An American pop singer, pianist, and songwriter, he is often associated with the Brill Building. His career has spanned over 50 years, during which time he has written many songs for himself and others, often working with lyricists Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody. He demonstrated musical aptitude in his second-grade choral class, and when his teacher sent a note home suggesting he take piano lessons, his mother took a part-time job in an Abraham & Straus department store for six months to pay for a second-hand upright. He took to the instrument immediately. In 1947, he auditioned successfully for a piano scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music's Preparatory Division for Children, which he attended on Saturdays. He also maintained an interest in popular music, and when he was 13, a neighbor heard him playing and introduced him to her 16-year-old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring poet and lyricist. The two began writing together.
A similar sharing came earlier with Sedaka and singer Connie Francis. As Francis explains at her concerts, she began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single "Who's Sorry Now?". She was introduced to Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written for her. Francis began writing her diary while the two played the last of their songs. After they finished, Francis told them they wrote beautiful ballads but that they were too intellectual for the young generation. Greenfield suggested to Sedaka a song they had written that morning for a girl group. Sedaka protested, believing Francis would be insulted, but agreed to play "Stupid Cupid". Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis' song reached #14 on the Billboard charts. While Francis was writing her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused, Sedaka was inspired to write "The Diary", his first hit single. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis' hits such as "Fallin" and "Where the Boys Are".
Between 1960 and 1962, Sedaka had eight Top 40 hits, but he was one of many American performers of the era whose popularity was decimated by the British Invasion and other changes. His commercial success declined rapidly after 1964: he scored only two minor hits in 1965; none of his 1966 singles charted; and when his RCA contract ended in 1967, it was not renewed, and he was left without a record label. Although Sedaka's stature as a recording artist was at a low ebb in the late sixties, he was able to maintain his career through songwriting. Thanks to the fact that his publisher, Aldon Music, was acquired by Screen Gems, two of his songs were recorded by The Monkees, and other hits in this period written by Sedaka included The Cyrkle's version of "We Had a Good Thing Goin" and "Workin' on a Groovy Thing", a Top 40 R&B hit for Patti Drew in 1968 and a US Top 20 hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969. Also, "Make the Music Play" was included on Frankie Valli's charting album Timeless.
Sedaka revived his solo career in the early 1970s. Despite his waning chart appeal in the USA in the late sixties, he remained very popular as a concert attraction, notably in the UK and Australia. He made several trips to Australia to play cabaret dates, and his commercial comeback began when the single "Star Crossed Lovers" became a major hit there. The song went to #5 nationally in April 1969 -- giving Sedaka his first charting single in four years and it also came in at #5 in Go-Set magazine's list of the Top 40 Australian singles of 1969. Later that year, with the support of Festival Records, he recorded a new LP of original material entitled Workin' On A Groovy Thing at Festival Studios in Sydney. It was co-produced by Festival staff producer Pat Aulton, with arrangements by John Farrar (who later achieved international fame for his work with Olivia Newton-John) and backing by Australian session musicians including guitarist Jimmy Doyle (Ayers Rock) and noted jazz musician-composer John Sangster. The single lifted from the album, "Wheeling West Virginia", reached #20 down in Australia in early 1970. The LP is also notable because it was Sedaka's first album to include collaborations with writers other than longtime lyricist Howard Greenfield -- the title track featured lyrics by Roger Atkins and four other songs were co-written with Carole Bayer Sager, who subsequently embarked on a successful collaboration with expatriate Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen.
In 1972 Sedaka embarked on a successful English tour and in June recorded the Solitaire album in England. As well as the title track, which was successfully covered by Andy Williams and The Carpenters, it included two UK Top 40 singles, including "Beautiful You" which also charted in America, Sedaka's first US hit in ten years. A year later he reconvened with the Strawberry team to record The Tra-La Days Are Over, which started the second phase of his career and included his original version of the hit song "Love Will Keep Us Together" (a US #1 hit two years later for Captain & Tennille ). Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote "Love Will Keep Us Together", a No. 1 hit for Captain and Tennille and the best-selling record of 1975. The song says "Sedaka is back" in the coda; Toni Tennille sang this in an ad lib while laying down background vocals.This album also marked the effective end of his writing partnership with Greenfield, commemorated by the track "Our Last Song Together".
He then worked with Elton John, who signed him to his Rocket Records label. Sedaka returned with a flourish, topping the charts twice with "Laughter in the Rain" and "Bad Blood" (both 1975). John provided backing vocals for the latter song. The flipside of "Laughter in the Rain" was "The Immigrant" (US pop #22, US AC #1), a wistful, nostalgic piece dedicated to John Lennon, which recalled the by-gone era when America was welcoming of immigrants, in contrast to the U.S. government's then-refusal to grant Lennon permanent resident status.
Sedaka was also the opening act for the The Carpenters. According to The Carpenters: The Untold Story by Ray Coleman, Richard Carpenter fired Sedaka, which resulted in a media backlash against The Carpenters after Sedaka announced he was off the tour. This was before, however, Karen and Richard recorded Sedaka's "Solitaire" which became a Top 20 hit for the duo. Richard Carpenter denied that he had fired Sedaka for stealing their show, saying they were proud of his new success. Incidentally, then or now, no one sings the song like the writer himself! "Solitaire" would find success again in the 21st century, when American Idol finalist Clay Aiken sang the song when Sedaka appeared as a judge in the second season, won by Ruben Studdard. The "guest judge" has since been eliminated. Aiken explained that the song was his mother's favorite and that she begged him to sing it when she learned that Sedaka would be on the show. After he was awarded a recording contract, he added "Solitaire" as the B-side to his single "The Way," whose sales were faltering. When "Solitaire" moved to the A-side, radio and record sales responded and the single hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart, one of the biggest hits of 2004. Sedaka was invited back to American Idol to celebrate its success and could be seen in the audience several times.
Sedaka is also composer of "Is This The Way to Amarillo", a song he wrote for Britain's Tony Christie. It reached #18 on the UK charts in 1971, but #1 when reissued in 2005, thanks to a video starring comedian Peter Kay. Sedaka recorded the song in 1977, when it became a #44 hit. On April 7, 2006, during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Sedaka was presented with an award from the Guinness World Records: British Hit Singles and Albums as writer of the best-selling single of the 21st century so far, "Amarillo".
Sedaka continues to perform, often on a hectic basis (check out his current tour schedule in the US and overseas on his website.) He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in October 2006. A concert performance on 26 October 2007 at the Lincoln Center in New York City honored the 50th anniversary of Sedaka's debut in show business. Guests included Captain and Tennille, Natalie Cole, Connie Francis, and Clay Aiken. During his 2008 Australian tour, Sedaka premiered a new classical orchestral composition entitled "Joie de Vivre". Sedaka also toured the Philippines for his May 17, 2008 concert at the Araneta Coliseum. In many of his current concerts, he highlights his vocal and piano skills as he features songs from various classical pieces, such as "nessun dorma".
Attending a current Sedaka concert is an amazing experience. The man is, was, and will continue to be nothing less than a phenomenon, very much a legend in his own time.