Neil Sedaka (born March 13, 1939) is an American pop singer, pianist, and songwriter. His career has spanned over 50 years, during which time he has written many songs for himself and others, often working with lyricists Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody.
Sedaka was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Mac Sedaka, a taxi driver, was the son of Turkish Jewish immigrants (“Sedaka” is a variant of tzedaka — Hebrew for charity); his mother, Eleanor (Appel) Sedaka, was of Polish–Russian Jewish descent. He grew up in an apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. He is the cousin of singer Eydie Gorme. 
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. He took to the instrument immediately. 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. He also maintained an interest in popular music, and when he was 13, a neighbor heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring poet and lyricist. The two began writing together.
The best-known Billboard Hot 100 hits of his early career are “The Diary” (#14, 1958), a song that he offered to Little Anthony and the Imperials; “Oh! Carol” (#9, 1959); “You Mean Everything to Me” (#17, 1960); “Calendar Girl” (#4, 1960); “Stairway to Heaven” (#9, 1960); “Run Samson Run” (top 30, 1960); “Little Devil” (#11, 1961); “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” (#6, 1961); “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” (#1, 1962); and “Next Door to an Angel” (#5, 1962). “Oh! Carol” refers to Sedaka’s Brill Building compatriot and former girlfriend Carole King. King responded with her answer song, “Oh, Neil” and, by using the same chord progression, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow“. A Scopitone exists for “Calendar Girl”.
1966 “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”
“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” -Slow romantic version. Boy what a difference tempo makes!
A similar sharing came earlier with Sedaka and singer Connie Francis. As Francis explains at her concerts, she began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single “Who’s Sorry Now?“. She was introduced to Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written for her. Francis began writing 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. Sedaka suggested to Greenfield a song they had written that morning for a girl group. Greenfield protested because the song had been promised to the girl group, but Sedaka insisted on playing “Stupid Cupid”. Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis’ song reached #14 on the Billboard charts.
While Francis was in writing her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused, Sedaka was inspired to write “The Diary”, his first hit single. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis’ hits such as “Fallin'” and “Where the Boys Are“.
In 1961, Sedaka began to record some of his hits in Italian. At first he published “Esagerata” and “Un Giorno Inutile”, local versions of “Little Devil” and “I Must Be Dreaming”. Other recordings were to follow, such as “Tu Non Lo Sai” (“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”), “Il Re Dei Pagliacci” (“King of Clowns”), “I Tuoi Capricci” (“Look Inside Your Heart”), and “La Terza Luna” (“Waiting For Never”) to name only a few. Sedaka also recorded in Spanish, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Japanese.
“Laughter In The Rain”
Between 1960 and 1962, Sedaka had eight Top 40 hits, but he was one of many American performers of the era whose popularity declined due to the British Invasion and the evolution of the Rock and Pop genres of music. His commercial success declined rapidly after 1964: he scored only two minor hits in 1965, and none of his 1966 singles charted. His RCA contract was not renewed when it ended in 1967, and he was left without a record label.
Neil Sedaka joined by Captain and Tenille, “Love Will Keep Us Together”
Although Sedaka’s stature as a recording artist was at a low ebb in the late 1960s, he was able to maintain his career through songwriting. Thanks to the fact that his publisher, Aldon Music, was acquired by Screen Gems, two of his songs were recorded by The Monkees, and other hits in this period written by Sedaka included The Cyrkle‘s version 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 US Top 20 hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969. Also, “Make the Music Play” was included on Frankie Valli‘s charting album Timeless.
On an episode of the quiz show I’ve Got a Secret in 1965, Sedaka’s secret was that he was to represent the United States in classical piano at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, and he played “Fantasie Impromptu” on the show. Panelist Henry Morgan made a point that the Russians, at least older ones, hated rock and roll. Sedaka’s participation in the competition, which Van Cliburn had won in 1958, was canceled by the USSR because of Sedaka’s rock and roll connection.
Sedaka also made an appearance in the 1968 movie “Playgirl Killer“, with a scene of him performing a song called “The Waterbug”
Carpenter’s version of the same tune.
Sedaka revived his solo career in the early 1970s. Despite his waning chart appeal in the USA in the late 1960s, he remained very popular as a concert attraction, notably in the UK and Australia. He made several trips to Australia to play cabaret dates, and his commercial comeback began when the single “Star Crossed Lovers” became a major hit there. The song went to #5 nationally in April 1969 — giving Sedaka his first charting single in four years—and it also came in at #5 in Go-Set magazine’s list of the Top 40 Australian singles of 1969.
“The Hungry Years”
Later that year, with the support of Festival Records, he recorded a new LP of original material entitled Workin’ on a Groovy Thing at Festival Studios in Sydney. It was co-produced by Festival staff producer Pat Aulton, with arrangements by John Farrar (who later achieved international fame for his work with Olivia Newton-John) and backing by Australian session musicians including guitarist Jimmy Doyle (Ayers Rock) and noted jazz musician-composer John Sangster.
1975 “The Immigrant”
The single lifted from the album, “Wheeling, West Virginia,” reached #20 in Australia in early 1970. The LP is also notable because it was Sedaka’s first album to include collaborations with writers other than longtime lyricist Howard Greenfield — the title track featured lyrics by Roger Atkins and four other songs were co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, who subsequently embarked on a successful collaboration with expatriate Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen.
“Oh Carol” 1959 Written for Carol King.
In 1971, Sedaka showed signs of life with his Emergence. Singles lifted from that album include “I’m A Song (Sing Me)”, “Silent Movies”, “Superbird”, and “Rosemary Blue”.
In 1972, Sedaka embarked on a successful English tour and in June recorded the Solitaire album in England at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, working with the four future members of 10cc. As well as the title track, which was successfully covered by Andy Williams and The Carpenters, it included two UK Top 40 singles, including “Beautiful You” which also charted in America—Sedaka’s first US hit in ten years.
A year later he reconvened with the Strawberry team – who had by then charted with their own debut 10cc album – to record The Tra-La Days Are Over, which started the second phase of his career and included his original version of the hit song “Love Will Keep Us Together” (a US #1 hit two years later for The Captain & Tennille). This album also marked the effective end of his writing partnership with Greenfield, commemorated by the track “Our Last Song Together.”
He worked with Elton John, who signed him to his Rocket Records label (during the ensuing years, Sedaka’s records would be distributed in Europe on the Polydor label). Sedaka returned to the U.S. with a flourish, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts twice with “Laughter in the Rain” and “Bad Blood,” both in 1975. Elton provided backing vocals for the latter song. The flipside of “Laughter in the Rain” was “The Immigrant” (US pop #22, US AC #1), a wistful, nostalgic piece dedicated to John Lennon, which recalled the by-gone era when America was welcoming of immigrants, in contrast to the U.S. government’s then-refusal to grant Lennon permanent resident status.
1961 “Happy Birthday Sweet 16”
Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote “Love Will Keep Us Together“, a No. 1 hit for The Captain and Tennille and was 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.. The Captain and Tennille 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 #49). The irony must have been palpable to Sedaka, to have two #1 hits and another two Top 25 Billboard hits (also “That’s When the Music Takes Me”; US pop #25, US AC #7) all in the same year (1975), just to be eclipsed by a brand-new duo act having stellar success with a cover of his own song. Most likely, he was much more than pleased; it was the most successful year in Sedaka’s entire career, and Tennille’s coda ad lib of “Sedaka is back” certainly proved to be true in all respects.
Neil Sedaka Interview
In 1975, Sedaka was the opening act for the The Carpenters on their world tour. According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story by Ray Coleman, manager Sherwin Bash fired Sedaka at the request of Richard Carpenter. The firing resulted in a media backlash against The Carpenters after Sedaka publicly announced he was off the tour. This, however, was before Karen and Richard recorded Sedaka’s “Solitaire” which became a Top 20 hit for the duo. Richard Carpenter denied that he fired Sedaka for “stealing their show,” stating they were proud of Sedaka’s success. However, Bash was fired as The Carpenters’ manager a short time after.
With Andy Gibb on the Dick Clark Show. “Bad Blood”
“Solitaire” would find success again in the 21st century, when American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken sang the song when Sedaka appeared as a judge in the second season, won by Ruben Studdard. The “guest judge” aspect has since been eliminated. Aiken explained that the song was his mother’s favorite and that she begged him to sing it when she learned that Sedaka would be on the show and that the remaining finalists would be singing songs from Sedaka’s impressive songbook. After Aiken was awarded a recording contract, although it did not appear on his debut CD itself, he added “Solitaire” as the B-side to the single “The Way,” whose sales were faltering. “Solitaire” was moved to the A-side and radio airplay and single and download sales responded immediately. The single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart, the Top 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and was one of the biggest hits of 2004. Sedaka was invited back to American Idol to celebrate its success and continues to be seen in the audience almost on an annual basis.
In 1975, Sedaka recorded a new version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” The 1962 original #1 hit was fast-tempoed and a sort of bouncy teen pop, but the remake was slower and featured a jazzy, torch-piano arrangement. Lenny Welch had recorded the song in this style in 1970. Sedaka’s new version hit #8 on the Hot 100 in early 1976, making him the first artist, and remains so, to hit the U.S. Top 10 twice with different versions of the same song. (The Ventures had hits in 1960 and 1964 with recordings of “Walk, Don’t Run,” and Elton John later also recorded two of his hits twice, with 1991’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Candle in the Wind 1997.” But those versions only involved changes in melody and/or lyrics, not entirely reworked versions of the song as Sedaka’s achieved.) Sedaka’s second version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart in 1976. The same year, Elvis Presley recorded the Sedaka song “Solitaire.” This was followed by the Top 20 hit “Love in the Shadows,” also from 1976. Later that same year, Sedaka released a second (and final) collaboration with Elton John, with Elton once again on uncredited backing vocals—–the title song to Sedaka’s album “Steppin’ Out.” While it would crack the Hot 100’s Top 40, it would also signal the beginning of a slowdown in Sedaka’s music sales and radio play not unlike what he experienced in 1964 when The Beatles and the “British Invasion” arrived. In this version of another fading of his music sales, it was the arrival of the disco era. While Sedaka attempted to release disco-themed music himself in the late ’70s, his album sales were weak and singles could not get a foothold on the radio. In 1980, Sedaka had his final Top 20 hit with “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” which he recorded with his then-17-year-old daughter, Dara. Even today, Sedaka proudly recalls that there have only been three father-daughter combinations to hit the Billboard Top 40: the Sinatras (Frank and Nancy), the Coles (Nat “King” and Natalie), and the Sedakas (Neil and Dara).
Sedaka’s song, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” performed by Elton John.
A change in record companies in the early 1980s also required him to, for the first time in his career, begin recording cover versions of other artists’ “oldies.” This was undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow for one of America’s most prolific and successful composers and singers of his own songs. Only two singles on two albums, spaced three years apart, managed to land on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart; none charted on the Hot 100 at all. Another duet with Dara, a remake of the Marvin Gaye–Tammi Terrell 1967 Top 5 smash “Your Precious Love,” placed high enough on the A/C chart for one final album to be released. But the second album’s only release did not fare well on the A/C chart, and by 1985, Neil Sedaka was once again without a recording contract. But always the shrewd businessman, this time around he had amassed a huge fan base over four decades that were willing to come along. Concertgoers filled theatre seats while Sedaka created had his own music label that would assure that his catalog of hits would find the marketplace, and he released occasional CDs of self-produced new, original material that continued to pique his fans’ interest.
Sedaka is also composer of “Is This the Way to Amarillo?,” a song initially recorded by Britain‘s Tony Christie when Sedaka had moved his family to the UK in the early 1970s. It reached only #18 on the UK charts in 1971, but then hit #1 for seven consecutive weeks on the UK singles charts when reissued in 2005, thanks to a music video starring comedian Peter Kay. It was Britain’s most popular single for the entire year. Sedaka had also recorded and released the song in the US in 1977, when it became a #44 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. On April 7, 2006, during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Sedaka was presented with an award from the Guinness World Records: British Hit Singles and Albums as writer of the best-selling single of the 21st century (thus far) for “Is This the Way to Amarillo?”
Ben Folds, an American pop singer, credited Sedaka on his “iTunes Originals” album as inspiration for song publishing. Hearing Sedaka had a song published by the age of 13 gave Folds the goal of also getting a song published by his 13th birthday, despite the fact that Sedaka didn’t actually publish his first song until he was 16.
In addition to his work pointed out above in the “21st century” portion, Sedaka continues to perform as the second decade of the 21st century moves along. He has reached and passed the age of 70. 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.
A concert performance on 26 October 2007 at the Lincoln Center in New York City honored the 50th anniversary of Sedaka’s debut in show business. Guests included The Captain and Tennille, Natalie Cole, Connie Francis, Clay Aiken, music impresario David Foster, and many others.
During his 2008 Australian tour, Sedaka premiered a new classical orchestral composition entitled “Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life).” Sedaka also toured The Philippines for his May 17, 2008 concert at the Araneta Coliseum.
He is enjoying remarkable sales success in the 21st century, as his three most recent U.S. releases—The Definitive Collection, Waking Up Is Hard to Do, and The Music of My Life—have all appeared on Billboard‘s Top 200 Albums chart. They charted in May 2007, May 2009, and February 2010, respectively. This is especially notable because none of his album releases had appeared on this particularly prestigious Billboard chart since In the Pocket in 1980, when his duet with daughter Dara, “Should’ve Never Let You Go,” was a Top 20 hit on the Hot 100.
The Definitive Collection was a surprise (by all accounts) bona-fide hit, reaching the Top 25 of the albums chart, one of the highest-charting albums of his entire career. It is a life-spanning compilation of his hits, along with previously unreleased material and outtakes. Waking Up is a children’s album, inspired by his three grandchildren, in which he takes his best-known songs and changes the lyrics to delight babies, toddlers, and their elders alike. Music is a new release of original material.
Also, in early 2010, his original uptempo version of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” is being heard (by a group of uncredited singers) as the impetus for the very ubiquitous series of cheeky insurance TV commercials, featuring actor Dennis Haysbert (best known as the star of the long-running CBS series The Unit and as beloved President David Palmer in the early seasons of the Fox series 24) assuring that TV viewers not insured by Allstate can break up with their current insurer without much ado at all.
In 1985, songs composed by Sedaka were adapted for the Japanese anime TV series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. These included the two opening themes “Zeta – Toki wo Koete” (originally in English as “Better Days Are Coming”) and “Mizu no Hoshi e Ai wo Komete” (originally in English as “For Us to Decide,” but the English version was never recorded), as well as the end theme “Hoshizora no Believe” (written as “Bad and Beautiful”). Due to copyright, the songs were replaced for the North American DVD.
A musical comedy based around the songs of Sedaka, titled Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, was written in 2005 by Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters; it is now under license to Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
A biographical musical, Laughter in the Rain, produced by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield, and starring Wayne Smith as Sedaka, had its world premiere at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley (in London, UK) on 4 March 2010. Sedaka attended the opening and joined the cast on stage for an impromptu curtain call of the title song.
Quick Bio Facts:
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Laughter In The Rain
Father: Mac Sedaka
Mother: Eleanor Appel
Wife: Leba Margaret Strassberg (m. 11-Sep-1962, one daughter one son)
Daughter: Dara Felice
Son: Marc Charles (b. 1967)
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, NNDB.com, IMDB.com