#589: Run Samson Run by Neil Sedaka
In 1939 Neil Sedaka was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Brighton Beach beside Coney Island. His paternal grandparents immigrated to America from Constantinople, Ottoman Empire, in 1910. His fathers side of the family there were Sephardi Jews and his mother’s side Ashkenazi Jews from Russian and Polish background. Sedaka is a cousin of the late singer Eydie Gorme. When Neil was eight years old he listened to a show on the radio called The Make-Believe Ballroom that opened his world to appreciation for music. Within a year Neil had began learning classical piano at the age of nine at the Julliard School of Music. His progress was impressive and Arthur Rubinstein voted Neil as one of the best New York High School pianists after he turned 16 years old.
At Abraham Lincoln High School Sedaka began playing rock n’ roll in addition to his classical studies. He created a doo-wop group called The Tokens, who had a number one hit in 1961 called “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” When he was 13 a neighbor heard Sedaka playing and suggested that he meet another teen with a musical ear down the street named Howard Greenfield. The two formed a songwriting partnership and between 1959-1963 achieved record sales of over 40 million. Next, Sedaka and Greenfield got contracts as songwriters with Don Kirshner and Al Nevins of Aldon Music. Aldon Music was one of the independent music companies in the Brill Building in Manhattan. Other singer-songwriters in the Aldon Music stable included Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Paul Simon. In the Brill Building a musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record and cut a deal with radio promoters. Offering these services all inside one building was an advantage over other music companies where a recording artist had to go to multiple addresses to get these tasks completed. The Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, and the nearby 1650 Broadway building, (and to a lesser degree 1697 Broadway) grew to define the “Brill Building Sound” whose creative artists dominated the pop charts with their output, especially prior to the British Invasion.
At the age of 19, Sedaka had a Top 20 hit recorded by Connie Francis in 1958 called “Stupid Cupid”. She later recored the theme song for the theme song for the movie Where the Boys Are. Sedaka began releasing singles as a solo recording artist after he signed with RCA Victor. He was successful in the USA, but often even more successful on the charts in Vancouver. “Stairway to Heaven” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in Vancouver on April 2, 1960. In the summer of 1960 Sedaka released a double-sided single “You Mean Everything To Me/”Run Samson Run”. Both singles climbed into the Top Ten with CKWX charting “You Mean Everything To Me to #5 and “C-FUN charting “Run Samson Run” to #3.
“Run Samson Run” is a song based on the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was incredibly strong and his strength was attributed to his locks of hair. The Bible tells that his shoulders were sixty cubits wide, equal to ninety feet (1,080 inches). This made it hard for Samson to buy clothes at local stores, or to find a suitable bed at a local furniture store. He slew a lion with his bare hands and defeated the Philistine army with only the jawbone of a donkey. But his lover, Delilah, had her servant cut his hair and he lost his strength. He was captured by the Philistines and his eyes were gauged out. Blind, he was forced to grind grain at a mill in Gaza. Samson prays to God to return his strength. Subsequently, he grabs hold of columns in the temple of Dagon and destroys the temple, the Philistines and himself.
The Biblical story of Samson and Delilah is from the Book of Judges. It casts Delilah as a seductive deceiver who coaxes Samson to tell her the secret of his strength. But in the song “Run Samson Run”, Delilah is described as “a gal with a cheating heart”. Neil Sedaka sings that the moral of the story is “there’s a little of Delilah in each and every gal”. The definition of “deceiver” is someone who makes false and misleading statements. While one possible meaning is someone who is unfailful, the Biblical story concerning Delilah’s behavior is about her seduction of Samson in order to learn the secret of his strength. In the Book of Judges Delilah doesn’t have an affair with another man. In contrast, the definition of “cheat” concerns sexual infidelity and dishonesty in financial matters.
Sedaka’s lyric suggesting there’s a little bit of Delilah in every woman is incendiary, certainly by today’s standards. It may be plausible that given the right circumstances anyone might be driven to “cheat” in a relationship that has grown stale, abusive or cold. However, many women and men, living in corrosive and disheartening relationships choose to remain faithful. If all women and “gals” have a little bit of Delilah in them, according to the logic of the song Samson would have nowhere to run. All other available gals would have a little of Delilah in them. Consequently, Samson would be no better off with anyone else. Perhaps the moral of the story as told in “Run Samson Run” is he should have remained single and unattached. In any event there are lots of historical and fictional women to point to who had exemplary qualities.
In 1949, Cecile B. DeMille directed a Hollywood version of Samson And Delilah where Samson, with Victor Mature in the leading role, is portrayed as a “handsome but dumb hulk of muscle.” The film won five Academy Award nominations and won two for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.
Other hits followed including “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” which peaked at #1 in Vancouver and #6 on the Billboard charts in the fall of 1961. Earlier that year Sedaka had a string of number one hits in Vancouver with “Calendar Girl” (#4 on the Billboard Hot 100) and “Little Devil” (#11 on the Hot 100). Sedaka’s recordings were set apart due to the unique multi-tracking of his own voice. However, his star began to fade into 1963 as his single released failed to crack to Top 20.
In 1964, with the arrival of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark and other acts that were part of the British Invasion, Sedaka got crowded out of most AM radio playlists. He turned to songwriting over much of the next decade, including “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”, a Top 20 hit for the Fifth Dimension in 1969. Earlier that year Neil Sedaka had a #1 hit in Australia that didn’t crack the Billboard Hot 100 back in his native USA. It became the #5 song of the year in Australia for 1969. The song, “Star Crossed Lovers”, also climbed into the Top Ten in Vancouver and made it to #8.
After a decade of relative obscurity on the pop charts, Elton John approached Neil Sedaka to record a duet with him called “Bad Blood”, and encouraged him to record a new album titled Sedaka’s Back. It featured his #1 hit in early 1975, “Laughter in the Rain”. Building on his mid-70’s revival, Sedaka re-released hit #1 hit from 1962, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”, this time as a ballad. It became the first song in music history to reach #1 on the charts in Canada having been recorded in two different versions by the same artist to reach the top spot. (The original peaked at #1 in the USA and the slow version in ’75 climbed to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100). During this time, Sedaka also helped to launch the career of the Captain and Tennille with their version of his “Love Will Keep Us Together”, which won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year for this worldwide top charting hit.
In 2019 Neil Sedaka continues to tour into his 80th year with eight concert dates scheduled between February and June in the USA and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
February 20, 2019
C-FUN*TASTIC 50, CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, September 17, 1960.
Neil Sedaka Biography, Neil Sedaka.com
Adi Gold, Neil Sedaka: Israel is the Homeland: Pop music icon promises to be ‘bigger than Paul Anka’ in Tel Aviv concert. ‘After all, I’m One of Yours’, Ynetnews.com, Rishon Lezion, Israel, October 3, 2010.
Samson: Biblical figure, Encyclopedia Britannica.com
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