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Jul 25, 2017 10:10 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Neil Sedaka Will Sing At Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center On July 30

Jul 25, 2017 11:30 AM

When it comes to popular music, the name Neil Sedaka is synonymous with just one thing—hit records—and it’s been that way for nearly six decades.

“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Calendar Girl,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Laughter in the Rain”—these songs are hallmarks of his extensive catalog, and whether sung by Mr. Sedaka or the likes of Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, The Monkees or Frank Sinatra, many of them were the soundtrack of youth for those who came of age in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

And he’s not done yet—at 78, Mr. Sedaka continues recording, and though he’s cut back on his touring schedule, he’s still an avid performer who loves a live audience.

“I do one show every couple of months—the traveling is difficult,” said Mr. Sedaka in a recent phone interview. “I used to do 50 to 60 concerts a year. But I still love being on the stage. The people have the memories and nostalgia. They remember where they were when they heard the songs. It’s wonderful.”

On Sunday, July 30, East End fans of Mr. Sedaka will be thrilled to know he’ll be singing at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, and he’ll have no shortage of material to choose from that evening.

With more than 600 songs to his credit, the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter came of age as a musician in the 1950s doo-wop era. His first hit came in 1958: “Stupid Cupid,” a song recorded not by Mr. Sedaka but by Connie Francis. The following year, he had his own first top-10 hit, “Oh! Carol,” a song inspired by fellow musician Carole King.

In the years that followed, Mr. Sedaka and lyricist Howard Greenfield built a reputation as a powerhouse songwriting team. They were among the original Brill Building artists in New York (as was Carole King), and throughout the early 1960s the pop hits kept coming—some recorded by other artists, some by Mr. Sedaka himself. Along the way, several of those songs became classics of the era and are now ingrained firmly in the American consciousness.

That’s not to say the music business has always been easy for Mr. Sedaka. As the industry—and public taste—shifted over the years, he had to adapt and reinvent himself more than once to stay at the top of the charts.

When asked to share some of the biggest changes he’s seen in the industry during his tenure, Mr. Sedaka pointed without hesitation to distribution.

“There are no more record stores,” he said. “It’s all internet now—and people buy one song out of an album. I think the record business is over. I think it depends on a couple of young people who are talented and have a young fan base.

“But I still have my fans from 1958,” he added. “They come out to the concerts, and they will buy the new album, which they are excited about.”

Mr. Sedaka’s latest album, “I Do It for Applause,” includes 12 new songs featuring piano and voice and is a follow-up to “The Real Neil,” a collection of new compositions, along with solo reworkings of several of Mr. Sedaka’s classics.

While the arc of his career is marked by one success after another, there was a time when Mr. Sedaka wasn’t so sure about his musical future—and it arrived on the backs of The Beatles, who ushered in the British Invasion in the early 1960s. Suddenly, doo-wop and novelty pop were out, and a new era of rock ’n’ roll was firmly on the horizon—an era that reflected changing social attitudes and placed emphasis on experimentation in the studio and the ability of a new generation of soulful singers and songwriters.

“I was out of work for 13 years, and so I moved to England,” Mr. Sedaka recalled. “I thought, if The Beatles can move to New York, I can move to England. I took my wife and two children and we worked there.”

It was there where Sir Elton John met Mr. Sedaka, telling him, “I’m going to make you famous again.” He did just that—Mr. Sedaka’s monster hit “Laughter in the Rain” was produced by Rocket Records, Elton John’s label, and the song hit number one in the United States in February 1975. It was his first single to top the Hot 100 since 1962.

Mr. Sedaka was back, thanks to Elton John, as well as his own ability to reinvent himself based on what he saw (and heard) happening around him.

“Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, Carole King—whom I dated back in high school—those were the big artists of the day,” he said. “I had to write new, more mature singer-songwriter material. I also had a new lyricist, Phil Cody, who painted beautiful pictures with his lyrics and metaphors.”

And the biggest hit of all was yet to come.

Though first recorded by Mr. Sedaka in 1973, Captain & Tennille’s version of “Love Will Keep Us Together” became a worldwide hit in 1975 and was the best-selling single in the U.S., winning a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

“It’s an interesting song, because I’m inspired listening to others. So I took Diana Ross, the Beach Boys and Al Green, and combined them all in ‘Love Will Keep Us Together,’” said Mr. Sedaka, who does, nonetheless, have one regret about the song: “I made the mistake of not producing ‘Love Will Keep Us Together.’”

While Mr. Sedaka admitted it’s very flattering when someone else covers one of his songs, he added, “I still sing them the best, because they’re all from me.

“I think I’ve been underrated as a singer over the years,” he said. “Some people still think of me as a bubblegum artist from the ’50s.”

But with his latest recordings, it’s fair to say that Mr. Sedaka has probably changed a lot of minds. Recently, he has even been exploring classical music in his work. “I Do it For Applause” contains a 13-minute bonus track called “Joie De Vivre,” Mr. Sedaka’s first symphony, while his CD “The Real Neil” includes “Manhattan Intermezzo,” a piano concerto recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Both pieces reflect Mr. Sedaka’s earliest musical influences as a classically trained pianist.

“I went back to my roots. I was a Juilliard student at the piano, with every intention to become a concert pianist,” he said. “I’ve gone full circle, and now I’m writing more classical music, and I’m very excited with it.”

While the majority of Mr. Sedaka’s audience is composed of older fans who grew up listening to his early hits, he has found that a surprising number of younger people are familiar with his work from YouTube, and among his recordings is one from 2009 that was designed for the younger set—very young.

“Waking Up Is Hard To Do” is a collection of 11 songs reworked from Mr. Sedaka’s back catalog, with songs like “Dinosaur Pet” (set to the tune of “Calendar Girl”) and “Lunch Will Keep Us Together.” On several tracks, little ones sing along.

As a result, the fan emails and videos are rolling in—from the next generation who are lovers of Mr. Sedaka’s music.

Given where he’s been and where he appears to be headed, musically speaking, even at the age of 78, Neil Sedaka still has what it takes.

“I’m the rock-and-roll survivor,” Mr. Sedaka said. “Billy Joel told me, ‘You’re the Davy Crockett of rock and roll.’

“You never lose that excitement. Once you get a taste of having that number-one record and appearing in front of thousands of people, you never get over it.”

Neil Sedaka will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Sunday, July 30, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $165 to $225. For more information, visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.

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