Neil Sedaka and Songs looks like a special album the moment you open the gatefold to this double vinyl package. Six pages of personal photographs, some taken by Sedaka himself, others of the singer posed with Carole King, Connie Francis, Barbara Streisand, and co-writers Howie Greenfield and Phil Cody, combine with 36 performances for an intimate snapshot of an important artist with just his piano, voice, and many stories. It is brilliant, capturing the naked essence of a pop maestro without the strings, drumbeats, and production tricks others may use to hide potential flaws. And there are no major gaffes here, the term consummate performer created for people like Neil Sedaka. "Betty Grable" is the 31st of 36 titles which the singer/songwriter rattles off with ease and elegance; like every track here, it shimmers with life and is performed with total professionalism. This is a living history of this artist, beginning with Chopin's "Fantasy Impromptu" and followed by 17 Sedaka/Greenfield compositions, from the Connie Francis hits "Stupid Cupid" and a tremendous "Where the Boys Are" to "The Diary"; "Oh Carol"; "Stairway to Heaven"; "Calendar Girl," the original "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"; the latter-day minor hit "Amarillo," which Sedaka states sold three million units for Tony Christie in Europe; a brilliant rendition of the tune written for chanteuse Jane Oliver, "One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round"; up to the first composition included here co-written by Phil Cody, the poignant "Solitaire." It is one of only four titles Cody contributes, the others include their first hit together, "Laughter in the Rain," the John Lennon-inspired "The Immigrant," and an autobiographical "Brighton." Neil Sedaka rarely writes without one of his partners, but three of his solo efforts contain his own lyrics: "Leba's Song (Any Where You're Gonna Be)" (written for his wife), "Standing on the Inside," and the Top 30 "That's When the Music Takes Me," which hit two years prior to this 1977 recording. The drama and majesty of "Cardboard California" becomes an extraordinary example of Sedaka's piano technique and audience rapport. They start clapping along on "That's When the Music Takes Me," the only accompaniment on this disc. The encore is the 1975 slow version of the 1962 up-tempo hit performed earlier, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." There is no exact date of the concert written on this album, which was released in 1977, and most likely recorded at that time as well. The 1976 RCA release, Sedaka Live in Australia, recorded when daughter Dara Sedaka was seven, also fails to document the tour date, which was about 1970, and was released almost simultaneously with this record to capitalize on the new found fame, featuring an orchestra conducted by Lionel Huntington. There are many Neil Sedaka live recordings, but these two in particular are good to compare the depth of the artist while performing with and without other instrumentation. He captivates audiences with the same command Carole King and Neil Diamond have over their fans while performing live, and this disc includes just the right amount of talk in between the tracks to keep the flow going without distraction. Neil Sedaka and Songs is a very fine representation of Neil Sedaka's recorded history.
AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione