“Oh! Carol”: Sedaka’s 1959 Hit
Written by Neil Sedaka, “Oh! Carol” is an international hit co-written with Howard Greenfield in 1958. The song reached no. 9 in the American charts in 1959. Additionally, it earned Sedaka his first no. 1 ranking when it went to no. 1 on the Italian charts for four weeks in January 1960.
After the release of single, it was included in the album Neil Sedaka Sings Little Devil and His Other Hits. The song is noted for Sedaka’s spoken recitation of the verse, the second time around.
At the time Sedaka produced the record, his second and third singles, “I Go Ape!” and “Crying My Heart Out For You” had fared poorly on the charts. RCA Victor was ready to drop them from their label, but producer Al Nevins persuaded the RCA executives to give Sedaka one last chance.
Determined to create a hit song, Sedaka purchased the three top singles of the day and listened to them repeatedly, studying their melody, chord progression, and lyrical styles. Interestingly, he found that they were very similar in structure. He then used this knowledge to create the song, “Oh! Carol.“
Sedaka, who co-wrote the song with Howard Greenfield, recalls the inspiration slightly differently. He studied Billboard magazine, and says,
“I looked at the #1 record in every country in the world and analyzed it. And that’s how Howie and I wrote ‘Oh! Carol.’ I took the beat, I took the drum licks, I took the guitar licks, I took the harmony changes, and I went to school on them. Howie wrote the lyrics in twenty minutes but was embarrassed. He thought it was terrible. But it was exactly what I wanted.”
A Melody for Carole King
Neil Sedaka named this song for the songwriter Carole King. Sedaka had dated Carole King when he was still in high school. At that time, King was still called Carol Klein, so Sedaka used her real name.
They went to Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn, New York, along with Neil Diamond. Carol first came into Neil Sedaka’s life as a member of the Linc-Tones, the first group that Sedaka hustled together out of high school.
On the other hand, Gerry Goffin – King’s husband – took the tune, and wrote the playful response “Oh! Neil“, which King recorded and released as an unsuccessful single the same year (1958).
Neil Sedaka’s career was on the rocks before this song. At Aldon music, producer and longtime friend Don Kirshner gave Sedaka the following advice,
“Write a song with the girl’s name in the title. Talk in the middle like The Diamonds did in ‘Little Darlin’.'”
“Oh! Carol” was co-written with Howard Greenfield, a longtime collaborator of Sedaka. In the aforementioned book, the story is that Sedaka and Greenfield were neighbors as kids. Sedaka would play piano in his apartment, and Greenfield’s mother urged him to go meet him. Thus, they first worked together when Sedaka was 13 and Greenfield was 16.
Penned by Chaim Kaynan, Sedaka also recorded a Hebrew-language version of “Oh! Carol.” It has been covered by other artists in other languages as well.
Other acts to cover this song include The Four Seasons, Blue Diamonds, The Hep Stars, and General Saint featuring Don Campbell, this last was a UK hit.
Watch Neil Sedaka perform his first no.1 hit, “Oh Carol.”