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The Hungry Years: Neil Sedaka’s “Tra-La Days” and “Overnight Success” Arrive on CD, 10cc and Elton John Guest

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From “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” to “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” Neil Sedaka drew on a seemingly endless well of onomatopoeic hooks to enliven his early rock-and-roll records, leaving no Tra-la-la or do-be-doo untouched.  The Juilliard-trained musician and native of Brooklyn, New York 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 (alongside 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 including Connie Francis, Bobby Darin, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

As an artist, however, Sedaka’s 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 the waning days of the Brill Building scene.  Sedaka found it difficult to compete with the new breed of singer/songwriters, although he had written his own material in tandem with Greenfield since he was a teenager!  Though RCA Victor dumped his recording contract in 1966, he found success in the latter part of the decade supplying songs for The 5th Dimension, The Monkees, Tom Jones, Frankie Valli and others.  Sedaka’s rebirth as a recording artist began with 1971’s Emergence, recorded for Aldon boss Don Kirshner’s own Kirshner Records label. Sedaka followed that with 1972’s Solitaire, teaming with new lyricist Phil Cody and musicians Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, then members of the band Hotlegs and soon to take the pop world by storm as 10cc.  Solitaire was recorded at the band’s own Strawberry Studios, and signaled the beginning of a new phase in Sedaka’s career, with the title track recognized as an instant standard and one of Sedaka’s finest compositions.

That brings us to 1973’s The Tra-La Days Are Over, an album making its long-awaited return via a CD set from BGO, pairing it with 1975’s Overnight Success for release today, April 16.  Like its predecessor Solitaire, The Tra-La Days Are Over didn’t even warrant an American release at the time, but its success in the U.K. was sufficient for Sedaka to stage a comeback in his home country.  This marks a continuation of BGO’s Sedaka series which previously saw Emergence and Solitaire combined as one package.

Hit the jump to explore both of these albums, plus you’ll find a track listing and pre-order link!

Though Sedaka proclaimed that The Tra-La Days Are Over via the album’s title, he hadn’t abandoned his sure sense of a pop melody.  When paired with the more muscular accompaniment provided by the future 10cc members, the singer/pianist’s sound was updated for the 1970s.  He was rewarded with a Top 20 placement for the album and a Top 30 single hit with the up-tempo “Standing on the Inside.”  But that’s hardly the only notable song on Tra-La Days.  It introduced “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which Captain and Tennille would take all the way to the U.S. No. 1 spot in 1975.  The duo even earned a Grammy Award for Record of the Year for the song!  Sedaka looked back at his roots with the nostalgic “Rock and Roll Wedding Day,” and adopted a more reflective tone on “The Other Side of Me.”  The album concluded with the bittersweet “Our Last Song Together,” intended as a valedictory for the team of Sedaka and Greenfield, who had decided to pursue separate paths.

Following The Tra-La Days Are Over, Sedaka split from 10cc and headed to Hollywood for the recording of Laughter in the Rain, the 1974 LP oddly omitted by BGO in this reissue program.  That album featured the smash hit title track which re-established Sedaka’s place in the pop firmament as well as “The Immigrant,” his heartfelt tribute to John Lennon.  It also reached the U.K. Top 20 and attracted the attention of Elton John, then riding the crest of his superstardom.  Late that year, Sedaka inked a deal with John’s Rocket Records label for release of his new music in America.  Sedaka recalled, “The two of us went through the last three albums [Solitaire, The Tra-La Days Are Over and Laughter in the Rain] I’d had, and we collected the best of those to put on Sedaka’s Back,” as the American release was called.  John wrote of the compilation, “This album contains some of [Sedaka’s] best work ever.  Listen to songs like ‘Solitaire’ and ‘Laughter in the Rain’ and then you’ll see what I mean….If you watch the charts in the next few months, you’ll see that even though he’s never been away, Sedaka’s back!”  Elton wasn’t kidding, as “Laughter in the Rain” topped both the Pop and AC charts in America.  “The Immigrant” and “That’s When the Music Takes Me” (the latter from Solitaire) also met with success and hit No. 1 on the AC survey.

Sedaka followed Laughter in the Rain and Sedaka’s Back with the ironically-named Overnight Success in 1975.  Another U.K.-only release, it has never appeared on CD in its original sequence until now.  Overnight Success again had an A-team of musicians on it, including David Foster, Dean Parks, Lee Sklar, Steve Cropper and drummer Nigel Olsson of Elton John’s band.  It boasted another three instant classics.  “Bad Blood,” with Phil Cody’s eyebrow-raising lyrics, teamed Sedaka with an uncredited Elton John and in America became Sedaka’s best-selling single of all time.  The funky pairing of piano men hit No. 1 and went gold.  At the other end of the rock spectrium, a ballad version of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” a U.S. No. 1 in its original version, literally reinvented the song. Sedaka had demo’ed this “slow version” as early as 1968, and Lenny “Since I Fell For You” Welch first recorded it in 1970.  For the new recording, Richard Carpenter supplied the string arrangement!  In addition to topping the U.S. AC chart, it went Top 10 Pop.  The Sedaka/Greenfield ballad “The Hungry Years” wasn’t released as a single but received airplay nonetheless and was performed by singers from Frank Sinatra to Wayne Newton.

Newton’s cover of “The Hungry Years” came in 1976, the same year Captain and Tennille took another Overnight album track, “Lonely Night (Angel Face,” to the top of the chart.  “The Queen of 1964,” another nostalgic track, hit the U.K. Top 40.  All of these hits couldn’t be ignored; in December 1975, Rolling Stone observed that Sedaka’s fans “cheer for more like rock fans at the Roxy” when seeing the revitalized star in concert.  In America, a re-sequenced Overnight Success was released as The Hungry Years, dropping “The Queen of 1964” and “Goodman Goodbye” and adding “Your Favorite Entertainer” and “Tit for Tat.”

The Tra-La Days Are Over/Overnight Success was scheduled to hit stores in the U.K. today from BGO, but it appears that the title may have been delayed until next month.  Amazon U.K. is showing the title as shipping in “1 to 4 weeks” while Amazon U.S. is currently showing a May 22 date, meaning it would arrive abroad approximately one week earlier.  You can pre-order below!

Neil Sedaka, The Tra-La Days Are Over/Overnight Success (BGO CD 1042, 2012)

CD 1: The Tra-La Days Are Over (MGM U.K. LP 2315248, 1973)

  1. Little Brother
  2. Standing On The Inside
  3. Alone In New York In The Rain
  4. Caribbean Rainbow
  5. Let Daddy Know
  6. Suspicions
  7. Love Will Keep Us Together
  8. The Other Side Of Me
  9. Rock And Roll Wedding Day
  10. For Peace And Love
  11. Our Last Song Together

CD 2: Overnight Success (Polydor U.K. LP 2383318, 1975)

  1. Crossroads
  2. Lonely Night (Angel Face)
  3. Stephen
  4. Bad Blood
  5. Goodman Goodbye
  6. Baby Blue
  7. The Queen of 1964
  8. New York City Blues
  9. When You Were Lovin’ Me
  10. The Hungry Years
  11. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Written by Joe Marchese

April 16, 2012 at 16:15

One Response

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  1. Dreadful cover art.

    Zubb

    April 16, 2012 at 20:05


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