Infatuated With A Friend

Neil Sedaka co-wrote the 1958 song ‘Oh! Carol’ for the songwriter Carole King as a lament that they never became closer. She was born Carol Joan Klein and she was three years younger than Neil.  They both lived in Brooklyn and she went to James Madison High School while Neil went to Abraham Lincoln High.  Carole first came into Neil Sedaka’s life when he was a member of the Linc-Tones, a Doo-Wop group that Sedaka put together while he was in high school and while rock and roll was in its infancy.  Neil wrote a song ‘Mr. Moon’ and he sang it in the Lincoln High School auditorium, where the audience went wild.  It was a huge turning point for Neil, as all of a sudden he was popular.  His triumph was short-lived as the school principal told Neil that he could not play that outrageous song in the second show, because of the reaction it got from the students.  The principal’s decision did not sit well with the student body, as they all liked rock and roll, so they signed a petition that insisted Neil be able to play ‘Mr. Moon’ again.

In 1955, now that he was a big shot, Neil had the confidence to start his own group.  Neil Sedaka was sitting in his math class at Lincoln High School when he heard Jay Siegel singing Falsetto.  Neil and Jay decided to form a group and they recruited three members of Mrs. Eisen’s Chorus those being Hank Medress, Cynthia Zolotin and Eddie Rabkin.  They became the Linc-Tones, and they practiced after school.  Neil played the old upright piano and Cynthia had a great voice.  The Linc-Tones were unique as most of the other singing groups around at the time, were not doing their own originals.  The Linc-Tones played a few gigs singing at high school dances and they even appeared on the local television show Dance Time to perform a few of Neil’s original songs that he wrote with his friend Howie Greenfield.

Neil and his Linc-Tones made a new friend, Carol Klein, who went to nearby Madison High School.  Neil, Howie, Jay and Hank would go to Carole’s house sometimes alter school and rehearse in her basement.  The fifteen-year-old Carole taught them very sophisticated harmonies.  She’d teach them one part at a time, and then they’d put it all together.  Her musical skills were much more advanced than most of theirs, and she was a great piano player.  Neil was not easily impressed, but he was with Carole.  Carole lived in Gravesend, Brooklyn which was a fifteen minute bus ride away from where the Linc-Tones lived in Brighton Beach.  The distance never bothered Neil, and from time to time, he and Carole would meet on the street corners and at the beach to sing the hits of the day or sharing a pie at Andrea’s Pizza Parlor.  While they did become close friends for a while, it is unlikely that they actually dated as Neil has suggested.  Carole actually said that she never liked Neil.

Howard Greenfield lived next-door to Neil and one day when Howard’s mother overheard 13 year old Neil playing the piano, she introduced her son 16 year old to him.  Neil wrote the music, Howard the lyrics and the two of them continued to write songs together until Howard died in 1986.  At first, Howie and Neil wrote songs that sounded like Gershwin and Irving Berlin, but after hearing ‘Earth Angel’ by The Penguins, they both started exploring rock‘n’roll songs, as that made them look cool and playing Bach was never popular.

After singing at local functions, they got an audition with a music publisher in Manhattan at the famed Brill Building.  This, in turn, led to an audition with the head of a small label, Melba Records owned by Morey Croft.  They had heard Neil’s group sing on the local TV show Startime and wanted them to record three of Neil and Howie’s songs, but the manager, a guy named Happy Goday, insisted that they change their name from the Linc-Tones to the Tokens, which they did.  They recorded a few songs that got some local air play, but everything failed to chart nationally.  The disillusioned group broke up only to re-emerge years later with the hit ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.

In the meanwhile, Neil and Howie continued writing their songs.  One day Sedaka heard that the Clovers, who had that big hit ‘Love Potion No. 9’ were going to be at Atlantic Records.  Neil and Howie took the A train into Manhattan to go there and try to peddle some of their songs.  They met Jerry Wexler who listened to what they wrote.  The connection that they made with Wexler that day yielded Neil and Howie’s first sales to a major label.  Wexler bought some of their rhythm and blues numbers for Clyde McPhatter ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, Laverne Baker ‘I Waited Too Long’, the Clovers ‘Bring Me Love’, the Cookies ‘Passing Time’ and the Cardinals ‘The End Of The Story’.  At the Brill Building, they met Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus, who steered them to another office in another music business center known as 1650 Broadway, where a new publishing company was just being formed by the veteran music man, Al Nevins, and his younger partner, Don Kirshner.

Aldon Music was the flagship company of Brill Building pop music, but it was actually located across the street at 1650 Broadway.  The Aldon publishing offices employed a stable of talented songwriting teams including Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Carole King and Jerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.  At the height of Aldon’s productivity, 18 writers were on the staff, which included the likes of Neil Diamond and Jack Keller.  Collectively, this one-of-a-kind talent factory was the soundtrack for much of the late 1950s through the late 1960s.  Sedaka and Greenfield were one of the first to sign with Don Kirshner and Al Nevins at Aldon Music.

Aldon Music sought to meet two crucial market demands that emerged in the late 1950s.  First, to make rock music fit into the long-established Tin Pan Alley mode of music-selling, where the established music industry was represented by such record labels as Columbia, RCA, Capitol, and others, and secondly to satisfy the need for quality songs that could become hits for their many recording stars.  Record producer Steve Sholes contracted Sedaka for RCA, and RCA quickly issued his first formal solo single, the Sedaka/Greenfield song ‘The Diary’, which peaked at number 14 in February 1959.  ‘The Diary’ was inspired when Neil first met singer Connie Francis.  They had spent all day going over songs to record and became quite bored.  When Connie began writing in her diary, Neil asked her if he could read it.  Connie gave him a firm “no” and thus the inspiration for ‘The Diary’ was born.  After Little Anthony and the Imperials passed on the song, this was just the prompt that Sedaka needed to make him record it himself.

His follow-up song ‘I Go Ape’ missed the Top 40 and his third RCA single, ‘Crying My Heart Out for You’, was a flop.  RCA Victor lost money and was ready to drop Sedaka from their label, but Sedaka’s manager, Al Nevins, persuaded the RCA executives to give him one more chance.  With Neil Sedaka’s career on the rocks, he got advice from producer Don Kirshner who told him to write a song with the girl’s name in the title.  He told Neil to talk in the middle like The Diamonds did in ‘Little Darlin’.

In order to come up with a hit, Neil consulted the international charts in Billboard, then went out and bought the three most successful records he saw listed and listened to them repeatedly, analyzing what they had in common, studying the song structure, chord progressions, lyrics and harmonies.  He discovered many similar elements in these songs, the harmonic rhythm, placement of the chord changes, choice of harmonic progressions, similar instrumentation, vocals phrases, drum fills, content, even the timbre of the lead solo voice.  Neil decided to write a song that incorporated all these elements in one record.  Neil took the beat, the drum licks, the guitar licks, the harmony changes, and went to school on them.  Howie wrote the lyrics in twenty minutes and the result of this deliberate effort was his fourth RCA single, ‘Oh! Carol’, which became his first top-10 hit in 1959.  The ladies singing falsetto behind Sedaka’s middle spoken bridge are The Kittens, a girl trio group who Al Nevins had hanging around the studio.  When Sedaka recorded, everybody thought something was missing, so Nevins turned to The Kittens and asked them to fill in.

Sedaka is a cousin of the late singer Eydie Gormé.  From 1959 to 1963, Sedaka became the second-biggest selling artist, next to Elvis Presley.  Neil Sedaka has written more than 700 songs, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, there is a street in Brooklyn bearing his name, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  He was born in Brooklyn in 1939 and by the time he was 9 years old, Neil already had begun intensive classical piano training at the Juilliard School of Music.  Connie Francis recorded his ‘Stupid Cupid’ in 1958 and later in 1961, she did ‘Where the Boys Are’.

Neil was a 19 when he met Leba who was 16 while he was performing at her mother’s hotel in the Catskills in upstate New York.  They have been married for 56 years and have a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren.  The moment he saw Leba he was certain that he would end up marrying her.  By 1963, after selling some 25 million records, Sedaka was riding the wave of international success.  Sedaka wrote ‘The Hungry Years’ for Frank Sinatra and ‘Solitaire’ for Elvis Presley along with several hit songs for Captain & Tennille, Tom Jones, the Monkees, and the Fifth Dimension and he had his own hits which include ‘Calendar Girl’, ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do’.  In 1963, Carole King released a humorous answer to ‘Oh! Carol’ entitled ‘Oh Neil’, her response did not do nearly as well.

Oh Neil by Carole King
Oh Neil! I’ve loved you for so long.
I never dreamed you’d put me in a song.
I’m Carol and I live in Tennessee.
I never hoped that you’d remember me.
Darling when I saw you at the square dance
My pulse skipped a beat.
My heart felt so heavy like I had too much to eat.
Then you took me walking in the moonlight.
It was, oh, so sublime.
I had too much molasses and your lips stuck to mine.
Oh! Neil I’d even give up a month’s supply of chewin’ tobacky.
Just to be known as Mrs. Neil Sedaky.
My Grandpappy. he don’t like your records.
He said if I play them, I will surely die.
Lookout, I see him comin’ with his shotgun!
There’s nothing lefi to do…
Oh! Neil lI surely die for you!
(Shotgun blast)
Grandpappy: I told that gal not to play them doggone Neil Sedaky records!

Oh! Carol, I am but a fool
Darling, I love you though you treat me cruel
You hurt me, and you made me cry
But if you leave me, I will surely die
Darling, there will never be another
‘Cause I love you so
Don’t ever leave me
Say you’ll never go
I will always want you for my sweetheart
No matter what you do
Oh! Carol, I’m so in love with you
Oh! Carol
Darling

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Prompt, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Certain and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Exploring.

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