Sedaka's Back was no understatement. Neil Sedaka's 1974 LP - in actuality, a compilation of tracks from his previous three albums issued only in the U.K. - yielded a No. 1 Pop and AC hit with the sparkling "Laughter in the Rain," earning the artist his first chart-topper since 1962. It also spun off another No. 1 AC with "The Immigrant," and a top ten AC/top thirty Pop hit with "That's When the Music Takes Me." That wasn't all; the album also contained the future standards "Solitaire" and "Love Will Keep Us Together," the former a hit for Andy Williams and Carpenters and the latter for Captain and Tennille. Sedaka's Back was followed in the U.S. by The Hungry Years and Steppin' Out, all on Elton John's Rocket label. But while the artist remained on Polydor in the U.K., he switched to Elektra for the U.S. market. Despite the strength of his four Elektra LPs, they met with limited commercial success and none had ever been reissued in the CD/digital era. That has changed with the release of the 2-CD set All You Need Is the Music: The Elektra Years (1977-1981), now exclusively available through Sedaka's website. Collectively, these four albums show the singer-composer-pianist and his two key lyrical partners, Howard Greenfield ("Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," "Love Will Keep Us Together") and Phil Cody ("Laughter in the Rain," "Bad Blood"), doing what they did best while navigating the changing currents of popular music.
No less an eminence than George Martin produced and arranged Sedaka's Elektra debut, A Song (1977). Though not a concept album per se, it opens and closes with the likely autobiographical ode to "A Song," one of six tracks with lyrics by Phil Cody. If the goal of A Song was to showcase Sedaka the melodist's mastery of the form, it succeeded mightily. Martin's string arrangement complements the rich melody of the title track, every bit as beautifully moody as "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" is undeniably catchy. "Amarillo" was a hit in the U.K. for Tony Christie; the rollicking "You Never Done It Like That" scored in the U.S. for Captain and Tennille. (Both songs feature lyrics by Sedaka's longest-term collaborator, Howard Greenfield.) Sedaka successfully reclaimed both as his own on A Song, with "Amarillo" hitting the top five of the AC survey and just barely missing the top 40 Pop chart.
Sedaka cuts loose a bit on the brassy, piano-pounding "One Night Stand" and the Latin-flavored, dancefloor-aimed "Hot and Sultry Nights" with those widescreen Martin strings (and obligatory disco whistle) plus Sedaka singing in Spanish. Martin brought his expansive cinematic flair, too, to Greenfield's Sunset Boulevard-esque story of a "Hollywood Lady," the swirling, European-style "I've Never Really Been in Love Before," and Klezmer-influenced "Tin Pan Alley."
"The Leaving Game" gently recalls the slow version of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" and "The Hungry Years" in its lilting ache, but the most gorgeous track on A Song is the romantic, bossa nova-inflected "Alone at Last," the graceful melody of which recalls Antonio Carlos Jobim (and in particular, "Wave"). A top 20 AC hit for Sedaka, it was later discovered by singers including the estimable Rosemary Clooney.
With George Martin otherwise occupied, Sedaka next teamed with veteran arranger Artie Butler to co-produce 1978's All You Need Is the Music, once again featuring lyrics by both Phil Cody and Howard Greenfield. Sedaka and Greenfield's propulsive title track upped the disco ante and opened an album that's both less cohesive and more wide-ranging than its predecessor. Sedaka gleefully jumps from genre to genre, sometimes within the same song.
The persuasive bounce of "Candy Kisses" recalls the same Sedaka/Cody team's hit "Bad Blood" but with a far less edgy lyric. The composer's seemingly effortless knack for melody keeps the album from flagging on such spirited, uptempo cuts as "Sad, Sad Story," "City Boy," and the retro rock-and-roll revival "What a Surprise."
The nostalgic novelty "Tillie the Twirler" about a burlesque dancer with big dreams ("You can't go topless in a one-horse town, and so the sheriff went and closed the Bijou down!") might have felt out of place among the more contemporary material - though Sedaka sells it with gusto - but the album more successfully made room for "Born to Be Bad," a charming showtune in search of a musical.
The most notable track on All You Need Is the Music remains the lovely "Should've Never Let You Go." The ballad with lyrics by Cody would be memorably re-recorded with Neil's daughter Dara for his very next album. But the original, solo version shimmers, too; Sedaka's touching vocal is one of his finest and most heartfelt. The similarly tender "Love Keeps Getting Stronger Every Day," co-written with Greenfield, beautifully complements "Should've Never Let You Go." It's one of this set's many lost gems which are worthy of reappraisal.
Sedaka reunited with his Steppin' Out producer Robert Appere for his first album of the new decade, 1980's In the Pocket. Rekindling the magic of the Rocket era, it's a confident album filled with the impeccable musicianship of Sedaka and a host of veterans including Russ Kunkel and Nigel Olsson on drums, Leland Sklar and David Hungate on bass, and Lee Ritenour and Dean Parks on guitar. Though some of the personnel shifts from track to track, it's much more of a "band album" than either of its two Elektra predecessors. The original credits (sadly not reprinted in the new collection) indicated that Sedaka sang his vocals live on every track with the band, and that immediacy is felt throughout.
Sedaka and Greenfield's "Do It Like You Done It When You Meant It" is a close cousin of "You Never Done It Like That" but with an even more aggressive sound courtesy of Kunkel, Hungate, Parks, and Ritenour, with Steve Leshner on percussion, Sedaka on piano, and William D. Smith on Fender Rhodes and synthesizer. Hungate lays down funky bass on the Cody co-write "Junkie for Your Love" (featuring boisterous brass and a sax solo from David Woodford) and the driving Sedaka/Greenfield number "It's Good to Be Alive Again."
Even the lesser moments such as "You'd Better Leave That Girl Alone" (a tongue-in-cheek "list song" of threats including the singer promising to "take your brown eyes and make 'em black and blue" and asserting, "I've got a fist like Sly Stallone") can't be entirely written off thanks to the strong marriage of melody and arrangement. If "You'd Better Leave That Girl Alone" surely wasn't one of Howard Greenfield's finest lyrics, "My Friend" certainly was. The touching ballad, sung by its composer with a tear in his voice, captures the nature of Sedaka and Greenfield's long friendship and collaboration. After Greenfield died of AIDS complications in 1986, just days before his 50th birthday, Sedaka fittingly used the song to anchor a collection of their most enduring songs.
Sedaka introduced a new co-writer on the appealing "You're So Good for Me": none other than Dara, whose duet with her dad on In the Pocket's remake of "Should've Never Let You Go" yielded a top 20 Pop/top 5 AC hit. Sadly, the follow-up single release of "Letting Go" failed to chart despite the song's irresistibly breezy mellow groove and fine Cody lyric. Like "Alone at Last," it's a would-be standard ready for rediscovery. In the Pocket closes with a rare cover version. "What a Difference a Day Makes" was originally penned by Mexican songwriter Maria Grever in Spanish; Stanley Adams penned the familiar English lyric now best associated with Dinah Washington and Esther Phillips. Sedaka's slow-burn version concludes the album on a sweet, understated note.
The artist self-produced and arranged 1981's Now. Save for the energetic opener and single release "Losing You" with lyrics and background vocals by Dara, it was his first album since 1971's Emergence to exclusively feature lyrics by Howard Greenfield. As on In the Pocket, Sedaka would lead from the piano with a core group of musicians: Jeffrey Bova on keyboards, Mark Warner on guitar, Jim Fielder on bass, Jim Varley on drums, and Steve Leshner on percussion. "I Can Dream About You" hitmaker Dan Hartman, a good friend of Sedaka's, engineered the sessions. Though the title was Now, the album reflected the many sides of the artist as heard on his previous Elektra records.
With his first and longest-running collaborator Greenfield on board, perhaps it was no surprise that Sedaka was thinking nostalgically on such tracks as "What Have They Done to My Town" and the country-and-western pastiche "Pictures from the Past" (with a melody evoking Sedaka and Greenfield's "Queen of 1964"). "My World Keeps Slipping Away," the lone single released in the U.S. off Now, also has a loping country sound. The joyful "Love Is Spreading Over the World" dated back more than decade; Perry Como recorded it for an RCA single in 1970 and Michael Allen did the same a year later for Verve. Neil would record a festive update of the tune in 2005 for his yuletide album The Miracle of Christmas.
Blending ballads ("Bring Me Down Slow," "On the Road Again"), fizzy dancers ("Summertime Madness"), and theatrical cabaret ("The Big Parade"), Now closed out Sedaka's Elektra career on a solid note. He would move to MCA for Come See About Me, an album of rock-and-roll covers with Dara, Mary Wilson, and Gary U.S. Bonds all guesting. It still is unavailable on CD or digital formats. Neil and Dara teamed for a full album of new songs in 1986 (The Good Times) and since then, Sedaka has largely concentrated on recording concept albums for his own label including sets dedicated to classical melodies, Yiddish songs, children's music, and Christmas songs. His most recent studio album, I Do It for Applause, was released in 2016. Fans of the Elektra period might also wish to download or stream his 2018 digital-only compilation Sings His Original Country Songs. The collection offers "My World Keeps Slippin' Away," "Letting Go," "Amarillo," "Sleazy Love," and other songs from the Rocket period in a (light) country vein.
Produced for reissue by Robert Cotto, All You Need Is the Music: The Elektra Years (1977-1981) boasts audio newly remastered from the original tapes and is housed in a simple two-pocket digipak. While one wishes full credits and liner notes were included, this package is nonetheless essential for fans of the artist and fills a major gap in his compact disc/digital discography. For Neil (who currently has live dates scheduled into 2023), All You Need Is the Music remains a mantra to live by.
Neil Sedaka, All You Need Is the Music: The Elektra Years (1977-1981) (Neil Sedaka Music, 2023)
A Song (Elektra LP 6E-102, 1977)
- A Song
- You Never Done It Like That
- The Leaving Game
- Alone at Last
- Hollywood Lady
- I've Never Really Been in Love Before
- One Night Stand
- Hot and Sultry Nights
- Sleazy Love
- Tin Pan Alley
- A Song (Reprise)
All You Need Is the Music (Elektra LP 6E-161, 1978)
- All You Need Is the Music
- Candy Kisses
- Should've Never Let You Go
- Sad, Sad Story
- Tillie the Twirler
- Love Keeps Getting Stronger Every Day
- Born to Be Bad
- What a Surprise
- You Can Hear the Love
- City Boy
In the Pocket (Elektra LP 6E-259, 1980)
- Do It Like You Done It
- When You Meant It
- Junkie for Your Love
- Letting Go
- You Better Leave That Girl Alone
- My Friend
- It's Good to Be Alive Again
- Should've Never Let You Go - with Dara Sedaka
- You're So Good for Me
- What a Difference a Day Makes
Now (Elektra LP 6E-348, 1981)
- Losing You
- What Have They Done to My Town
- Since You've Been Gone
- On the Road Again
- Summertime Madness
- My World Keeps Slipping Away
- Love Is Spreading Over the World
- Bring Me Down Slow
- The Big Parade