- Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka in 2005
Background information Born March 13, 1939 Origin Brooklyn, New York,
Genres Pop Occupations Singer-songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist, record producer Instruments Vocals, Multiple instruments Years active 1955–present Labels RCA Victor Records, MGM Records, Polydor Records, Rocket Records, Elektra Records, Neil Sedaka Music, Razor & Tie Records Website www.neilsedaka.com
Neil Sedaka (born March 13, 1939) is an American pop/rock singer, pianist, and composer. His career has spanned nearly 55 years, during which time he has sold millions of records as an artist and has written or co-written over 500 songs for himself and other artists, collaborating mostly with lyricists Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody.
Early life: Juilliard and The Brill Building
Sedaka was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Mac Sedaka, a taxi driver, was of Sephardic Turkish-Jewish descent. ("Sedaka" is a variant of tzedaka, which translates in both Hebrew and Arabic as the word charity). Sedaka's mother, Eleanor Appel Sedaka, was of Polish-Russian Jewish descent (or generally referred to as Ashkenazi-Jewish descent). He grew up in an apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Sedaka is the cousin of singer Eydie Gormé.
Sedaka 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. 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. His mother wanted him to become a renowned classical pianist such as the contemporary of the day, Van Cliburn, but Sedaka was discovering pop music.
When Sedaka was 13, a neighbor heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring poet and lyricist. They became two of the legendary Brill Building's composers. There were technically two "Brill Buildings" — the original located at 1619 Broadway at 49th Street in Manhattan, and a second building that also took on the moniker of a "Brill Building," located at 1650 Broadway at 51st Street, unofficially referred to as "Allegro Studios."  Sedaka and Greenfield worked routinely interacted with other songwriters in the Brill music-block area.
Sedaka and Greenfield wrote songs together throughout much of their young lives, with Sedaka going on to being a major teen pop star and the pair also writing hits for a litany of other artists as well as for Sedaka's own career. However, when The Beatles and the British Invasion took American music in a different direction, Sedaka was left without a recording career and decided a major change in his life was necessary, moving his family to the UK in the early 1970s. Sedaka and Greenfield mutually agreed that their partnership reached an end with "Our Last Song Together", and Sedaka began a new, highly successful composing partnership with British lyricist Phil Cody. After Sedaka returned to the US, however, the Sedaka-Greenfield team would eventually be reunified and continue until Greenfield's death in 1986.
Rise to fame
After graduating from Lincoln High School, Sedaka and some of his classmates formed a band called The Tokens. The band had minor regional hits with songs like "While I Dream", "I Love My Baby", "Come Back Joe", and "Don't Go", before Sedaka launched out on his own in 1957. However, after a few personnel changes, in 1961, The Tokens would hit #1 on the Billboard pop charts with the international smash "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Meanwhile, the very young Sedaka's first three solo singles, "Laura Lee", "Ring-a-Rockin'", and "Oh, Delilah!" failed to become hits (although "Ring-a-Rockin'" earned him the first of many appearances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand). But they demonstrated his ability to perform as a solo singer, so RCA Victor signed him to a recording contract.
His first single for RCA, "The Diary", a song that he had previously offered to Little Anthony and the Imperials, reached #14 on the Billboard charts for Sedaka in 1958. His second single, "I Go Ape", was a modest success at #42, and his third single, "Crying My Heart Out for You", was a flop at #111 (although it went to #6 on the pop charts in Italy). Desperate for another hit, he bought several hit singles and listened to them repeatedly, studying the song structure, chord progressions, lyrics and harmonies — and he discovered that the hit songs of the day all shared the same basic musical anatomy. Armed with his newfound arsenal of musical knowledge, he set out to craft his next big hit song, and he promptly did exactly that: "Oh! Carol" delivered Sedaka his first domestic Top 10 hit, reaching #9 on the Hot 100 in 1959 and going to #1 on the Italian pop charts in 1960, giving Sedaka his first #1 ranking. The song was dedicated to his then-girlfriend, Carole King, a fellow Brill Building composer and rising pop star of her own. King would respond with her own novelty song, "Oh! Neil" later that year.
After establishing himself in 1958, Sedaka kept churning out new hits from 1960 to 1962. His flow of Top 30 hits during this period included: "Stairway to Heaven" (#9, 1960); "You Mean Everything to Me" (#17, 1960); "Run, Samson, Run" (#27, 1960); "Calendar Girl" (#4, 1961); "Little Devil" (#11, 1961); "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen" (#6, 1961); his signature song, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" (#1, 1962); and "Next Door to an Angel" (#5, 1962). Singles not making the Top 30 during this time period included "Sweet Little You" (#59, 1961) and "King of Clowns" (#45, 1962). RCA issued four LPs in the US and Britain of his works during this period, and also produced Scopitone and Cinebox videos of "Calendar Girl" in 1961, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" in 1962, and "The Dreamer" in 1963. He made regular appearances on such TV programs as American Bandstand and Shindig! during this period.
Writing for other performers
When Sedaka was not recording his own songs, he and Howard Greenfield were writing for other performers, most notably in their earliest days Connie Francis. Francis began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single "Who's Sorry Now?". She was introduced to Sedaka and Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written for her. Francis began writing in 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 writing in her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused, Sedaka was inspired to write "The Diary", his own first hit single. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis' hits, such as "Fallin'" and the "Theme from Where the Boys Are", the film in which she starred. Although the latter hit the Top 5 on the Billboard pop singles chart and Francis had several #1 singles, "Where the Boys Are" eventually became her signature song.
Sedaka and Greenfield also wrote some of Jimmy Clanton's hits, such as "Another Sleepless Night", "What Am I Gonna Do?", and "All the Words in the World". Sedaka himself recorded each of these three songs: "Another Sleepless Night" appears on his Rock With Sedaka debut album; "What Am I Gonna Do?" was the B-side of "Going Home to Mary Lou" and appeared on his 1961 album Neil Sedaka Sings "Little Devil" and His Other Hits; and "All the Words in the World" was recorded but was kept in the RCA vaults until 1977, at the height of Sedaka's return to popularity, when it was released on the album Neil Sedaka: The '50s and '60s.
Neil Sedaka was very popular in Italy. Many of his English-language records were released there and proved quite successful, especially "Crying My Heart Out For You" (Italian #6, 1959) and "Oh! Carol" (Italian #1, 1960).
In 1961, Sedaka began to record some of his hits in Italian, starting with "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"). "La Terza Luna" reached #1 on the Italian pop charts in April 1963. Cinebox videos exist for "La Terza Luna" and "I Tuoi Capricci". From a language standpoint, his recordings in Italian had very little American accent. RCA Victor's Italiana office distributed his records in Italy and released three compilation LPs of Sedaka's Italian recordings.
Sedaka also recorded in Spanish, German, Hebrew, and Japanese. He enjoyed popularity in Latin America for his Spanish-language recordings. Many of these were pressed onto 78 rpm discs.
The mid-1960s and The British Invasion
The year 1962 provided Sedaka with one of his career's most important years, as "Next Door to an Angel" made the Top 5 and "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" hit #1. But after 1962, Sedaka's popularity began to wane. While 1963 singles "Alice In Wonderland" (#17), "Let's Go Steady Again" (#26), and "Bad Girl" (#33) all managed to hit the Top 40, "The Dreamer" (#47) did not, and it would be more than another decade before Sedaka would see one of his singles hit the Top 10 again. After the release of "Bad Girl", Sedaka's career went into a sharp decline, hastened by The Beatles' arrival on the radio and especially their much-hyped February 1964 appearance on CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show and the rest of the British Invasion. When describing The Beatles' effect on his career in the mid-'60s, he puts it brusquely: "The Beatles — not good!"  This negative effect is seen in the fact that from 1964–66, only three of his singles even made it onto the Hot 100 at all: "Sunny" (#86, 1964), "The World Through a Tear" (#76, 1965), and "The Answer to My Prayer" (#89, 1965).
In the summer of 1964, after Sedaka had recorded "It Hurts to Be in Love", with the entire orchestration including himself on the piano and backing vocals along with a set of female backing vocals, the song instead became the third Top 10 hit for rising star Gene Pitney. By then, with the British Invasion already underway and RCA Victor clearly not pleased with Sedaka's recent declining performance on the record charts, the fact that Sedaka did not record the master recording track of the song in one of RCA's own studios — a well-understood requirement under the terms of his recording contract — RCA refused to accept Sedaka's radio-ready master recording, neither producing and distributing the single at retail nor promoting the song at major radio markets. Allegedly Sedaka was particularly angry about RCA's decision to let this song go, especially since it had been all of Neil's work, and he was convinced that it would be his "comeback" song (even though he had #1 and #5 singles less than two years earlier; output in the early 1960s was demanding). As it turned out, his premonition was correct. Pitney was also eager for a hit single after a lengthy (by 1960s standards) dry spell, and since Gene had a similar, high-tenor vocal range to Neil's, the newly-available acquisition of Sedaka's master track of "It Hurts to Be in Love" allowed Pitney and his record label, Musicor, a perfect opportunity to recharge his own career. The only thing needed to do was to remove Sedaka's lead vocal track and replace it with Pitney's. Both Sedaka's original piano and backing vocals remained exactly intact, along with the female backing vocals. Once Pitney's "Sedaka version" of the single was out and was a hit, he and his record company recorded new, alternate versions of "It Hurts to Be in Love", especially varying the drum tracks. But the main issue was to not let Pitney's popularity wane, so by issuing Sedaka's version with Pitney's vocal as quickly as possible, Pitney hit the Top 10, and the objective was achieved.
The same, however, could not be said for Neil Sedaka. When his contract with RCA expired at the end of 1966, RCA chose not to renew it, leaving Sedaka without a record label.
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 Top 20 pop 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 1966 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, and he impressed the panelists with his performance of Frederic Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu" on the show. Prior to his piano performance, panelist Henry Morgan challenged Sedaka with the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy despises — and, in fact, outlaws — rock 'n' roll music and that any Western music that young Russians have was by underground smuggling. This exchange continued before the panel learned that Sedaka was to represent the USA at the Tchaikovsky classical piano competition, which Van Cliburn had won in 1958. Unfortunately, Morgan's warning turned out to be true. Despite Sedaka's classical roots, because of Sedaka's "other" life as a pop star, he was disqualified by the USSR as the US entrant for the competition.
Sedaka also made an appearance in the 1968 movie Playgirl Killer, with a scene of him performing a song called "The Waterbug".
The late 1960s to early '70s
Sedaka worked to revive 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. Years later he thanked Bob Rogers and Australia for standing by him. "... You know, Bob, in my lean years — I called them The Hungry Years — it was Bob Rogers and Australia who welcomed me."  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 anywhere in four years. It also came in at #5 in Go-Set magazine's list of the Top 40 Australian singles of 1969.
Later that year, with the support of Festival Records, he recorded a new LP of original material entitled Workin' on a Groovy Thing (released in the United Kingdom as Sounds of Sedaka) 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.
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 an enormously successful collaboration songwriting with Aussie expat singer-songwriter Peter Allen, who would become known as "The Boy from Oz" in addition to being married to Liza Minnelli and having the incomparable Judy Garland for a mother-in-law.
In 1971, Sedaka released the Emergence. Singles from that album included "I'm A Song (Sing Me)," "Silent Movies," "Superbird," and "Rosemary Blue." Emergence and the next year's Solitaire album were both released on the RCA Victor label, marking a short-lived reunion between Sedaka and RCA. Good friend and New York music impresario Don Kirshner attempted to make the U.S. release of Emergence a comeback for Sedaka, but the album and single releases had no appreciable success. After the failure of Emergence in the U.S., Sedaka left his hometown of New York and moved his family to the UK.
In 1972, Sedaka embarked on a successful English tour and in June recorded the Solitaire album at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, working with the four future members of 10cc (best known to American audiophiles for "I'm Not in Love" and "The Things We Do for Love"). As well as the title track, which was successfully covered by Andy Williams (UK Top 5 singles chart) and The Carpenters (US Top 20), it included two UK Top 40 singles, including "Beautiful You," which also charted briefly in America, Sedaka's first US chart appearance in ten years; but its minor performance did little to generate interest in restarting Sedaka's career.
The mid- to late 1970s
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 for MGM Records, which started the second phase of his career and included his original version of the hit song "Love Will Keep Us Together" (also 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." They would reunite, however, and begin composing together again before Greenfield's death in 1986. From 1974 onward, Sedaka's records were issued in Europe and around the world on the Polydor label. His first album of new material with Polydor was Laughter in the Rain.
In the US, Sedaka's records were issued first on the Rocket label from 1974–77 and on the Elektra label from 1977-81. It was Sedaka's association with Rocket Records that helped resurrect his career in the States, for Elton John signed Sedaka to Rocket Records upon discovering that Sedaka had no formal U.S. recording contract. "We couldn't believe our luck," John remembered in Elizabeth Rosenthal's "His Song: The Musical Journey of Elton John." Sedaka returned to the U.S. album charts with the release of Sedaka's Back, a compilation of songs from three British albums he had already recorded in Britain, namely "Solitaire," "The Tra-La Days Are Over," and "Laughter In The Rain." It was only the second Sedaka album ever to chart in the U.S. Sedaka was known principally as a singles artist to that point, his only other American charting album being "Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits," a compilation of his early singles, according to Rosenthal's research.
Although the single was released in the autumn of 1974 and was slow in building, eventually Sedaka found himself once again topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts with "Laughter in the Rain" in early 1975. One of Sedaka's most well-received compositions during this period was the second single, "The Immigrant" (US pop #22, US AC #1). Critics hailed its beautiful orchestration and evocative lyrics: wistful, nostalgic, and no doubt enhanced and embellished by both pride and disillusion with the state of affairs in the contemporary life in the nation in which Sedaka was raised. It was at one time welcoming of strangers from afar, willing to allow emigrants from faraway lands to enter our shores as immigrants, being allowed to try to find a place in that new home of their dreams – possibly not necessarily as perfect as initially hoped – but still the great land called America.
But it was also was a protest ode dedicated to his friend (ironically, a former Beatle who had shooed him across the Atlantic in the opposite direction), John Lennon. The U.S. Government was repeatedly denying him permanent resident status. Eventually, he did receive that request, only to be assassinated by a deranged fan's bullet in Sedaka's own hometown of New York City, slightly more than five years after this song was on the charts and the radio. The third consecutive Billboard Top 25 hit from Sedaka's Back was the uptempo rocker "That's When the Music Takes Me" (US pop #25, US AC #7). This song was a rarity at the time as it was one of the few songs Sedaka wrote by himself, without a collaborator. It remains today his standard curtain-call concert closer.
Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote "Love Will Keep Us Together," a No. 1 hit for The Captain & Tennille and 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 for the track. "Captain" Daryl Dragon and Toni 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).
In 1975, Sedaka was the opening act for 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, allegedly because Sedaka was becoming more popular than the Carpenters. 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.
In late 1975, Sedaka earned more chart success with the release of his second Rocket album, The Hungry Years. This album was an American edition of Sedaka's British Polydor album "Overnight Success". Near the close of 1975 and lasting into early 1976, Sedaka would have another big single with "Bad Blood". The song stayed at #1 for three weeks and was certified Gold® by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the most individual commercially successful single of his career. Elton John provided uncredited backing vocals for "Bad Blood" and has been credited by Sedaka as being responsible for his breakthrough back into the US pop music scene.
Another highlight from "The Hungry Years" was Sedaka's new version of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." His 1962 original, a #1 hit single, was an upbeat pop song, while the remake was a ballad, based on a similar arrangement used by Lenny Welch when he recorded a version of it in 1970. Sedaka's ballad version hit #8 on the Hot 100 in early 1976, making him the only artist to ever record entirely reworked and rearranged versions of the same song to reach the Top 10 by the same artist. 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 Sedaka's Top 20 hit "Love in the Shadows", also from 1976.
Later in 1976, Sedaka released a second (and final) collaboration with Elton John, with Elton once again on uncredited backing vocals on the title song to Sedaka's third and final Rocket 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. In 1977, Sedaka, now with Elektra Records, released his next album "A Song" which had moderate success. While Sedaka attempted to release disco-themed music himself in the late 1970s, 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 as a duet with his then 17-year-old daughter, Dara.
Throughout the 1970s, Sedaka's old record company, RCA, would re-issue his 1960s-era songs on several compilation LPs on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels, a practice which continues to this day. Sedaka also released one final album of new material with RCA, consisting of a live concert he gave in Sydney, Australia. The album was released on the RCA International label in Australia and Europe as Neil Sedaka on Stage in 1974. It saw a US release on the RCA Victor label in 1976 as Sedaka Live In Australia. The songs on the album were mostly cover versions of rock and pop songs from the previous twenty-five years, such as "Proud Mary", "Everything Is Beautiful", and "The Father Of Girls." RCA and Sedaka have been at odds for decades over ownership rights over Sedaka's original master tapes from his late 1950s/early 1960s hits. RCA has released assorted repackaging of his old hits, forcing Sedaka to re-record his old hits and make them sound as close and authentic to the originals as possible.
The '80s and '90s: The struggles return
A change in record companies in the early 1980s also required him to, for the first time in his career, record cover versions of other artists' "oldies". 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 AC chart (making the Top 15) for one final album to be released. But the second album's only release did not fare well on the AC chart, barely cracking its Top 40, and by 1985, Sedaka was once again without a recording contract. Concertgoers filled theatre seats while Sedaka created 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.
Ben Folds, an American singer-musician-songwriter and judge on NBC's hit a cappella vocal-group competition series The Sing-Off, credited Sedaka on his "iTunes Originals" album as an 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 did not actually publish his first song until he was 16.
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, starring Wayne Smith as Sedaka, had its world premiere at the Churchill Theatre, in the London borough of Bromley, on 4 March 2010. Sedaka attended the opening and joined the cast onstage for an impromptu curtain call of the title song.
The 21st century: Popularity yet again, a golden honor and The Music of His Life
Sedaka maintains a rigorous concert schedule in the second decade of the 21st century, in the U.S. and around the world, despite having 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. His ardent fans have appealed for his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, due to his longevity, contributions to contemporary music, and hit songwriting for himself and dozens of other artists.
In May 2003, near the end of the second season of the Fox TV series American Idol, Sedaka appeared as a guest judge and mentor to the five remaining finalists. (The "guest judge" aspect of the series has long since been discontinued.) Several of the contestants' performances from Sedaka's songbook sparked particular praise from the guest judge. One of those performances came from eventual third-place finalist Kimberley Locke, who sang the "Theme from Where the Boys Are." The Sedaka/Greenfield composition was originally recorded by Connie Francis and has gone on to become her signature song. Sedaka termed Locke's performance "ear-licious."
Eventual Season 2 runnerup Clay Aiken chose Sedaka's 1972 song "Solitaire" for his performance. As Aiken explained to the studio and TV audiences, host Ryan Seacrest, and the four total judges, "Solitaire" had long been one of his mother's all-time favorite songs. When she learned that Sedaka was going to be a guest judge and that the finalists would be singing Sedaka's songs, she begged him to sing "Solitaire." The performance was uniformly given extraordinarily high praise by the judges (including perennial skeptic Simon Cowell). Sedaka dissolved into tears, telling Aiken that he officially passed ownership of the performance of "Solitaire" to Clay, offering to record and produce a single of the song or an entire CD with him.
Although it did not appear on his debut CD itself, Aiken recorded and added "Solitaire" as the B-side to the single "The Way," whose sales were faltering. "Solitaire" was quickly moved to the A-side, and radio airplay and single and download sales responded immediately. "Solitaire" hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart and was, in fact, the top-selling single for all of 2004. It also hit the Top 5 on Billboard's Hot 100. Sedaka was invited back to American Idol to celebrate the success of "Solitaire" several times, as it continued to reach new milestones. Since then, Aiken has mined the Sedaka songbook again, recording a cover of probably Sedaka's best-known song, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," on the "deluxe version" of his 2010 CD release, Tried and True.
Sedaka continues to be seen in the American Idol studio audience on at least an annual basis — most recently on May 19, 2011, when Seacrest had Sedaka stand and greet the audience on-camera during Season 10's "Top 3" results show.
A Guinness World Record
When Sedaka moved his family to the UK, British singer Tony Christie recorded and released the Sedaka/Greenfield composition "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?" in 1971. The song did relatively well on the UK singles chart, peaking in the Top 20. The song would lie dormant for more than three decades, when UK comic Peter Kay lip-synched the song for a 2002 video in his TV series Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights. Three years later, for the 2005 annual Comic Relief charity drive, he solicited a number of celebrity friends of his and updated the video, and it became an enormous hit. The original 1971 Tony Christie single was re-released to radio and CD/download sales, and hit #1 for seven weeks and was the biggest hit in Britain for all of 2005. When interviewed for an "extras" feature for a DVD set of a concert filmed in London on 7 April 2006 (see below), Neil jokingly had heard that Christie had retired and was "golfing in Spain."  The sudden revival of "Amarillo" summoned Christie back to the UK for an unexpected return to fame. Sedaka also released the song in the U.S. in 1977 as the shortened "Amarillo," but it was only a mid-chart entry, peaking just shy of the Top 40. In early 2006, the song received new life yet again when it received a dance beat and revised lyrics to become a novelty hit for the UK team's FIFA World Cup finals with "Is This the Way to the (England) World Cup?" It was used yet again later that summer by the Central Band of the Royal British Legion prior to the Men's Finals of the 2006 Wimbledon tennis tournament.
On 7 April 2006, Sedaka was appearing at the Royal Albert Hall and filming for the above-referenced CD/DVD package, when he was interrupted mid-concert by a gentleman who walked onstage from the wings. The planned scenario was that Sedaka was to begin performing "Amarillo," and after one verse, the audience was to be surprised by the appearance of Christie for an eventual duet. But at the interruption, a seemingly annoyed Sedaka asked, "What is this?" As Sedaka would soon learn, the interloper was a representative from Guinness Records, and he was there to present Sedaka with an award from Guinness World Records: British Hit Singles and Albums for composing "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?," the most successful UK single of the 21st century (up to that date, of course). (Sedaka's co-composer, Howard Greenfield, had passed away in 1986.) By all indications, the award presentation was indeed a surprise, and certainly a welcome one. Sedaka genuinely seemed bewildered by the sudden appearance of the Guinness representative from the wings (especially since Christie was due to appear from the opposite side of the stage, and not for at least 90 seconds). After the presentation, Sedaka proceeded into "Amarillo," Christie entered onstage to an eruption of cheers from the audience, and after the successful duet performance, the two men walked offstage together as the first half of Sedaka's concert came to a close – with the entertainer the latest recipient of a new Guinness World Record.
New recording contract, new chart success
Since Sedaka had lost his recording contract in the mid-1980s, he had used his own business, 'Neil Sedaka Music,' to finance the recording, production, and distribution of new CDs and repackaging of his existing catalog of music. Because of ongoing disputes with RCA Victor Records over the ownership of Sedaka's original late 1950s/early 1960s hits, in 1991, Sedaka re-recorded those early recordings, note-for-note. Sedaka had taken meticulous care of his voice over the years and still sang in the original keys recorded in his youth (and still does today). This allowed him to repackage his catalog to include both his early recordings along with his mid-to-late '70s hits and later recordings.
In early 2007, Sedaka signed his first recording contract in more than two decades with Razor and Tie Records, a small-but-growing, New York-based independent label with a talent roster that also includes Joan Baez, Vanessa Carlton, Foreigner, Joe Jackson, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The first release was The Definitive Collection, a life-spanning compilation of his hits, along with outtakes and songs previously released but unavailable in CD and/or download format. It debuted in the Top 25 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart in May 2007, one of the highest-charting albums of his entire career. Best known as a "singles artist," this album chart activity was considered a significant comeback for the veteran entertainer. The last time Sedaka had an album on the Top 200 albums chart was in 1980, with his '79 album In the Pocket – when "Should've Never Let You Go," the 1980 duet with Sedaka and daughter Dara, was Sedaka's last Top 20 hit on the Hot 100 singles chart.
Waking Up Is Hard to Do was Sedaka's next release with Razor and Tie, hitting the albums chart in May 2009. The CD was a children's album that used the melodies of many of Sedaka's best-known songs but changed the lyrics to fit, and hopefully have fun with, the everyday lives of babies and toddlers, along with their parents, grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers. The CD title is an example. Lastly, The Music of My Life entered the albums chart in February 2010  and comprised almost all new material. The first track, "Do You Remember?," is Sedaka's first foray into spicy salsa and was produced by music producer, composer, and pianist David Foster. "Right or Wrong," co-written with original music partner Howard Greenfield, was done in traditional street-corner, layered doo-wop vocal harmonies with Sedaka overlaying his own voice to achieve the effect for which he was well known in his "early" heyday of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The final track, "You", has been previously released, but was remastered for this project and is often one of several titles dedicated to his wife and career guide of nearly 50 years, Leba. Neil Sedaka Music continues to be listed as co-producer along with Razor and Tie.
A concert performance on 26 October 2007 at the Lincoln Center in New York City paid homage to the 50th anniversary of Sedaka's debut in show business. Music impresario (and producer for The Music of My Life track "Do You Remember?") David Foster served as emcee. Other guests included The Captain and Tennille; Natalie Cole; Connie Francis; recording legend and decades-long Sedaka friend and former manager Don Kirshner; and new Solitaire "owner" Clay Aiken, amongst 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.
In early 2010, his original uptempo version of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (performed by a group of uncredited singers) was being heard as the impetus for a series of insurance TV commercials, featuring actor Dennis Haysbert assuring that TV viewers not insured by Allstate can break up with their current insurer without much ado at all.
On September 11, 2010, Sedaka performed to a public and TV audience at the Hyde Park, London, venue of the "Proms in the Park" for the BBC. The UK continues to be probably Sedaka's most welcoming nation, and has been since first moving his family there (temporarily) four decades ago. The irony of the place whose music scuttled his "first" career, namely The Beatles and the British Invasion, and yet has constantly welcomed him with open arms for more than 40 years, is not lost on him, he has stated in many interviews. Indeed, it was his work with the musicians who would, in a few years, become the hit-making group 10cc that brought him back to the U.S. as a major star with #1 hits and a number of other major Top 40 singles. The UK always takes up a major portion of Sedaka's touring year in the 21st century.
In early 2011, Sedaka recorded two duets ("Brighton" and "The Immigrant") with singer Jim Van Slyke for his Neil Sedaka tribute album, The Sedaka Sessions. LML Records released this album in August 2011. 
Sedaka attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, graduating in 1956. He has been married to his wife, Leba (Strassberg), since 1962. They have two children: a daughter, Dara, a recording artist and vocalist for television and radio commercials (who sang the female part on the Sedaka duet "Should've Never Let You Go"), and a son, Marc, a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Samantha and three children.
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- ^ Billboard Top 200 Albums chart dates and information for The Definitive Collection, Waking Up Is Hard to Do, and The Music of My Life courtesy Billboard.com
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- ^ "Jim Van Slyke Releases New Studio Recording "The Sedaka Sessions" (LML Music) August 9". PRWeb. Vocus PRW Holdings, LLC.. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/8/prweb8693613.htm. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
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