We were, however, rather taken with the music contained on that 8-track. Our musical tastes are far-reaching, sometimes inexplicable, often with very specific sub genres. For instance, count us among the proud, few fans of what can only be described as adenoidal white bread pop, ideally recorded in New York between 1960 and 1963. (According to "real" music historians, this period between Elvis and The Beatles actually doesn't exist. Ahem.)
Sneer if you will, but dig those double-tracked vocals! that big RCA Victor production sound! more irresistibly goofy (and catchy) hooks than a bait and tackle shop! This stuff must have sounded fantastic blaring out of a pizza parlor jukebox in 1961, or on an AM transistor radio -- or, in our case, on an 8-track in our mother's Laredo Tan 1973 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The point is, pure, unadulterated pop has its own merits, and can't be judged by the same yardstick as jazz, blues, soul or rock, any more than disco can be debated in the same breath as opera. And of the many fresh-faced young men and women purveying this assembly line of Brill Building confectionary in those historically-neglected early 60's, Neil Sedaka was arguably doing it better than just about anyone else -- with the possible exception of his contemporary and rival, Gene Pitney.
Contemporaries: Gene Pitney (left) and Neil Sedaka
What set Sedaka and Pitney apart from the rest of the pack was the fact that they could write their own material -- and they were damn good at it. When the hits dried up for the original crop of Philadelphia-based teen idols, Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell, they had neither a relationship with New York's legendary stable of writers and producers at the Brill Building, nor their own songwriting skills to fall back on. (Luckily for Frankie, an ex-Mouseketeer and a little something called Beach Party was looming in the B-movie future.) Sedaka and Pitney not only could theoretically save the best of their compositions for themselves, but they weren't exactly Scrooges in doling hits out to others. You may not consider yourself fans of either gentlemen, but if you've ever hummed along to "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals or "Hello, Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, you may thank Mr. Pitney. And for those of you who have sung along to "Stupid Cupid" or "Where the Boys Are" by Miss Connie Francis -- well, Neil Sedaka, songwriter, thanks you for the royalties.
Neil Sedaka performing his 1962 #1 hit on local Miami, Florida television, 1966
There's a second act revival in the Sedaka saga, of course; a big rebound in the 1970's, helped along by an endorsement and encouragement from Elton John; writing and recording material that practically is a 1970's easy listening greatest hits rundown: "Solitaire," "Laughter in the Rain," "The Hungry Years," "Love Will Keep Us Together." But because here at Stirred, Straight Up, it is permanently 1962, we end our very small tribute to just one facet of Mr. Sedaka's accomplishments thus. We leave you with perhaps our favorite Neil Sedaka clip; it dates from late 1964, as he performs the "bubbling under" #104 hit, "I Hope He Breaks Your Heart." It's a relentlessly cheerful kiss-off ditty which manages to combine somewhat-dated Brill Building pop with vaguely Motown-ish flourishes, while our birthday boy seems to be practicing his Judy Garland gestures. Enjoy, darlings!
March 13, 1939