If you have never heard of Neil Sedaka, you will almost certainly have heard his music. The lengthy montage that opens his show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall showcases the number of artists who have covered or performed his songs over the past five decades. It’s a roll call of the biggest and most important acts of the 20th century, which includes Frank Sinatra, ABBA, Tom Jones, Elton John, and, of course, Elvis Presley. The standing ovation that greets Sedaka, now 78, as he enters the stage is the first of many in an evening involving just a handful of the 800 songs he has written.
A child piano prodigy, in his youth Sedaka gained a scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, and is a classically trained pianist. He revealed on the BBC’s The One Show last week that he has arthritis in his hands, but there’s no sign of it as his fingers fly effortlessly over the piano à la Jools Holland, as the enormous video screen behind him shows.
Despite being primarily known for his incredibly catchy and chirpy pop tunes from the 1950s to the 1970s, Sedaka opens the show with One More Ride on the Merry Go Round, a withering acceptance of the fact that, as Oscar Wilde said, ‘No man is rich enough to buy back his past.’ The song demonstrates Sedaka’s mastery of both songwriting and the piano, and the lyrics are uncharacteristically cynical: ‘I do my shopping in Paris/My clothes are Cardin and Dior/There’s money to buy friends and lovers/Well, isn’t that what it’s for?’
The rest of Sedaka’s nearly two hour long set consists of his most famous pop tunes, much to the delight of the audience, most of whom probably remember Sedaka in his heyday. He casually mentions the fact that he sold 40 million records between 1958 and 1963, and it’s easy to see why: his gift for crafting irresistible and timeless pop melodies is undeniable when he plays his biggest hits one after another, which include Oh Carol!, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen and Calendar Girl.
Sedaka evidently still greatly enjoys playing his own music, and the sunny 1970s hit Love Will Keep Us Together is a particular joy. Sedaka returns for not one, but three encores, which includes Amarillo, a song best known in the UK for being performed by Tony Christie and, er, Peter Kay. It’s a shamelessly upbeat ending to what has been an evening of genuinely affecting songs, such as the lamenting The Hungry Years and Solitaire.
If this is really Sedaka’s last UK tour, as he has stated, then it is fitting that it has just been Sedaka and his piano, as that is surely where they belong. In any case, Neil Sedaka has left a pop music legacy that will outlive many of his peers, past and present.