Rock, pop and doo-wop: Sedaka’s back
If anybody had the right to slow down in life and relax, knowing he has achieved everything, it would be Neil Sedaka. But that’s not his style.
“I’m still writing and producing songs, and I still think there’s another biggie in me,” said Sedaka, who at age 68 is busy with numerous projects and live appearances, which include a concert Saturday, Dec. 29 in the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. “I’ve always had a lot of chutzpah. When people said I was finished and I was a ghost voice from the ’50s, I came out with ‘Laughter in the Rain’ on (the album) ‘Sedaka’s Back.’ This has to do with my ambition and my push and my drive.”
It’s mind-boggling to consider the royalties that go to Sedaka every time someone records one of his songs or plays one on the radio or sings in a club. Hundreds of artists have been covering Sedaka tunes since 1959, which was the beginning of a four-year run when Sedaka sold 25 million records. Some of those who have covered Sedaka songs include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Elton John.
“The songs have been covered many times by great singers because they are in a comfortable vocal range,” Sedaka said. “I write at the piano vocally, so many singers find it comfortable to perform.”
The Harrah’s show will open with video of some of the world’s greatest singers covering Sedaka songs, and it will include Sedaka singing a duet live with Diana Washington. Sedaka, who will perform in a five-member band, will play a couple of his new songs. The man is still prolific and confident enough to say, “I look better today than I did 50 years ago.”
His 2007 album, “The Definitive Collection” debuted at No. 22 on the Billboard charts, his first time on the charts since 1980. He also has a new children’s album, which features his 4-year-old granddaughters singing doo-wop backgrounds on “Waking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Where The Toys Are” and “Lunch Will Keep Us Together.”
Also this year, he was honored at the Lincoln Center for his 50 years as an entertainer at a show that included live performances by David Foster, Connie Francis, Natalie Cole, Paul Shaffer, Clay Aiken and The Captain and Tennille, during which time Toni Tennille said, “Without Neil, there would be no Captain and Tennile.”
The same could be said of a lot of singers, including Aiken, a former “American Idol” star.
Sedaka said the show is helping the resurgence of popularity in melodic songs.
“I called one of the staff programers directly and said ‘Hi, this is Neil Sedaka,’ ” he said. ” ‘I watch the show all the time, and I’d like to be a judge.’ And she said, ‘Is this a joke? Is this really Neil Sedaka?’ She called me back a couple of hours later and said ‘You’re on in two weeks and the five finalists will be doing Neil Sedaka songs.’ ”
Aiken performed “Solitaire,” which was made into a single that sold 400,000 copies.
Sedaka is a musical pioneer on several fronts.
He practically invented the doo-wop sound that came out of New York in the 1950s.
“I was one of the first to do the doo-wop syllables – the tra-la-las and the dooby-doos,” he said. “I became sort of the king of the tra-la-las.”
He was the first to multitrack his voice in the rock ‘n’ roll genre, a technique he learned from Patti Page, Kay Starr, Les Paul and Mary Ford.
He was also the first to sing his hits in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Japanese, German, French and Portuguese.
“Japanese was the easiest,” he said. “The most difficult was German. The Japanese language is very phonetic. You can write it phonetically very easily in English.”
Sedaka started his first band, the Link Tones, when he was attending Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. The band evolved into the Tokens. “I went on to be a solo artist and they went on to record many songs including “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” he said.
Sedaka’s lucrative run came to an end with the British Invasion. His only live performances from 1963 to 1974 were in Australia. But he continued to write songs that many artists made famous, most notably The Fifth Dimension and Tom Jones.
“It was Elton John who resurrected my career,” Sedaka said. “I was living in England, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees was a good friend of mine. Elton John was a big fan of my old recordings, and he was very curious. I was recording with a band called the 10ccs in the south of England. He came over to my flat in London and he asked to hear the songs and he said, ‘I’d like to sign you to my Rocket Record Company.’ “
The album “Sedaka’s Back” included the hits “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Laughter in the Rain,” “That’s When the Music Takes Me,” “The Immigrant” and “Standing on the Inside.”
“The seventies was the time of the singer-songwriter – Carol King and Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot – and I fit in very well in that category,” Sedaka said.
Phillip Norman is writing Sedaka’s story as a musical, “Laughter In The Rain.” It documents Sedaka’s life from ages 8 to 35 and will first show in England.
The curtain is not even close to coming down on Sedaka’s life story.
“I live to write new songs,” he said. “I’ll be singing a couple new songs at Harrah’s. The creative people like to develop and grow and continue to keep proving themselves and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been around so long.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room
Tickets: $75 and $95, plus tax. Call (800) 786-8208.
Photo caption: Neil Sedaka makes his first South Shore Room appearance in more than 15 years on Saturday, Dec. 28