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Neil Sedaka named this song for the songwriter Carole King. They went to Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn, New York along with Neil Diamond. Carol (as her birth name of Carol Klein, before she picked the stage-surname of "King") 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. Despite what impression Neil might have left, they did not date.
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'
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."
This was Sedaka's first top-ten hit (the first charting hit was "The Diary
" in 1958 at #14), and it's easy to see from here where he gets that swagger. You see, Rich Podolsky's book Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear
tells us that in school, Neil was the nerdy kid who'd rather practice piano than play football, so he got picked on a lot. That all changed when he performed at the Lincoln High School Ballyhoo Variety Show, with a song called "Mr. Moon," a lively bump-n-grind example of what was then considered the "new rock n roll." The audience went crazy over it, but the principle called Neil into his office and forbid him from ever playing the song in school again, saying, "I will not tolerate that kind of reaction among the students." The student body actually signed a petition
to demand that the school allow Neil to play the song again at a talent show, again to an adoring audience. You'd be pretty sassy too, with a back-story like that.
"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.
The ladies singing falsetto behind Sedaka's middle spoken bridge are The Kittens, a girl trio group who Al Nevins had hanging around the studio. When Sedaka recorded, everybody thought something was missing. Nevins turned to The Kittens and asked them to fill in.
Other acts to cover this song include The Four Seasons, Blue Diamonds, The Hep Stars, and General Saint featuring Don Campbell, this last a UK hit.
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