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Neil Sedaka wrote this song with Philip Cody
, who collaborated with Sedaka on his comeback hits "Laughter In The Rain
" and "Bad Blood." In this song, the card game solitaire becomes a metaphor for loneliness, as a man finds himself alone after losing his love. Cody told us: "Neil just hit me with a lot of sad music, and that kind of thing for me was a surprise - I didn't know I had that in me. But Neil encouraged me to make him cry. So I went for that particular part of Neil's throat - I was trying to get a reaction out of Neil, and if I got a reaction out of Neil, I knew I'd done good. Because I had no idea what a hit song was. I'd been in the studio and I'd been out and about on the streets for six years at that point. But this was the first time that I ever really hooked up with anyone who actually knew what they were doing."
Neil Sedaka recorded this song in 1974, but it was the Carpenters who had the big hit with their 1975 recording, thanks to a mighty vocal performance by Karen Carpenter. Sedaka, who fell off the charts when the Beatles took over, enjoyed a resurgence as a performer and songwriter in the mid-'70, and this was one of his most successful compositions. Neil had to push for this song, as his publisher Don Kirshner didn't think much of it.
Some of the many artists to record this song include Andy Williams, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Presley and Clay Aiken. For the Andy Williams version, his producer Richard Perry asked the song's lyricist Philip Cody to change some of the words to make them easier to sing. Cody balked at first, and then came to accept that altering his words to accommodate a popular singer wasn't the worst thing in the world. Said Cody: "Once I let go of the idea that my lyrics were inviolate, it went rather smoothly. Over the course of time, as the Carpenters did the song, they basically did a mash-up of the old lyric and the new lyric, which actually was better than either of the two, the Andy Williams or Neil's original. I think the Carpenters' version was the one that I like best."
This is one of the few songs that was successful with singers of both genders. Philip Cody told us that when he wrote it, he imagined a female voice singing it. Said Phil: "When I heard Karen Carpenter, I had chills down my spine. As a lyricist, you want that thing where an artist owns your lyric. You can measure success by the amount of money you make off a song, but I measure the success of that song by that particular moment, when she made it totally her own. And it's still great. I sat down one day and I listened to all 90 versions of 'Solitaire' that people have done, and of all the ones that are out there, Karen Carpenter's is still the one that is the benchmark for all the covers on that song."
The Andy Williams version of this song was a #4 UK hit in 1973, two years before the Carpenters' version came out. There was a completely different song called "Solitaire" that was a hit for Laura Branigan in 1983.
The Greek chanteuse Nana Mouskouri not only did a cover of this song but also recorded versions in French and German. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA)
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