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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 13, 1939

I think that the Tuesday Timeline is becoming one of my favourite days to write this blog, mostly because depending on the day, I can find out some interesting information about a lot of different topics that I may not have known before.

We’ll get to the main subject of today’s flashback through time in just a minute, but since today is the thirteenth of March, I thought that I would take a look back on significant events that happened on this date years, decades, even centuries ago.

So, on this date during each of the following years...

1639 – Harvard College is named after clergyman John Howard

1781 – Astronomer William Herschel discovers the planet Uranus

1881 – Alexander II of Russia is killed when a bomb launched near his palace detonates

1897 – San Diego State University is founded

1921 – Mongolia declares independence from China

1925 – Tennessee law prohibits teaching of evolution in wake of Scopes trial

1938 – World News Roundup is presented for the first time on CBS Radio

1964 – Kitty Genovese is murdered in New York City in front of neighbours who reportedly did nothing to stop it, prompting research into the bystander effect

1988 – The Seiken Tunnel, the largest undersea tunnel in the world, is opened in Japan

1996 – A school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland leaves a teacher and sixteen children dead

2008 – The price of gold on the New York Mercantile Exchange reaches a value of $1,000 an ounce, the first time in its history

So, those are the events that happened on March 13th.  Some were happy memories, while others were quite tragic.  But, none of those entries are the subject for today.

We’re also not going to feature anybody who has died on this date, although we have had a few famous faces who took their final breath on the thirteenth of March.  Amongst some are American president Benjamin Harrison (1901), Clarence Darrow (1938), Maureen Stapleton and Peter Tomarken (both 2006).

So, by process of elimination, it’s become apparent that the subject of today’s blog happens to have a March 13th birthdate.  And, this is very much true.

Unfortunately, I only have time to talk about one famous face.  So if your name happens to be William H. Macy, Dana Delany, Kathy Hilton, Adam Clayton, Annabeth Gish, Common, Danny Masterson, Toccara Jones, or Emile Hirsch, I am sorry to say that you are not the subject of this blog entry.  I would however like to wish all of you a happy birthday, as well as everyone else in the world celebrating a birthday today.

So, what’s the date that we’ll be looking back on?

March 13, 1939.

It was on this date seventy-three years ago today that a singer was born in Brooklyn, New York.  And, the accomplishments of this singer are nothing short of extraordinary.  His singing career has spanned SEVEN decades now, and at the age of 73, he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.  He formed his first band when he was a teenager, had his first song published at the age of sixteen, recorded many of his hits in no less than six different languages, wrote songs for several artists, and has had a total of eight Top 10 hits, three of which hit #1.  In fact, if you watch the video below, you can hear one of his #1 songs below.

ARTIST:  Neil Sedaka
SONG:  Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
ALBUM:  Neil Sedaka Sings His Greatest Hits
DATE RELEASED:  June 30, 1962

The song above is the 1962 classic “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”, the first #1 hit for singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka.

Neil Sedaka also happens to be the subject for the Tuesday Timeline this week.

Born in Brooklyn on March 13, 1939, Neil Sedaka knew at an early age that he wanted to have a life that was surrounded with music.  When Neil was in the second grade, his performance in his choral class impressed his teacher so much, she recommended to his parents that Neil take up piano lessons.  Neil’s mother took a part-time job at a department store for six months to be able to buy Neil a second-hand piano for him to play on.  In 1947, when Neil was just eight years old, he successfully auditioned for a piano scholarship to the Julliard School of Music’s Prepatory Division for Children, of which Neil attended on weekends.  Though his parents were proud of Neil’s accomplishments and talents with the piano, their interests greatly differed.  His mother would have loved nothing more than to see her son make a living as a classical pianist, but unfortunately for her, Neil was more interested in the pop music scene, and opted to follow that path.

In 1952, when Neil was thirteen, he befriended a young man three years older than him named Howard Greenfield, who aspired to make a career in either poetry or writing song lyrics.  With Neil’s natural talent in playing music, and Greenfield’s natural ability to create song lyrics, it wasn’t long before their friendship turned into a business partnership.

When Sedaka graduated from high school, he formed a band with some of his classmates, a group known as “The Tokens”.  The band had some minor hits, but ironically enough, it wasn’t until Sedaka ventured out on a solo career in the late 1950s that the band would have their first mainstream success with a #1 hit titled “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  But that was fine, as Sedaka would have his own success in music.

It just took Neil some time for his name to get out there.

His first three singles were released between 1958 and 1959, and all three singles didn’t make much of an impression on the charts, although his single “Ring-A-Rockin’” did make enough of an impression for Dick Clark to invite him onto his show, “American Bandstand”.  His early singles also attracted the attention of record label RCA Victor, who immediately signed Sedaka to a recording contract.

It was also around this time that Sedaka, along with Howard Greenfield, began writing songs for other artists at the time.  One of these artists was singer Connie Francis (whose song “Where The Boys Are” was written by Sedaka and Greenfield).  One day, Neil Sedaka spotted Connie’s diary lying out in the open during a session of brainstorming for a new song.  He asked Connie if he could look at it (whether it was for ideas or whether he just wanted to be nosy though was not made clear).  Connie refused to let Neil anywhere near the diary.  I can see her point.  Would YOU want some strange young man reading your private thoughts?  And, no, your Facebook status updates don’t count!

However, this incident inspired Neil to write a song entitled “The Diary”, which would eventually become his first single for RCA.  And, to Neil’s surprise, the song did modestly well on the charts, peaking at #14.  But after his next two singles barely made an impact on the charts, Sedaka decided to buy a whole bunch of records containing the top hits on the charts and figured out that each of the songs followed a specific formula.  So for his next release, he decided to try and emulate the formula as best he could, and it ended up being successful.  The next release from Sedaka, “Oh, Carol!” became Sedaka’s first American Top 10 hit, peaking at #9.  In Italy, the song did even better, landing on the top of the charts.

TRIVIA:  The song “Oh, Carol!” was written for Neil’s girlfriend at the time.  Singer/songwriter Carole King.

By the early 1960s, Neil Sedaka was on a roll.  He released several singles between 1960 and 1963.  “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”, as mentioned before, was Sedaka’s first #1 hit.  But other songs did quite well.  “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” peaked at #6 on the charts.  “Next Door To An Angel” made it to #5 in 1962.  And, “Calendar Girl” also became a Top 5 smash, peaking at #4 in 1961.  “Calendar Girl” was also a notable song because it was one of the earliest songs with an accompanying music video (though back in those days, they were known as ‘Scopitones’ or ‘Cinebox’).  Below is the Scopitone of “Calendar Girl”.

I know what you’re thinking...quite scary upon retrospect, no?  But, again, it was the early 1960s.

But by 1964, Sedaka’s popularity seemed to waver, at least in the United States.  In other parts of the world, Sedaka was still considered to be an icon of sorts.  In particular, Sedaka really had a number of fans in Italy.  Sedaka was so impressed by the loyalty of his Italian fans that he re-recorded some of his biggest hits in Italian.  And, that wasn’t the only language he recorded songs in.  Aside from English and Italian, Sedaka also managed to record songs in Spanish, Japanese, German, and Hebrew (Sedaka was born with a Jewish background). 

However, with the arrival of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones onto the music scene, Sedaka found it quite difficult to compete.  He still recorded albums and singles throughout the 1960s, but he failed to make as huge of an impact as he once had just a few years earlier.  And, Sedaka’s record company also seemed to lose faith in him, actually refusing to release his single “It Hurts To Be In Love” because he didn’t record it in their studios.  The song was offered to singer Gene Pitney.

So, throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Sedaka was more or less ignored on the pop least as a singer.  He did, however, make an impact as a songwriter.  The Monkees ended up recording a couple of songs he had wrote, and Sedaka also wrote hits for The Cyrkle, Patti Drew, and The 5th Dimension.  I should also note that while his success in America was at an all-time low, Sedaka was still widely popular in the United Kingdom, and Australia.

But then a funny thing happened.  At some point during the 1970s, Neil Sedaka’s popularity got a second wind.

It all began around 1972 when Sedaka began touring with a band (who would come to be known as 10cc), and during this time, recorded the album “Solitaire”.  Solitaire was a modest hit, and the album spawned the modest hit “Beautiful You”, which charted in America, the first time in ten years that Neil had a song chart on the Billboard Charts.  It should also be noted that while Sedaka's version of the title track from “Solitaire” did not chart, it was covered by Andy Williams who did have a hit with the song.

Two years later, Sedaka would sign a contract with Rocket Records, a record label started up by Elton John in 1972.  Immediately upon signing the contract, Sedaka released an album in the United States under the title “Sedaka’s Back”.  The album was actually a compilation of the various albums he had released in the United Kingdom.  And, the first single release from the album helped Sedaka get his second #1 hit thirteen years after his first.

“Laughter In The Rain” peaked at #1 in early 1975, and the single was highly regarded as a comeback single for Sedaka.  During the mid-1970s, Sedaka would have a creative renaissance of sorts.  His 1975 single “The Immigrant” was critically praised.  A 1975 remake of his classic song “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was also a chart-topper (making Sedaka one of the few artists to have the same song hit #1 twice), and in 1976, he had another #1 single with “Bad Blood” (which had Elton John providing background vocals).  And, many artists also found success with Sedaka’s songs, as both Elvis Presley and The Carpenters found success with their own versions of Sedaka’s “Solitaire”.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Sedaka’s second chance was winding down, and his chart success soon faded once more.  His last Top 20 hit was in 1980, a duet he recorded with his daughter titled “Should’ve Never Let You Go”.  By 1985, Sedaka was once again without a recording contract.  In 1986, his longtime friend and collaborator, Howard Greenfield, passed away, just days before his 50th birthday. 

But Neil Sedaka is still a huge force in the world of music.  With Sedaka turning 73 today, he shows no sign of slowing down.  He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1983, was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2006.  As of this writing, the only honour Sedaka has yet to achieve is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, though thousands of fans have reportedly launched a campaign to see that he gets recognized with the honour before long.

And, I think ultimately that is what keeps Sedaka in the spotlight.  The fans.

And, Sedaka seems to still be with it when it comes to making appearances to keep his name fresh on people’s minds.  In 2003, he made an appearance on “American Idol” as the guest judge and mentor to the final five contestants of Season 2.  Sedaka was particularly impressed by contestants Kimberley Locke (who sang the Connie Francis song “Where The Boys Are”), and Clay Aiken’s performance of “Solitaire”.  Aiken’s performance reportedly was so well done that a visibly moved Sedaka passed ownership of the song to Aiken, even offering to record the single should Clay not win the competition!

So, Clay recorded the song “Solitaire”, and it became the top-selling single of 2004!  So, not only was Clay Aiken getting huge success, but so was Neil Sedaka.

And Neil Sedaka’s latest recordings were a couple of duets with singer Jim Van Slyke in August 2011, which means that Neil Sedaka’s career has spanned the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.  That’s SEVEN decades!

Really, when looking back on March 13th, Neil Sedaka was the perfect choice for a subject.  He really shows all of us that we can all have any age, and we can also have a second chance, a third chance, even a fourth chance, to become relevant and respected.

That’s our look back on March 13, 1939.  I hope you enjoyed the trip!


  1. Neil Sedaka is a huge talent and has provided the world with a body of music the is testiment to his amazing creative energy. Sedaka's back got my attention mid seventies, my San Francisco years. Saw him on tour around 1975 and I was blown away by his upbeat energy, great music, and charming manner. I have many, many favorites of his, but my favorite being his upbeat "Standing on the Inside." The man is a winner at his game on many levels and I hope he gets his entry into Rock and Roll Musics Hall of Fame. Thank you, Mr. Sedaka.

  2. hi am a big fan of neil sedaka and wanna know if you have this lp i like to have it as mp3 could you upload it here with the mp3 and photoas of the lp marco