Born in Brooklyn, New York, Neil Sedaka showed musical aptitude at a very young age. When his second-grade choral class teacher sent a note home suggesting he take piano lessons, his mother took a part-time job in a department store for six months to pay for a second-hand upright piano. He took to the instrument immediately.
In 1947, when he was 8, 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 songs together.
After graduating from Lincoln High School, Sedaka and some of his classmates formed a band called The Tokens. The band had minor regional hits before Sedaka went out on his own in 1957. (In 1961, The Tokens would hit #1 on the Billboard pop charts with the international smash "The Lion Sleeps Tonight.")
Sedaka kept churning out new hits from 1960 to 1962. The best known are "Stairway to Heaven," "Calendar Girl," "Little Devil," "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen," and his signature song, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" and "Next Door to an Angel." He also had modest successes with "You Mean Everything to Me," "Run Samson Run," "Sweet Little You," and "King of Clowns." RCA issued four LPs in the U.S. and Britain of his works during this period.
When Sedaka wasn't recording his own songs, he and Howard Greenfield were writing for other performers, including Connie Francis. As Francis explains at her concerts, she began searching for a new hit after her 1958 single "Who's Sorry Now?" Sedaka suggested to Greenfield a song they had written that morning for a girl group. Greenfield protested, but Sedaka insisted on playing "Stupid Cupid." Francis told them they had just played her new hit. Francis' song reached #14 on the Billboard charts.
While Francis was writing in 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 the theme to the film "Where the Boys Are," in which she starred.
Sedaka and Greenfield also wrote some of Jimmy Clanton's hits, such as "Another Sleepless Night," "What Am I Gonna Do," and "All The Words In The World." Sedaka also recorded each of these three songs himself.
The British Invasion of 1964 eroded Sedaka's career further, and from then until 1966, only three of his singles made it into the Hot 100: "Sunny," "The World through a Tear" and "The Answer to My Prayer." When RCA rejected his demo recording of "It Hurts to Be in Love," Gene Pitney took the song and, by merely removing Sedaka's lead vocals and inserting Pitney's, note-for-note and with full orchestration intact, made into a #7 hit for himself and his Musicor label. RCA Victor chose not to renew Sedaka's contract when it expired at the end of 1966, leaving him without a record label.
Although Sedaka's stature as a recording artist was at a low ebb in the late 1960s, he was able to maintain his career through songwriting. 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 Top 20 pop hit for The 5th Dimension in 1969. Also, "Make the Music Play" was included on Frankie Valli's charting album Timeless.
In the early 1970s Sedaka's song "Solitaire" was successfully covered by Andy Williams and The Carpenters. his own performance on "Beautiful You," charted in the U.S., Sedaka's first US chart appearance in ten years.
Sedaka then worked with Elton John, who signed Sedaka to John's Rocket Records label. Eventually Sedaka found himself once again topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts with "Laughter in the Rain" in early 1975, and then later again that year with "Bad Blood." Another well-known song from this period was "The Immigrant,"a wistful, nostalgic piece dedicated to John Lennon.
A third Billboard Top 25 hit from his album Sedaka's Back was the uptempo "That's When the Music Takes Me," which has been Sedaka's standard curtain-call concert closer.
Also, Sedaka and Greenfield co-wrote "Love Will Keep Us Together," a No. 1 hit for The Captain & Tennille and the biggest hit record in 1975.
Today, Sedaka continues to release recordings. His three most recent U.S. releases — The Definitive Collection, Waking Up Is Hard to Do, and The Music of My Life, all appeared on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart, in May 2007, May 2009, and February 2010, respectively.
The Definitive Collection reached the Top 25 of the albums chart, one of the highest-charting albums of his entire career. It is a life-spanning compilation of his hits, along with previously unreleased material and outtakes.
Waking Up is a children's album, inspired by his three grandchildren, in which he takes his best-known songs and changes the lyrics to youngsters and elders alike.
His 2010 album Music of My Life is a release of all new songs.