female star, Connie Francis. He then tried to place “The Diary” with Little Anthony & The Imperials, but they turned it down so he did it himself. The group did record it eventually, but Sedaka’s version was superior and his career as a hitmaker was off and running.
From Christmas of 1958 until Thanksgiving of 1963, it was almost impossible to turn on the radio without hearing a hit by Sedaka. Featuring sparkling production, overdubbed lead vocals and catchy background vocal phrases, Sedaka remained on top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and many of his songs – “Stairway To Heaven,” “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” – have survived as classics through every rock fad. If you don’t listen to Oldies Radio, you’ve heard them on commercials.
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was Sedaka’s first No. 1, hitting the top in 1962, but it wouldn’t be his last. Though a major star in Britain – Sedaka placed seven singles in the UK Top 10 between 1959 and 1962 – the British Invasion brought Sedaka’s career to a screeching halt. and he retired from recording around 1966. But, unlike many stars who never recovered, Sedaka returned in the mid-70s with another string of hits, and, this time, also a collection of best-selling albums. The resurgence was spawned by the U.S. No. 1 success of “Laughter In The Rain” in 1974 and another No. 1, “Bad Blood,” a duet with Elton John the following year. Also a totally different version of “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” reached No. 8.
To emphasize his popularity overseas, the Brits drove his “Laughter and Tears” LP all the way to No. 2 in 1976, and as recently as last year his “Music Of My Life” release ranked 15th on the British album chart.
In addition to “Stupid Cupid”, Sedaka wrote other huge hits for Francis – including “Where The Boys Are,” which peaked at No. 4 – and also penned tunes covered by Jimmy Clanton (No. 7 “Venus In Blue Jeans”), the Carpenters (“Solitaire,” No. 17), the Fifth Dimension (No. 20 “Workin’ On A Groovy Thing”), the Captain & Tennille (the No. 1 “Love Will Keep Us Together”) as well as the Searchers, Tom Jones, Skeeter Davis, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Clay Aiken, Elvis and many others.
He’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1983, has a street in Brooklyn named in his honor and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Seems there’s just one accolade missing.
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