Neil Sedaka 's Yiddish Folk Songs Live in Beverly Hills

(published on ABBAMAIL Dec 2004)

Went to see Neil Sedaka last night at the Wiltern Theatre in Beverly Hills. The bill was "Neil performs Yiddish favorites and classic Sedaka hits," which, not being Jewish, and thereby not familiar with the songs, was not really appealing to me. But the traditional material, enthusiastically performed with a Klezmer band, was limited to the first half of the show, and was not entirely uninteresting.

After the intermission, Neil came on stage to the familiar keyboard opening of 'Bad Blood,' his 1975 hit duet with Elton John. Wearing a white blazer over a black outfit, over the next ninety minutes he effortlessly meandered through his fifty year career as a pop artist.

He talked about signing as a teen star with RCA Victor at the same time as Elvis Presley in the late 50's, and did several of his early doo wop hits like 'Oh Carol', 'Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen', and 'Breaking Up is Hard to Do'. He told some stories about working at the Brill Building with Carole King, Neil Diamond, and other famous songwriters, and played 'Calendar Girl' while a pristine copy of the campy original video was projected on the screen behind him.

He talked about writing songs that were huge hits for other people, noting that Connie Francis had a huge hit with his 'Where The Boys Are'. Neil's live version had some awkward gender issues, but was a soaring pop moment regardless.

It was particularly striking, especially when compared to many of his peers such as Toni Tennille or Elton John, that now in his mid-sixties, Sedaka's voice has retained its sweet tones, and he can still hit his higher notes. He reminisced about meeting songwriting partner Howard Greenfield, noting that they wrote over 500 songs together, performed by artists such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and Karen Carpenter.

Neil mentioned that he has sold 25 million records by 1963, both the year I was born and the year that the Beatles invaded the world. He said that he felt he couldn't compete with the Beatles, so decided to take a few years off from performing, but continued to write hits for The 5th Dimension, the Monkees, Peggy Lee and Cher, among many others.

He said that many people ask him how he writes a song. He explained, "it usually starts with a rhythm", as he started playing the familiar chords for 'Love Will keep Us Together'. "Then I see where the melody fits", and he hummed along with the piano. "And then you fit in the words". He smiled, "do you think it will work?" Mentioning that he was emulating Diana Ross, Al Green and the Beach Boys when he wrote it, he launched into a bouncy version of Captain & Tennille's Number One hit from 1975. He also did his original, choppy version of their hit 'Lonely Night (Angel Face)', and said that he still writes songs, performing his latest composition, "You."

Neil mentioned that there has been very few father/daughter duets in pop history. He said, "there were the Sinatras, the Coles... and the Sedakas", and he performed 'Should've Never Let You Go,' with a video of his daughter Dara singing her part, a hit they had in 1980. He also did a video duet with Dinah Washington, who was the first artist to record a Neil Sedaka song, "Never Again."

He went on to say that he has the biggest selling single of 2004 with his song "Solitaire" covered by American Idol contestant Clay Aiken. While I strongly believe no one can touch the Carpenters' breathtaking 1975 version of that hit, Neil's live version was heartfelt and dramatic, as was his 'The Hungry Years' from his album of the same name.

He rounded out the show with a sweet version of his seventies comeback, 'Laughter in the Rain', which was a Number One hit in the US on Elton John's Rocket Records label. As an encore, he performed a couple songs that he had written to classical songs by Bach and Chopin (from his recent album 'Classically Sedaka'), and then the gospel-tinged 'Good Times, Good Music, Good Friends,' and finally, the slow version of "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," which had everyone on their feet in an audience sing-a-long.

Later on, backstage, I told him that I could completely see "You" being a hit for Faith Hill or LeAnn Rimes, and recommended that he send it to them. He smiled, "I sure wouldn't send it to Rufus Wainwright. Isn't he a great singer?" As he signed a few items for me, I told him that he had written many of my favorite songs (including 'You Never Done it Like That') and he mentioned that he is playing a few dates in Hawaii in the next few weeks. He also have three (!) new cds out now - 'Classically Sedaka' (famous classical melodies with original lyrics written by Neil), 'Brighton Beach Memories' (the Yiddish songs), and 'By Popular Demand" (all new recordings of his classic hits).

Here's a picture of his autographs for me:

More info at:

Rod Reynolds
Los Angeles CA USA

Rod Reynolds ©2004 The Art Dept Los Angeles

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