Oh Neil

The baby-faced piano player with a voice to match – Neil Sedaka – is bringing his golden oldies to Ramat Gan.

Neil Sedaka (photo credit: Courtesy)
Neil Sedaka
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If it wasn’t for Elton John, Neil Sedaka probably wouldn’t be performing to a packed audience on Saturday night at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
It has nothing to do with the Rocket Man’s own triumphant show earlier this year at Ramat Gan Stadium but rather with an opportunity John provided to Sedaka – one of his main pop inspirations as a youth – in 1974.
The mega-successful writer and singer of dozens of Top 10 songs in the late 1950s and early 1960s like “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” and “Oh Carol,” Sedaka had floundered in the rock ‘n’ roll era and found himself an “oldies” act while still in his 30s.
“I was still writing all the time, and I felt that there was still much more creativity and work in me. But things didn’t change for me until I met Elton in 1974. He turned out to be a big Neil Sedaka fan, and he signed me to his new record label Rocket Records,” recalled Sedaka recently in a relaxed phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post ahead of his show here.
The ensuing album, Sedaka’s Back, returned Sedaka to the charts with a vengeance, with the hits “Laughter in the Rain” and the upbeat duet with John, “Bad Blood.” And right around the same time, The Captain and Tenille’s version of his song “Love Will Keep Us Together” proved to be another blockbuster. More than a decade since scoring his last major hit, the baby-faced piano player with a voice to match was once again riding high.
That chart success didn’t last either, but John’s intervention helped to cement Sedaka’s reputation as a contemporary hit maker that has enabled him to continue performing around the world until today as one of pop music’s veritable giants.
Growing up in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, as the son of US Jewish immigrants, the child prodigy Sedaka overcame another obstacle on his way to teen fame as a pop star – his parents’ insistence that he stick to classical music.
At age nine, Sedaka began attending the Juilliard School of Music’s Preparatory Division for Children on Saturdays. But when he was 13, he had a fateful encounter with his neighbor and future songwriting partner, Howard Greenfield.
“Howie’s mother heard me playing classical music, and one day she came over and said that her 16-year-old son was a poet and that he’d be coming over to ask me if I wanted to write songs together,” said Sedaka.
“I remember the day exactly, October 11, 1952. He knocked at my door. I told him I didn’t know how to write songs and didn’t have any inclination. I’m so glad he convinced me otherwise because we ended up writing over 300 songs together over the next 20 years.”
At first, his parents fought against the change in direction, Sedaka recalled.
“They said, ‘Thousands of people can sing and write songs, but you’re a child prodigy at the piano.’ But after I wrote my first big hit – a song called ‘Stupid Cupid for Connie Francis in 1958 when I was 19 – everything changed. We never saw so much money in our lives. I bought my older sister a home and bought my mother a mink coat. And later I was able to retire my father from driving the taxi. It’s nice to play a Beethoven sonata, I told them, but it’s also nice to get up and travel the world and sing your own songs.”
A half century later, Sedaka is still living his dream.