By Sally Deering
“Love Will Keep Us Together”, “Where the Boys Are”, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” “Laughter in the Rain” – back in the day these songs swept teens off their feet and into the world of Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and international legend, Neil Sedaka.
Accompanying himself at the piano, Sedaka wrote and sang soulful love songs that made teen girls cry and filled teen boys with youthful longing for that special sweetheart. With a voice like buttercream frosting on a 7-layer cake, Sedaka’s sweet vocals keep on going and at 75, Sedaka will be back at the piano crooning his oldies and most recent recordings on Fri, Dec. 12 at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood.
Sedaka will be in the spotlight for one night only to give the audience a chance to hear a master songwriter in an intimate setting. With a look back, Sedaka will sing songs that made him famous and those he wrote that were performed by legends like Elvis, Connie Francis and the Captain and Tennille. During his 50-year career, Sedaka has sold millions of records and penned hundreds of tunes with lyricists Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody.
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Looking ahead, Sedaka will also perform songs from “Solitaire” his recent album. And while on tour, Sedaka is also working on a new musical slated for Broadway about his life and career that began in Brooklyn where he lived with his family and studied the piano.
Accepted to Julliard to study the classics, Sedaka grooved more on Elvis than Beethoven. He began working with music groups and then in the late 1950s, he teamed up with lyricist Howard Greenfield and the two began writing songs that soon became Billboard hits on the Top 40 chart.
Sedaka soon had an office in the famous Brill Building in New York where he and his partner wrote hit songs, but in the late 1960s and early ‘70s Sedaka’s career went through a dry spell. It wasn’t until the mid- 70s when Elton John ‘rediscovered’ Sedaka and signed him to his new record label, Rocket Records. Sedaka recorded two albums “Sedaka’s Back” in 1974 and “The Hungry Years” in 1975, which became top-sellers and brought Sedaka back to the music scene for real.
Today, Sedaka has 106 albums listed on Amazon.com including “The Real Neil”, a new release. Visit his website, www.neilsedaka.com, you’ll see pics of Sedaka with Sir Paul McCartney (of The Beatles), England’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, and more. And lucky for us, on a recent afternoon, Sedaka found time in his busy schedule to share what it’s like to be a music legend still performing and trying new things.
RVO: Your concert at Bergen PAC on Dec. 12 will be you and a piano, that’s all?
NS: It’s very upfront and personal. I tell stories of how I write, why I write and about my career. The audience is into the personal side.
RVO: And you’ll be singing some of your older tunes?
NS: I never get tired of singing the original hits.
RVO: When you were starting out in the 50s, you appeared on “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark. What was it like to be on the show in its early years, and what was Dick Clark like?
NS: It was the thrill of a life for a kid. I used to run home from school to watch the show. Dick Clark was very polished, very classy. He started me off, he had me on as the “unknown” on the ‘Beechnut Saturday Night’ show. The first hit I did was “The Diary.” I knew him through the years. I did the first “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” with Dick Clark. He loved the music. It was a great show, and he was one of the American Institutions. It was also a thrill to be on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Carol Burnett Show. I was on Sonny and Cher, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas…
RVO: Can you tell our readers what it was like working in the famous Brill Building in New York City?
NS: Howie (Greenfield) and I were teenagers. I was dating Carol King at the time. I brought her up there. At first, we went there five days a week and we wrong songs. It was terrific training. I was the first at the Brill to sing my own songs. This was from 1958-63.
RVO: Who was the greatest person you ever met, musically, who affected you?
NS: Arthur Rubenstein. Being a child prodigy, I was studying at Julliard when I met Arthur Rubenstein, the greatest pianist in the world.
RVO: Did you ever meet Elvis?
NS: I met Elvis, he invited me to the MGM hotel where he was performing. My wife and I went backstage. I sat at the piano and we sang a gospel song together. He eventually recorded “Solitaire”.
RVO: Your career was revived in the 1970s by Elton John, is that right?
NS: My first career I was a voice on TV. The second career, Elton John put me on his label, I had an incredible comeback because of Elton. It was really something. I was out of work for 13 years. During that time I raised a family, and there were a few countries that still remembered me, Japan, South America, but I thought the career was over. Now I do mostly concerts. I live both in New York and L.A. so I can be with my grandkids.
RVO: What music do you listen to when you’re home or in the car?
NS: I like Sam Smith.
RVO: Do you like Lady Gaga?
NS: She’s a little too ‘shrieky’. I’m inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan.
RVO: You just released a new album?
NS: Yes. “The Real Neil,” — all new. These days, I don’t have to write commercially anymore, I write what I feel. I write from inside, nobody puts words in my mouth.
RVO: Is it true you’re working on a Broadway musical?
NS: Yes. It’s called “Love Will Keep Us Together” and it’s the life story of Neil Sedaka. It’s along the lines of the Carole King musical now on Broadway. (The show is called “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”.)
RVO: What is the favorite song that you wrote?
NS: I’ve had everybody from Sinatra, to Elvis, to ABBA to Cher to Shirley Bassey sing my songs. The Captain and Tennille recorded “Love Will Keep Us Together” and we won a Grammy. I’ve won a few Grammys, but I’ve been nominated a lot more than I’ve won. But I’m still doing it and still loving it. My life has been very blessed.
If you go:
Fri, Dec. 12 at 8 pm
Bergen Performing Arts Center
30 N. Van Brunt St
Tix: $35, $55, $75, $105