Before there was rock ’n’ roll, pop music topped the charts—and Neil Sedaka was one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
Then came the British Invasion and a decline in Sedaka’s career. However, he eventually found his way back to the top—and Sedaka will be stopping by the McCallum Theatre for two shows, on Saturday, Dec. 6, and on Sunday, Dec. 7.
Sedaka’s musical roots go back to his childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. His father was a cab-driver, and his mother eventually took a job in a department store so she could pay for a piano, after his music teacher sent a note home suggesting he had an obvious musical gift.
“My parents never had to force me,” Sedaka said during a recent phone interview. “I practiced six hours a day as a child. I loved the piano.”
He eventually won a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music’s Preparatory Division for Children. He said he had every intention of becoming a classical concert pianist—but then he found pop music.
Sedaka had his first hit single in 1958, when “The Diary,” an original song written with Howard Greenfield, reached No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard chart. In the early ‘60s, numerous songs of his were hits—most notably “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” which reached No. 1.
However, soon after The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, pop music was essentially over. Sedaka said it was a total shock.
“I had five years of Top 10 records, and that was kind of a natural progression,” Sedaka said. “The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino and others, we had about five years. The Beatles came in, and they certainly did change the face of American music, but, of course, it’s a very trendy business. I thought they were very talented, and perhaps it was the end of Neil Sedaka. But I still had a lot of hits in me, a lot of drive, and a lot of ambition.”
During his decline in American popularity the ‘60s, Sedaka remained big in places like the United Kingdom, Australia and Italy; he even released three hit records in Italian. In the early 1970s, Sedaka moved his family to the U.K. Not too long after that, Sedaka met Elton John at a party.
“I was living in London, and I figured if the Beatles were going to come to New York, I was going to go to London,” he said. “I met Elton John, and he was starting (The Rocket Record Company). If it wasn’t for him, I would not have had that incredible comeback in 1975. Sedaka’s Back was the LP, and ‘Laughter in the Rain’ was the first single.
“Laughter in the Rain” became Sedaka’s second No. 1 hit.
“After 13 years off the charts, it was a remarkable comeback,” Sedaka said. “If not for Elton, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Sedaka and his family lived in the U.K. for four years. He explained why many pop entertainers like himself remained popular over there.
“They have a lot of respect for the original American rock ’n’ rollers,” Sedaka said. “I just finished a sold-out three-week tour there at the Royal Albert Hall.”
Sedaka remains a music-industry powerhouse because he’s such a gifted and prolific songwriter. In fact, he’s written more than 500 songs, including many hits for others.
Is there one song he wrote for someone else that he wishes he’d have kept?
“‘Love Will Keep Us Together,’” he said. “I had it in an album, and I never put it out as a single. But thank goodness, a new group at the time, Captain and Tennille, put it out. It was my first Grammy, and it was the song of the year. I never really wrote for anybody, and I always did the first version. I was fortunate that the great singers always covered my songs, but ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ is one I certainly should have put out as a single. But their record was better than mine.”
At the age of 75, Sedaka still has a golden voice. While many performers from his era are still performing, their vocal skills have declined. Sedaka explained what keeps his voice intact.
“I don’t go into any smoky rooms, or any loud rooms where I have to shout. I don’t drink iced drinks; I find that cold drinks will affect me. I get enough sleep and enough exercise,” he said. “The more you sing, the better you are.
“If I stop for a few weeks, the first concert is very difficult. It’s like an athlete—you have to keep in shape. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
Neil Sedaka will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $59 to $99. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.