Sedaka doo-be-doos his mu­sic voodoo

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - STEVE JAMES

NEW YORK: As Neil Sedaka puts it, he’s the king of tra-lalas and doo-be-doos.

And why not? When Tin Pan Al­ley ruled the world of pop mu­sic, Sedaka was one of the song­writ­ers churn­ing out hits that helped pre-Bea­tles teenagers go to the hop, fall in love and break up.

The singer also topped the charts as a teen idol in his own right with Oh! Carol, Cal­en­dar Girl, Break­ing Up is Hard to Do and Happy Birth­day, Sweet Six­teen sell­ing 35 mil­lion records in the early days of rock ’n’ roll.

Now, 50 years later, with over 1 000 songs to his credit, he has recorded The Mu­sic of My Life, an al­bum of orig­i­nal songs that hit US stores on Tues­day.

“I’ve raised the level of Neil Sedaka; af­ter 57 years of writ­ing, th­ese are some of the best songs I’ve ever writ­ten,” he said in an in­ter­view at his Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

“Last year I had a great flow of cre­ativ­ity and in four months I wrote the 12 songs.”

That num­ber is slow by Sedaka’s early stan­dards, con­sid­er­ing he used to turn out two or three songs a day at the fa­mous Brill Build­ing on Broad­way, work­ing with lyri­cist Howie Green­field.

That’s where tune­smith teams such as Leiber and Stoller, Gof­fin and King, Mann and Weill and Bacharach and David toiled in cu­bi­cles rented by mu­sic pub­lish­ers, writ­ing the sound­track of the fledg­ling rock ’n’ roll gen­er­a­tion.

“We wrote from 10 in the morn­ing to five in the af­ter­noon, five days a week. It was a great way to learn your craft,” Sedaka re­called. “And if you had a men­tal block one day, if you had a piece of a song, you’d save it for the next day.”

“I brought Ca­role King there, she was my girl­friend for two min­utes,” he laughed. “We were paid $50 a week.

“We mas­tered the art of the two-and-a-half minute song. In those days, 45 RPMs had to be two-and-a-half min­utes, and you had to tell the whole story from beginning to end.”

Sedaka’s sig­na­ture song, Break­ing Up is Hard to Do, with its in­tro: “Doo-doo, doo­doo down doo-be do-down, down/Come on come on/Down doo-be do-down, down,” hit No 1 on the Bill­board Hot 100 in 1962.

He re-recorded it as a bal­lad in 1975 and it landed atop the Adult Con­tem­po­rary record chart.

Re­minded of the lyrics, Sedaka laughed. “Tra-la-las and doo-be-doos be­came a Neil Sedaka trade­mark. I was the king of the tra-la-las and doobe-doos in the ’50s and ’60s!”

Pop charts in the ’50s were dom­i­nated by singers per­form­ing songs writ­ten for them – be­fore singer-song­writ­ers and the Bea­tles changed the busi­ness by per­form­ing their own ma­te­rial.

Brook­lyn-born Sedaka, now 70, said that as a teenager, he had stud­ied clas­si­cal pi­ano at the Juil­liard School by day and writ­ten pop songs by night, sell­ing them to At­lantic Records.

His big break came in 1958, at 19, when he au­di­tioned at RCA Vic­tor, which recorded Pres­ley. The song he sang, The Di­ary, be­came a hit and sud­denly he was a pop star.

“I was a teenage idol but not the one that the girls would put up on their walls, like Fabian and Frankie Avalon.

“I was more cere­bral, like a Roy Or­bi­son or a Buddy Holly. I was one of the few who could write songs.”

His par­ents, he said, were “hor­ri­fied”.

His fa­ther, a Span­ish im­mi­grant, worked as a New York City cab driver for 30 years.

His mother took a job in a depart­ment store to help pay for his first pi­ano and to put him through Juil­liard.

But af­ter the Bea­tles, the Brill song­writ­ing fac­tory be­came ob­so­lete.

“I had to change, I had to write songs that were more ma­ture. Songs that painted pic­tures, that were in­tro­spec­tive,” he says.

“I had to ap­peal to the peo­ple who liked Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell and Gor­don Lightfoot,” Sedaka said.

Now, af­ter 47 years of mar­riage, he’s a grand­fa­ther three times over, but still writ­ing mu­sic, in­clud­ing some clas­si­cal pieces.

“I have in­ner peace, I have ac­com­plished a great deal.

“(But) I would love to write for (Bar­bra) Streisand. I vis­ited her home once and played for three hours and she said ‘Won­der­ful’, but she never took any of them!

“I like that run­ner-up on Amer­i­can Idol – Adam Lam­bert. I’d love to have him do one of mine,” said Sedaka. – Reuters

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