Neil Sedaka has been a surprisingly resilient figure in pop music, first as a hit songwriter behind the scenes, then as a popular male singer in the late ’50s, followed by an unexpected second act in the 1970s, topping the charts as both songwriter and recording artist.
He learned to play on his family's upright piano and in 1947 won a scholarship for a children's preparatory program at Juilliard School. He formed a doo-wop group called the Tokens, and at age 13 he met aspiring poet Howard Greenfield. The two became friends and began a songwriting partnership produce hit singles for several decades.
The young pair took up songwriting in Manhattan's famous Brill Building, a songwriting factory that was also a professional home to the likes of Carole King, Neil Diamond and Burt Bacharach. In 1959, Sedaka and Greenfield scored one of their first top-10 hit as the authors of “Stupid Cupid” for Connie Francis. The same year also saw the release of another hit, Sedaka's performance of “Oh! Carol,” written for the singer's girlfriend, Carole Klein (later Carole King). By 1962, the songwriting team had accumulated eight Top 40 hits.
Sedaka's popularity slowed by the mid-’60s, as the British Invasion eclipsed the easy-going romantic tunes that were the singer's specialty. While his stardom as a performer faded out, he remained busy as a songwriter providing songs for Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, the Monkees and the 5th Dimension, among others. He also remained a serious classical pianist, and in 1966, he was scheduled to compete in Moscow at the Tchaikovsky competition but was barred because of his “rock 'n' roll” connection.
In the early ’70s, Elton John signed Sedaka to his new label, Rocket Records, releasing “Sedaka's Back” (1974) and “The Hungry Years” (1975). In 1975, he released a new version of his “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” taking the song to No. 1 for the second time. And Captain and Tennille reached No. 1 with the Sedaka-Greenfield song “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which won the Grammy Award for record of the year. (As the single fades out, singer Toni Tennille can be heard announcing, “Sedaka is back.”) Later that decade, the ubiquitous tune was also covered by the Tubes and Mae West.
Sedaka continues to perform and has appeared as a guest judge on “American Idol.” In 2004, “Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken's recording of Sedaka's “Solitaire” landed the songwriter right back into the Top 10.