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American singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka. Taken ...

American singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka. Taken at the 2007 Scream Awards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you hear someone say, “Neil Sedaka,”  what do you think of?  I believe most people think of some 50’s simplistic Rock and Roll tune, like  the happy-go-lucky-even-if-slightly-naieve, Next Door To An Angel.  If that’s what you’re thinking, then please read on because  the next time you hear  the name, Neil Sedaka, you’re going to think twice. NO, not twice more like somewhere between 300-500 – that’s how many songs he wrote.  Neil Sedaka is a consummate composer.  I tried to do some quick research and find the answer to this burning question – just how many songs did Neil Sedaka write and/or cowrite?  I found a list of about 270 titles and in Wikipedia, it says he wrote 500.  Either way, it’s one hell of a lot of musical talent.

Neil Sedaka was playing the piano when he was eight years old.  When he was in high school in Brooklyn, NY he formed a Doo Wop group with now-famous classmates, known as The Tokens.  He was accepted into the prestigious Julliard School of Music in Manhattan, where his parents hoped he would become a concert pianist.  He is a concert pianist, he just doesn’t perform as one – believe me he plays beautifully as he demonstrated tonight at the end of his concert.

BUT tonight’s concert inspired this blog, not so much as a review of his performance but rather more as an homage to his enduring creative talent, a God-given gift (his words).  I wanted to use the word, genius, however, genius connotes (to me anyway) a talent at an extraordinary  level.  Maybe he is composing at an extraordinary level and I don’t recognize it because he makes it seem so easy.   As he said; he sits at the piano, comes up with a tempo, then a melody and then lyrics.  Sounds simple, right?  NOT!  

For me, this evening was yet another trip down nostalgia lane.  Oh those songs!  I think I sat there with a lump in my throat for most of the evening and a couple brought tears to my eyes.  The love songs had lyrics that pluck at your heart-strings.  I guess when you’re a woman of a certain age you can’t help but remember where you were, who you were with and when.  I can’t tell you what I had for dinner 4 nights ago, but I knew every word to every song!  Scary isn’t it?  And most of all I think his lyrics tell it like it is. Mr. Sedaka said that he drew inspiration for his songs from his family and friends.  And the he told us he has been married to the lovely Leba, his wife of 50 years.  She must truly be the love of his life – how else could one feel and express such emotion.  From heartbreak to regrets, to wishing and dreaming of true love, and  from longing to loving forever, the music plays on, the romance continues and all in words you can clearly understand and remember!  

The following are just a few of the songs performed this evening:

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Love Will Keep Us Together

Laughter In The Rain

And also the sad but very real Solitaire, Lonely Night, Should Have Never Let You Go, I Let You Walk Away.   The lyrics are haunting.  Often at a concert, the performer introduces some new song they’ve written or recorded and I have mostly been disappointed.  Not so tonight.  Neil Sedaka is still writing songs and sang one from a few years ago, You.  Now that’s a love song!  It had to appeal to the large majority of middle-age couples and seniors in the audience.  It is a story of the lifetime love between two people, very sweet. I loved it!

Neil Sedaka has been writing and singing songs for over 55 years.  The list is way too long for this blog, for as he said tonight, “I’ve a got a million”.  However, so many of the songs were hits and released many times over by various artists, I think you’ll know every one of them:

Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen

Earth Angel

Carol

Alone At Last

Angel Eyes

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Cathy’s Clown

It’s All In The Game

Climb Up (Stairway to Heaven)

Proud Mary

Stagger Lee

Tears On My Pillow

The Diary

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Only You (And You Alone)

Only You (And You Alone) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Heaven on Earth was just  one of the many songs sung by the Platters.  And yesterday the last living member of that fabulous singing group, Herb Reed, died. Herb founded the Platters in the 1950’s – he was 83 years old when he passed away.

I always liked the song Heaven on Earth, however, it didn’t have a prayer (pun intended) to it’s flip-side phenomenal hit, My Prayer.  For over a decade, the Platters produced 40 chart singles including 4 Number One hits.  Among their repertoire were:  The Great Pretender, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Only You (And You Alone), Twilight Time and (You’ve Got) The Magic Touch.

Headliners of Doo Wop era, their distinctive sound was a bridge between pre-rock Tin Pan Alley and the burgeoning new genre.  Only You released in 1955 was their first Top Ten Hit and topped the R&B chart for 7 weeks.

The history of the group is checkered at best.  Arrests and charges of drug and prostitution hurt their reputation even though no convictions ever took place.  And over the years, the group splintered and several members started groups of their own, each one claiming the name The Platters, which led to lawsuits and injunctions.  Finally in 2011, Herb Reed won the exclusive rights to the trademark name and the decision made Reed sole heir to the group’s tremendous legacy.

I’m at the tail end of the Baby Boomers who grew up on Rock & Roll, Doo Wop and the British Invasion.  By the time the music of the day turned to Hard Rock, Acid Rock, and Heavy Metal, I was no longer listening to those radio stations.  Doo Wop is probably my favorite genre and for me it encompasses Motown Sound, R & B, Bee Bop – just about all the music produced between 1950 and 1966. 

KEEP THE MUSIC ALIVE!

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Ever wonder where some of the phrases we use in our everyday language?  I do and in this blog I have often featured phrases that once were common and now are obscure to generation X and Y.  Sometimes a phrase fades away because it’s no longer applicable or contains words that have dropped out of usage.

PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS has come to mean let it all go, or let it all out, or put the force of 100% effort into something.  This past Friday, Peter and I took our granddaughter, Finley, to the Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ.  We really wanted to see their collection of antique music machines and automata.  It is an amazing collection with gorgeous elaborate music boxes of every evolution and Living Dolls and Mechanical Musical Instruments ever since we saw the movie, HUGO.

Now you are wondering what does all that have to do with this blog post?  The early Music Machines operated on a bellows system.  The docent demonstrated several of the mechanical musical machines.  There was  large wooden instrument that worked with bellows and you could adjust the volume  by pulling out a row of stoppers

And there you have it -all the sound was let out, by pulling out all the stoppers!

Antique music box with brass cylinder

French Automaton - Lady Knitting

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Tony Bennett performing at a Library of Congre...

Tony Bennett

I expected to be thrilled, impressed and entertained last Saturday night;  We went to see and hear Tony Bennett in concert in the Great Auditorium.  I didn’t expect to cry…

The show opened with Tony’s daughter, Antonia, who sang several songs to warm up the audience.  This audience did not need warming up.  The auditorium holds about 6,000 people and my guess would be that there weren’t more than 600 empty seats and that includes a wraparound balcony!  Antonia is sweet looking and sounding, but certainly lacks real depth to her voice.  She doesn’t have the timbre and resonance of a singer with a strong voice.  Unable to sustain or project, Antonia manipulated  the microphone by pulling it away from her mouth as she trailed the last notes of a line.  Oh well, this is not about her anyway.

Tony walked on stage to a very long and loud standing ovation.  He was clearly thrilled to receive it and to be on stage.  He appears to love performing;  He plays to the crowd, he sings and he relates bits of his career and who he sang and worked with along the way to stardom.  He ends almost every song with either his arms raised up as if in “ta dah” and “there you have it” or salutes the audience with two thumbs up.  I don’t remember (that far back)  if these gestures were always part of his performance or not, but then again, who cares? He has the pipes and a magical velvety-all-in-the-right-places voice.

He sang song after song, sometimes really belting it out and you wonder how does a man his age still maintain that voice and the ability to sustain such high notes for so long.  Yes, he was quite surprising in that regard.  We were regaled with the likes of Smile, I Wanna Be AroundFly Me to the Moon, and The Best is Yet to ComeAnd then he charmed us all with what he referred to as his hits;  The Way You Look Tonight, Because of You, The Very Thought of You, As Time Goes By, Once Upon A Time, Because of You and of course,  I Left My Heart in San FranciscoJust AMAZING! Really freaking amazing!  The entire audience leapt to their feet at the end of I Left My Heart in San Fransisco and it was truly one of the longest standing ovations I ever witnessed.   Of course he was perfect for the Auditorium crowd, 95% of whom listened to his soft crooning voice during their teen-age and twenty-something years.  Oh and how those memories flood back to you!

A summer night on the Jersey Shore, in a remarkable venue – an enormous wooden structure that is well over a hundred years old, and Tony Bennett singing love songs to you.  I have never ever sat in the front row of a concert;  Last Saturday night, Peter and I had front row seats  and I sat there mesmerized by his performance.  Was it that he sang so well?  No, of course not; He was a great singer, now he is a legend who still can hit some of those high notes,  and sing a love song to every woman in the room at the same time.

I’m not sure exactly what song put me over the edge;  The first tear rolled down my cheek somewhere between The Very Thought of You and Once Upon A Time. Yes, the words are beautiful.  Yes,  Tony crooned the words beautifully but I don’t think those two things brought on the tears.  Well at least not completely.  When you are my age and you know you are closer to the end of your life than the beginning and you see someone 20 years older than yourself doing something he not only does so well but also loves doing it, you, well at least I, was really emotionally moved. In a way, this consumate artist who makes every song his own and has been doing so for 60 years of his life and mine, creates a level of comfort that makes him seem like an old friend.  The tears are the good-byes to my youth, the days when I heard Tony Bennett sing so many of these songs.  Listening to songs that you probably made out to, danced to and day-dreamed over what seems like another lifetime ago, it dawns on you that it was a lifetime ago!

Tony sang his last song, blew kisses to the audience and left the stage.  The crowd would have none of it. They stood up, clapped and clapped and clapped some more.  The musicians stayed on stage so I thought maybe he would come back and he did!  He sang one more and still they wanted more.  He tried to leave the stage and the audience applauded longer and louder than before.   So he brought Antonia out and they sang a duet and then he was gone.

There was one other special moment during the concert and this had more to do with where we were than just with this great singer.  Tony Bennett, like every other single performer I’ve seen at the Auditorium said that this building, this great venue is a magnificent structure in which to sing.  To prove that they don’t build them like this anymore, he asked that the entire sound system be turned off and then he sang;  his words washing over  the audience much like the shore a couple of hundred feet away!  Clearly he was heard at the back of the room and top of the balcony, proving the mastery of his own talent and that of the craftsmen who built the Great Auditorium 140years ago.

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OK clearly this question is limited to those of us who are of either a certain age or are collectors.

Unfortunately I fall into both categories although admittedly an avid collector, records is not one of my collection addictions.  No, I leave that one up to Peter.  Yesterday was a sweet example of making a collection work for you;  Finley came over for a visit and since we know she is fascinated by all media we thought we would expose her to kiddie records from the 40’s and 50’s. We happen to have an extensive library of kiddie records because Peter’s father was a partner in Record Guild of America, a leading manufacturer of wonderful laminated and illustrated cardboard records for kids to play on their very own phonographs.   I had a really cute red and white record player like a little suitcase.  Anyway, we finally found an old one in good condition and couldn’t wait to introduce little Finny to this particular pleasure.  We thought she would be fascinated by the fact that there was sound but no moving pictures.  And she did love it!  After showing her how it worked, Peter let her put her own records on and move the needle arm and play the records.  NOW, I know I sound just like a proud grandmother, but really, she is only 2 yr. 8mo old and she quickly grasped the concept and knew to move the arm gently.  It was quite a treat for us and we hope she enjoyed it as well.

kiddie records, phonograph, child's record player, Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Record Guild of America

The picture goes round 'n round!


Now here’s the good part;  Mommy showed up with little Francesca for a short visit and the first thing Finley said to her was, “see my DVD‘s”  – oh well…..

So back to the first album you ever bought.  The first album I ever purchased was “Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney. First of all, I thought the song was great and I also liked The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence – what can I tell you – I was a strange teenager I guess.  The reason it was probably my first album purchase was because by the time it came out, I had some of my own money to spend, whether it was from babysitting or my weekend work at The Cenacle (that’s a whole other blog).  I was a rabid Elvis Presley fan but when he was really at his height I only owned his 45 rpm records, probably my father bought them for me.

So I’m throwing out this question in hopes of getting some interesting replies from everyone.  It will be fun to see just what was the first album you bought?

Only Love Can Break A Heart, the man who shot Liberty Valence

Gene Pitney

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Thursday’s Top Ten

I was driving around at the Jersey Shore and discovered a wonderful Oldies radio station, 1410 AM.  Apparently the love songs from my high school days are indelibly printed in my memory bank because although I can’t tell you what I had for dinner two nights ago, I can remember all the words to all the songs that were playing on the radio.  I just hope this isn’t the first stage of dementia where you can only recall the far past and are lost in the present!!

Anyway, as I was cruisin’ and singing to myself, I wondered whether my kids would be able to remember songs from their teenage days 4o+ years later…and did their music actually have words (that you could understand) and more importantly, did they have songs like we (that’s the royal “we”) did?  Songs that you could totally identify your love relationship (or lack thereof) with? Songs you could cry to, songs that you would play over and over and over again on your hi-fi?

So I thought a little nostalgic visit to the Golden Oldies would be a super Thursday’s Top Ten list. Hope these titles take you back to happier carefree time in your life!

oldies, the 60's, love songs, The Shirelles, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis, Leslie Gore, Vicky Carr

Remember the Romance

  1. It’s My Party- by Leslie Gore
  2. My Boyfriend’s Back – by The Angels
  3. Soldier Boy The Shirelles
  4. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? by The Shirelles
  5. I Love How You Love Me – Bobby Vinton
  6. Lipstick on Your Collar – Connie Francis
  7. It Must Be Him – Vicky Carr
  8. Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain & Tenille
  9. Chances Are – Johnny Mathis
  10. Hurt So Bad – Little Anthony and the Imperials

SEND IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE LOVE/ANGST  SONGS FROM THE 60’s!!!

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