September 21, 2019
Neil Sedaka – The Tra-la Days Are Over
My youngest daughter lived in Stockport near Manchester for a short time. On one of our many trips to see her I noticed a plaque in a nearby street that denoted the site of ‘Strawberry Studios’. This was owned and run by the members of 10cc. Many famous bands passed through including Joy Divison, The Stone Roses and The Smiths to name a few. 10cc also recorded one my favourite albums there – Sheet Music. In fact this led to my first taste of music journalism when I had a letter published in the weekly New Musical Express advising their readership that this album was the future of rock n’ roll (or a similar exaggeration!)
However, I remembered that Neil Sedaka’s second career involved two records recorded here. The above is one of them. This album of 11 tracks spawned four singles, all of which I loved. Sedaka had started in New York as a pop songwriter for other artists in the late 1950s. However he eventually got to record under his own name and had great success in the early 60s. (He’s now 80 years old).
However as fashions changed and his star waned. It wasn’t until these albums, made in rainy Lancashire, that he found his way back onto the charts. 10cc backed him and co-produced the album. As an illustration of a wonderful 70s pop album then this must surely be it.
He has one of the great voices of era. A delightful tenor that can soar into the territory of a soprano and deliver a sentimental melody that sears into your memory forever. The voice is so mellifluous that he could sing all of the Screwfix catalogue and you’d hang in there until the ladders and cement mixers. I don’t believe in angels but it they did exist then this is what they would sound like.
All songs hang off his lively piano playing and this sumptuous vocals. The band complement perfectly. Orchestral arrangements by Paul Buckmaster (David Bowie, Elton John and The Rolling Stones) and Del Newman (Cat Stevens, Carly Simon and Rod Stewart) are delicious and elevate the songs to make them fully formed.
However let’s go back to where I was bitten: “Our Last Song Together”. An upbeat ballad tells the end of a relationship. It references the “tra-la days are over” and ‘breaking up is hard to do”. The latter was a song he took to the top of the US charts in 1962 and then the Partridge Family (David Cassidy) took it back into the charts in 1972. The words written by Howard Greenfield may have talked about the end of their working relationship.
The other singles were “Standing On The Inside”, “Suspicions” and “Love Will Keep Us Together” (which Captain and Tennille took the top of the US charts in 1975).
All the music is written by Sedaka but the lyrics are a shared activity with two other lyricists. He was never afraid to sing something corny and banal. I expect he was reflecting the taste of the record buying public at the time. Here we have “Little Brother’ a song about a mischievous sibling who leads his gullible brother into trouble. Another such load of tosh is “Caribbean Rainbow” where a calypso rhythm rambles on about sailing or “glidin’ on the water”.
Getting my hands on this was like meeting up with an old friend after many years.
(I asked a good friend to find a vinyl copy and he found and delivered a copy that stayed on my turntable. After laying out a reasonable sum for this transaction I was bemused to find another copy at a local charity shop for 10p!!)