The Comeback Kids – Neil Sedaka, Paul Anna, and Bobby Vinton

Original Publication – Newsweek: February 24, 1975

Back in the sock-hop, skooby-doo era of rock ‘n’ roll, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka and Bobby Vinton made teen-agers scream with such classics as “Stupid Cupid,” “Puppy Love” and “Roses are Red.” Then the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones came along and the teenies ran screaming after the new idols. Meanwhile, Sedaka, now 35, Anka, 33, and Vinton, 38, continued to turn out songs and records but their teen-age image stayed with them like a permanent case of acne. Today all three are back on top with recent No. 1 hit songs and newly refurbished careers.

Sedaka scored with a sweet but innocuous love ballad, “Laughter in the Rain.” Anka hit with a musical miscarriage called “(You’re) Having My Baby,” and Vinton created a paean to Polish pride with “My Melody of Love.” All three songs are squarely middle-of-the-road pop, and all three singers still manage to sound positively pubescent. But despite the similarites of their styles, they are taking different comback routes. Sedaka, under the personal supervision of glitter superstar Elton John, is aiming for the rock audience. Anka, one of Las Vegas’s top entertainers, wants to replace Sinatra, and Vinton is banking on polka fans and Polish power to make him pop’s first Slavic superstar. All three became millionaires long ago, but they freely admit that mere wealth is not the same as being adored.

Angels: “I retired at age 23,” says Neil Sedaka, who has composed 700 songs, including “Calendar Girl” and “Oh! Carol” as well as “Stupid Cupid,” and sold 25 million records since he was 13. “I told the neighbors I was in real estate. Now I’m trying to recapture that natural high of the teen years when I had to deal with jukeboxes, stairways, angels and devils.” Sedaka, who studied piano at Juilliard and once won a competition judged by Arthur Rubinstein, admits: “I thought I’d be an oldies freak forever.” But a few years ago, fans surprised him in England by responding not only to his oldies but to his new songs as well.

Elton John was one of the fans. John signed Sedaka to his Rocket Record Co. label and issued a new LP, “Sedaka’s Back.” Last January, Sedaka, who looks more like a friendly floorwalker than a rock star, made a triumphant, tumultuous and tearfuld return to live performing in the U.S. at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles. His newfound success is also changing his image. Sedaka and his wife will be featured in an upcoming issue of Viva magazine – “tastefully nude.” Sedaka is grateful for John’s kiss of life. “Elton and I,” he quips, “are the Rhoda and Mary Tyler Moore of the music business.”

Smooth: Paul Anka knew his popularity was going to slip in the early ‘60s, when he was in Liverpool and heard the Beatles. After hitting the big time at age 15 with “Diana” and, later, “Lonely Boy” and touring as the only white act with Fats Domino, the Platters, LaVern Baker and Chuck Berry, Anka decided to abdicate his throne on “American Bandstand” and not compete with the new hard rock. So in one fell swoop, he stopped trying to please the nymphets and started aiming for the saggy set. He developed into one of Las Vegas’s smoothest cabaret acts and wrote songs for others – notably “My Way” for Sinatra, “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones and even the theme music for Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

“I didn’t know where the hell Paul Anka was,” he says of his early retirement years. “I came out of a teen situation and go into writing songs for other people. But you mature if you’re professional enough. When I was 15 to 18 I wrote what I knew about – my emotional changes as a kid. Today I write from personal observation – songs that people on the street can identify with.”

After writing for years for others, Anka finally wrote one for himself. It took the form of a macho love song celebrating his wife’s pregnancy, “(You’re) Having My Baby.” The song was widely attacked by feminst groups. “I can’t hand out a pamphlet every time I write a song,” says Anka somewhat defensively. “Just go through a divorce and see how fast a woman will say you can’t have my kids.”

Pride:  Bobby Vinton sold 30 million records and had more No. 1 singles than any other solo male singer between 1962 and 1973 – hits like “Roses are Red,” “Blue Velvet,” “Sealed With a Kiss.” For “My Melody of Love,” which has sold 2 million singles, Vinton added new lyrics, some in Polish, to a German pop tune. This has made Vinton, who is of Polish descent, Mr. Big with the U.S. Polish population. “They needed someone to come along and give them some spirit and pride,” says Vinton, who throws in such lines as “I’d like to get you on a slow boat to Poland” in his sellout live shows. “All of a sudden, everyone is admitting he or she is Polish. Now it’s the ‘in’ thing to be Polish. So much so that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who knows the Polish vote when he sees one, even tried to warble a few bars of “My Melody of Love” with Vinton recently.

Though some record executives are skeptical that the comebacks of Sedaka, Anka and Vinton can be sustained, the singers themselves have few such qualms. “I think the kids are getting smart today and will buy what they think is good, not what somebody is telling them is good,” says Vinton. “The elder statesment like Sammy Davis, Dean Martin and Sinatra have all had their run,” says Anka. “Now I’m gonna have my run.” “Crosbys and Sinatras don’t last forever,” adds Sedaka. “People need new people to make love to.” 

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.