I grew up appreciating creative musical talent. Now I enjoy researching musicians from my early years and I write to share that with you.
My favorite singer in the '50s and '60s was Neil Sedaka. This is a review of his career, what got him started with songwriting, songs that made him famous, and how he later changed his songs for his children.
One thing that is little known: He dated Carole King, who was born on February 9, 1942. He wrote the song "Oh Carol" in 1958 for her. Even less known: Carole responded with a song of her own—about Neil. I have the lyrics to that in this article below.
How Neil Sedaka Got Started
Neil Sedaka was born on March 13, 1939, in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York. His father was the son of a Turkish immigrant, and his mother was of Polish-Russian descent.
He wrote songs together with Howard Greenfield, who was his next-door neighbor and childhood friend. When Howard's mother overheard Neil playing the piano, she introduced her son to him. Neil was 13 at the time. Howard, who was 16, became an aspiring poet and lyricist.
Howard Greenfield became known for many major hits he wrote for himself and others. He and Sedaka continued to write lyrics together.
Neil used to scratch out the name of the singer on records and write in his own name to see how it looked. I guess he was preparing for a future in the limelight.
His focus on being a singer/songwriter became a reality when he graduated from the Julliard School of Music. He became a great piano player and was a concert pianist at Julliard.
I consider him to be a very talented singer and a creative songwriter. I loved the lyrics of his songs. As a romantic, even at a young age, I especially liked his song "Oh Carol." I memorized the lyrics and sang it over and over when I was young.
Neil Sedaka and Carole King Serenaded Each Other
"Oh, Carol" was actually a serenade for Carole King, who was Neil's girlfriend in the late 1950s when she went by the name, Carol Klein.
Carole King's response to "Oh, Carol" was with a song she wrote for Neil in 1963. She called it, "Oh, Neil." — How fitting.
I included both songs in YouTube videos below for you to hear. You can also follow along with Carole's lyrics that are just below her video.
Neil Sedaka Sings "Oh Carol" (Dec 5th, 1959)
Carole King Sings "Oh Neil" (1959)
Original Neil Sedaka Songs
"Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do"
I'm not sure if Neil wrote this song when he broke up with Carole King. But I know how strong feelings can make one become creative with the need to talk about it. Or sing about it as Neil had done.
See how young he was in this video? Time has surely flown by for all of us.
When you watch this, keep an eye on the girls in the back just for the fun of it. They may have been stand-ins hired for the photoshoot. They must have been happy to have had the opportunity to be on stage with Neil. They seem to be glad to be watching Neil from so close up.
This video of Calendar Girl was strange. At one time, Neil is playing the piano as he sings. Then he is standing with the girls. Later, he is suddenly playing a completely different piano! It was evident that they pieced together different shots to complete the video.
After watching this a few times I realized the piano's color changed to represent the different days of the calendar. Notice how the days of the calendar behind him have different colors, and the piano changes between white and red. I guess they only had two pianos to do that video.
It was unusual for a video to be in color at that time. It was one of a few that used color technology already.
The sexy models add a nice touch to the video, and their costumes are excellent. It looks like Neil was enjoying himself singing with all those girls.
"Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen"
It was such an innocent time back in the '50s. With the way we think today, that song takes on a totally different meaning. Or maybe he did mean it the way we interpret it.
"Tonight's the night I've waited for because you're not a baby anymore."
Possible Translation: You're not jail bait anymore.
Solitaire was not very well known. Neil recorded this one in a music-special in 1982 when he was older.
Notice the different style of his singing. This video shows his experience as a concert pianist at the Julliard Scholl of Music.
Neil has always been a great piano player, and here he plays while he sings. There are so many times where I just saw him sing to the music without playing the piano.
"Should've Never Let You Go"
Neil's daughter, Dara Sedaka, acquired a lot of his talent by singing with him. It has been a rare opportunity to see Neil sing with his daughter.
"Heaven Must Have Sent You From Above"
If you want to hear one more from Dara Sedaka, Neil and his talented daughter sing this memorable Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell song.
Sedaka's Songs for Children
Being inspired by his kids, Neil changed the lyrics with 11 of his songs to appeal to children. I love how he played with words to make them into children's songs, such as "Lunch Will Keep Us Together," "Where The Toys Are," and "Waking Up Is Hard To Do."
Neil combined them into an album with the cover title, "Waking Up Is Hard To Do." I gave a couple of them to friends for their kids. You can find it on Amazon.
Isn't it amazing what creative ideas come to us when we have children? I think this is priceless. Neil has three grandchildren. Twin girls and a grandson. And they all love his old songs.
Comparison of Sedaka's Songs and His Children's Versions
|Original Version||Children’s Version|
Where The Boys Are
Where The Toys Are
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Waking Up Is Hard to Do
Love Will Keep Us Together
Lunch Will Keep Us Together
Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen
Happy Birthday Number Three
Neil Sedaka Sings Children's Song on Huckabee
In 2009, Neil talked about how his grandchildren inspired him to rewrite the lyrics to some of his songs when he was interviewed by Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas.
Listen to him sing "Lunch Will Keep Us Together" in this recorded interview on YouTube:
We Can Understand His Lyrics
I liked listening to Neil Sedaka sing because I could actually hear and understand his lyrics. Some other singers let the music overpower and drown out their voice, or the voice track just wasn't clear.
Maybe it's just me. I find that this problem still exists today with a lot of songs by other artists where I have trouble understanding some lyrics. I never had that problem with Neil Sedaka, and I still enjoy listening to his music today.
Neil Sedaka in September, 2017
In closing, I figured I'd bring you up to date with Neil reminiscing about his career in 2017 on "Good Morning Britain." Here's the video:
© 2011 Glenn Stok
Share your thoughts about Neil Sedaka
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 09, 2020:
Cricket - It might seem that way. But nevertheless, Neil collaborated with Carole King on her rendition. His name is on her record label.
Cricket on September 09, 2020:
Love Neil as a teen and adult
I think Carole king was a bully the way she made fun of Neil
He wrote about her and she mimicked him but got the best from it when his song was a hit
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 25, 2020:
Good question Steve. Carole King recorded “Oh Neil” in 1959. The voice of “grand pappy” at the end of “Oh Neil” could have been Howard Greenfield, Gerry Goffin, or Neil himself.
All three names are listed as composers. But I couldn’t find any conclusive information as to which one did the voiceover. We might safely assume it’s one of them because no other names appear on the original 45 RPM record label.
Howard Greenfield collaborated with Neil to write “Oh Carol” and several other songs from the late 1950s to mid-70s. He also worked with Carole King to write “Crying in the Rain” in 1962. So it’s likely that they collaborated on “Oh Neil” too, but I couldn’t find a definitive answer.
Carole was married to Gerry Goffin from 1959 to 1969.
Steve on July 25, 2020:
Hi there Glenn. I just wanted to check something with you. I have always been led to believe that it was in fact her future husband Gerry Goffin who penned almost all of the lyrics for the song "Oh Neil". In fact his name also appears on the original record label.
So are you sure that Carole was responsible for writing this song?
The reason I really want to know is because I've always wanted to know who performs the male lyrics at the end of the song. I've heard people say it's Goffin. A couple of people even think it's Neil Sedaka himself. Other names mentioned include Neil Diamond & Bobby Vee. So what do you think Glenn, can you give the definitive answer please
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on March 14, 2018:
Al Greenbaum - I agree. “The Hungry Years” is one of his great songs about how people tend to leave behind the good things in life.
Al Greenbaum from Europe on March 14, 2018:
Neil Sedaka is one of the best performers I have ever seen. His wonderful voice and huge and varied back catalogue make him a pleasure to listen to. "The Hungry Years" is my favourite.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 17, 2013:
forbcrin - I'm not sure what you are implying by your last paragraph. Neil Sedaka was extremely proud to be Jewish. Sedaka, means "charity" in Hebrew and he always had wonderful feelings for his surname. He also had produced a little-known album of Jewish songs. By the way, his father was born in New York. Most everyone in this county has grandparents from somewhere else.
Crin Forbes from Michigan on July 17, 2013:
Nice post! You are right, it brought back memories. Different kind of memories though. The time when the TV shows were broadcast live and the singers were lip singing... He was the guy I would have grown up to, if I were in the States at that time. He is an entertainer, one of the few left around...
By the way, I am not sure Neil would ever want his Jewish origins laundered. His father was a Sephardic Jew, of Lebanese descent, while his mother was an Ashkenazi Jew of Polish-Russian extract.
Dennissg on April 13, 2012:
Just saw Carole interviewed on Piers Morgan and recalled this song Oh Neil
Judy Specht from California on December 01, 2011:
Splendid fun, I remember watching Neil on American Bandstand. I'm glad they don't show people chewing gum on TV these days.