Still a hit maker
Neil Sedaka continues to write new music after 53 years in the biz
With almost 50 years of hits to his credit, Neil Sedaka isn't ready to live off the past. In fact, he'll be playing more new music than usual this weekend, as he's back in Honolulu for two solo concerts at the Hawaii Theatre.
» Place: Hawaii Theatre
» Time: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
» Tickets: $25, $37.50 and $45
» Call: 528-0506 or go online at hawaiitheatre.com
Sedaka recently released a two-disc Christmas album with new songs.
"It was a great responsibility because I had to compete with 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire' and 'Have yourself a merry little Christmas,' and I think I've succeeded," Sedaka said during an early afternoon telephone call Monday.
"Writing (new songs) doesn't come easily after 53 years of writing. You're very picky, you're very choosy, you have to compete with your past, and I've had so many songs that were successful that I have a very high standard to match. It took me about 10 months to write them and I think they're some of the greatest songs I've ever written."
Sedaka sounded very much like the singer-songwriter who was a consistent hit maker in the late '50s to early '60s. Sedaka made his hit debut as a recording artist in 1958 with "The Diary," followed with a string of bigger pop hits that included "Oh! Carol," "Stairway to Heaven," "Calendar Girl," "Little Devil," and "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen" before hitting the top of the charts with "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" in '62.
Jump forward a decade to the mid-'70s and Sedaka was back on the charts, and he's never left since then. Sedaka celebrated a career milestone last March when Clay Aiken charted with "Solitaire." Aiken's success put a Sedaka composition on the Billboard charts for the sixth consecutive decade.
He'll become the latest pop music icon to be honored with a Broadway musical with "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," featuring 15 of his biggest hits, that opens next year.
On top of all that, Sedaka is celebrating the birth of his third grandchild. Charlotte and Amanda, who appear as guests on his Christmas album, now have a brother, 13-week old Ethan Michael. He's bringing the two oldest grandkids with him to Hawaii.
"I enjoy (doing the solo concerts) because that's the way I wrote the songs. They're very personal and that's the pure form of doing the song. People are interested, I think, in the basic story of how I wrote them and why, the circumstances and the family and so forth."
HE adds that he likes to keep his shows fresh. The set list changes every night, and it isn't about deciding which songs to do.
"It's a decision on which ones you're gonna leave out, but it's a good problem ... because I have more than enough to choose from. Actually, I have to do, and I love to do, the big hits. All the ones that people know me for.
"It's a mixed kind of program. I do one of the classical pieces where I wrote original music to a classical melody. I do some new songs. I'll do the original '50s and '60s and '70s. You have to choose, but when you're on a tour of a couple of weeks, you can change around and that makes it fresh."
One song he promises to do this weekend is his only-in-Hawaii hit, "I Must Be Dreaming."
Back in the days when singles were 7-inch, 45-rpm vinyl records, "I Must Be Dreaming" was the B-side of Sedaka's eighth single, "Little Devil," back in 1961. Then radio disc jockey and current promoter Tom Moffatt opted to play the B-side on his show, and while "Little Devil" reached #11 nationally, thanks to Uncle Tom, Hawaii fell in love with "I Must Be Dreaming."
"That's happened to me a few times (in different places). ... In Japan, and all over the Far East, they turned the 'Oh! Carol' single over to play 'One Way Ticket (to the Blues),' and that is my biggest record (there). And I've had records that never came to the mainland -- Italian records and hits in various languages across the world."
Sedaka's special relationship with Hawaii originally with "The Diary" in 1958, and it certainly didn't hurt him a bit that, as an unknown artist, many people here assumed he was Japanese.
"They never saw what I looked like and they thought the name sounded Japanese," Sedaka recalls. "It was very helpful to me in the Far East (also), and I'm glad I never changed it because it sounds Italian, it sounds Spanish (and) it sounds Japanese."