Neil Sedaka – On Singing Covers

Continued from our feature on Neil Sedaka…

As a singer-songwriter, you’ve accomplished more than anyone else I can think of, period. What would be your advice to emerging vocalists who may wonder, “How can I be a real vocal artist if all I do is sing covers?”

Many of the great singers have done cover albums. I think of Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand. They chose songs that contained strong emotional ties for their hearts. Frank Sinatra used to read the lyrics to the songs many times over before he recorded or performed them – so he could feel how the writer put emotion into the song.

How would you handle the very basic beginner level performance question of “what songs should I sing?”

Don’t go out of the style that appeals to you; don’t screech things out that are too high or too low. You want to please yourself with your songs – so that your audience will feel your pleasure.

So your feelings for a song are critical?

You need to sing songs that mean something to you, that you can transform into your own feelings. Emotion is the key factor: you need to bring your emotion to the listener – if you feel it, they will definitely feel it. Start with the songs that you know deeply, that you have an affinity for. I am a product of the music I have heard all my life – Patti Page, Mel Tormé, Stevie Wonder…and so many others. Focus on the kind of songs and styles that you feel are believable to the audience.

But you would also recommend branching out and trying new things?

You do have to change. In the 70s I had stopped writing with Howard Greenfield and was writing with Phil Cody as I was reaching for more musical maturity, wanting to sing more poetic songs, painting pictures with my words. I’ve also tried different projects such as “Classically Sedaka” where I sing original lyrics to famous melodies. For that project I had to sing differently, more operatically. This variety keeps a career going for a longer time. You have to keep things fresh. But the voice stays the same.

When you cover your own songs, “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” – do you ever approach these in a new way?

I would never change my own songs. I stay true to the melody, lyrics and tempo – people want to hear the way it was a hit. When it comes to approaching things in a new way, I engage in songwriting.

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  • Neil, I have followed you and sung along with you for years as a fan, but I have never covered you. As a composer I regard the act of covering as a special privilege. If I know I can never match the original artist I will not attempt to. I have never thought that I can match any original artist.

    However on the issue of emotion in song. I have had a song I composed 18 months ago sitting around waiting for me to find a singer for it.

    Why? because it is too emotionally difficult for me to sing it.

    If I had the choice and were able to nominate someone to take that on, it would be you or someone of your calibre and ability to empathise with it.

    If Frank the Great were still available to us on call, I would have email attached it to him In Crooner’s Paradise !



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