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Where The Hits Are: Sedaka and Greenfield Profiled in “Songwriters” Series

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Doo doo doo down doo be do down down/Come a come a down doo be do down down…

One year before “Da Doo Ron Ron,” eleven before “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” and eighteen before “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield taught the world that “Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do” with their immortal wordless refrain.  Sedaka went on to become the king of the “Tra-la-las” and “shoo-be-doos” with his early rock-and-roll records, and the Juilliard-trained musician was one of the relatively rare few rockers of his generation equally adept at both performing and songwriting.  As active members of Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music stable (which could also claim Carole King and Gerry Goffin as well as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil!), Sedaka and his frequent lyricist Howard Greenfield turned out one tune after another for a great number of famous artists.  Following in the footsteps of its compilations devoted to other Brill Building greats like Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Goffin and King and Mann and Weil, Ace devotes the latest installment of its Songwriters and Producers series to the team of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield.  Where the Boys Are will be available on September 6 in the U.K. and features 25 tracks, 17 of which were written by the team and a further eight penned by one member with an outside collaborator.

Where the Boys Are spans a remarkably prolific 15-year period from 1956 until 1971, at which time Sedaka began in earnest to rekindle his solo career.  (1974’s Sedaka’s Back sealed the deal.)  His last hit in the U.S. had come in 1965, and he’d tried to make it over the next few years almost exclusively as a songwriter in an era when the Brill Building was waning and singer/songwriters were becoming the norm.  (It was lost on many that Sedaka had been writing his own material since he was a teenager.)  He had a great amount of success even after RCA Victor dumped his recording contract in 1966, and his songs, with and without Greenfield, were recorded by The Monkees, The 5th Dimension, The Cyrkle, Frankie Valli and more.  Ace’s, well, ace producers Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce tell that story from its very beginning.

Hit the jump for a look into the Brill Building hits of Sedaka and Greenfield!

Neil Sedaka was a founding member of The Tokens, and though that group didn’t scale the heights until the next decade sans Sedaka, their 1956 recording of Sedaka and Greenfield’s “While I Dream” on the small Melba label was their first recorded song.  You’ll find it here, of course.  The team’s breakthrough – and indeed, one of the records on which the Aldon empire was born – was 1958’s “Stupid Cupid” recorded on MGM for Connie Francis.  The starlet was smitten with Sedaka and Greenfield’s music, and indeed, took them to even greater heights with 1961’s “Where the Boys Are,” although Sedaka had successfully launched his own recording career by that point.  Both of those Francis stunners are present.

A couple of very familiar songs can be heard in less well-known versions.  Dee Dee Sharp cut a gender-reversed rendition of “Calendar Girl” as “Calendar Boy” for Philadelphia’s Cameo Parkway label, and Carole King’s “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” will undoubtedly be a treat for those unfamiliar with her very early period as a girl group-style singer.  (Carole was, of course, the subject of Sedaka’s hit “Oh! Carol!” which she answered with her own “Oh! Neil!,” but neither song is included here.)  The Aldon songwriters occasionally changed partners, and King is also represented by the Everly Brothers’ hit version of “Crying in the Rain,” which she co-wrote with Greenfield.  The partnership of Greenfield and Helen Miller is aired via three songs including The Cookies’ take on The Shirelles’ “Foolish Little Girl” and Gene Pitney’s iconic “It Hurts to Be in Love.”  That was almost a hit for Sedaka, and you can expect Patrick and Rounce’s liner notes to recount that entire saga.  Greenfield also “moonlighted” with Jack Keller, and the team provided the theme to the magical comedy Bewitched, heard in a saucy version by Miss Peggy Lee.  Minus Greenfield, Sedaka is joined by lyricist Roger Atkins (The Animals’ “It’s My Life”) for Patti Drew’s “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing” and Carole Bayer (later Sager) for jazz chanteuse Nancy Wilson’s “Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder.”

True to the style of past Songwriters and Producers volumes, Ace isn’t attempting to include the definitive hit versions of every song, or even include every hit by the team.  (Such an effort would be near-impossible, especially when taking into account Sedaka’s own recordings of the duo’s material.)  So while “Love Will Keep Us Together” isn’t present, many of the team’s greatest known compositions are indeed heard. The diversity of genres might be surprising to those only acquainted with Sedaka’s pop sound; he and Greenfield were equally at home with rockabilly (Wanda Jackson), doo wop (Little Anthony and the Imperials), soul and R&B (Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter, Dionne Warwick) .  Neil can be heard on the album’s closing cut, the hidden gem “You’re Knockin’ Me Out” from his debut RCA Victor LP.

Where the Boys Are: The Songs of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield comes with a typically lavish booklet containing period photographs and illustrations, a detailed essay and track-by-track notes based on an exclusive interview with Sedaka himself.  The boys’ other collaborators, from Roger Atkins to Helen Miller, are spotlighted in mini-biographies throughout the booklet.  It’s available September 6 in the U.K. and will be available within a couple of weeks after on our shores.

Various Artists, Where The Boys Are: The Songs of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield (Ace, 2011)

  1. Stupid Cupid – Connie Francis (MGM single K-12683, 1958)
  2. Keep A Walkin’ – Bobby Darin (For Teenagers Only, Atco LP 1001, 1960)
  3. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – Carole King (The Dimension Dolls Volume 1, Dimension LP 6001, 1963)
  4. Another Sleepless Night – Jimmy Clanton (Ace single 585, 1960)
  5. Fallin’ – Wanda Jackson (There’s a Party Goin’ On, Capitol LP 1511, 1961)
  6. Calendar Boy – Dee Dee Sharp (Down Memory Lane, Cameo Parkway C 1074, 1963)
  7. Ooh-Sha-Lala – Mickey & Kitty (Atlantic single 2024, 1959)
  8. Crying In The Rain (King/Greenfield) – The Everly Brothers (Warner Bros. single 5250, 1961)
  9. The Diary – Little Anthony & The Imperials (End single 1038, 1959)
  10. I Waited Too Long – Lavern Baker (Atlantic single 2021, 1959)
  11. Get Rid Of Him (Miller/Greenfield) – Dionne Warwick (Make Way for Dionne Warwick, Scepter LP SPS-523, 1964)
  12. Since You’ve Been Gone – Clyde McPhatter (Atlantic single 2028, 1959)
  13. Where The Boys Are – Connie Francis (MGM single  K 12971, 1961)
  14. Foolish Little Girl (Miller/Greenfield) – The Cookies (The Dimension Dolls Volume 1, Dimension LP 6001, 1963)
  15. Bewitched (Keller/Greenfield) – Peggy Lee (Pass Me By, Capitol LP ST-2320, 1965)
  16. Magic Colors – Lesley Gore (Mercury single 72759, 1967)
  17. Walking In The Footsteps Of A Fool (Keller/Greenfield) – Ben E. King (Atco single 6237, 1962)
  18. It Hurts To Be In Love (Miller/Greenfield) – Gene Pitney (Musicor single 1040, 1964)
  19. Puppet Man – Tom Jones (Parrot single 40062, 1971)
  20. Workin’ On A Groovy Thing (Sedaka/Atkins) – Patti Drew (Capitol single 2197, 1968)
  21. Don’t Look Over Your Shoulder (Sedaka/Bayer) – Nancy Wilson (Capitol single 5935, 1967)
  22. The Girl I Left Behind Me – The Monkees (Instant Replay, Colgems LP COS-113, 1969)
  23. Rainy Day Bells – The Globetrotters (Kirshner single 63-5008, 1970)
  24. While I Dream – The Tokens (Melba single 104, 1956)
  25. You’re Knockin’ Me Out – Neil Sedaka (Neil Sedaka, RCA Victor LP LPM-2035, 1959)

Written by Joe Marchese

July 29, 2011 at 09:18

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