#148: Little Devil/I Must Be Dreaming by Neil Sedaka

A-Side: “Little Devil”
Peak Month: June 1961
9 weeks on Vancouver’s CKWX
Peak Position ~ #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #11
YouTube: “Little Devil
Lyrics: “Little Devil

B-Side: “I Must Be Dreaming”
Peak Month: July 1961
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN
Peak Position ~ #11
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #102
YouTube: “I Must Be Dreaming
Lyrics: “I Must Be Dreaming”

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. 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 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. They 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 that would earn sales of over forty million records between 1959-1963. Soon Sedaka and Greenfield were signed with Don Kirshner and Al Nevins of Aldon Music. With this signing the two became one of the original creators of the “Brill Building” sound in the late fifties and early sixties. Aldon Music signed other successful singer-songwriters including 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, all within this one building. The creative culture of the independent music companies in the Brill Building and the nearby 1650 Broadway came to define the influential “Brill Building Sound” and the style of popular songwriting and recording created by its writers and producers.

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. In December 1959, “Oh Carol” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 in Vancouver.

“Stairway To Heaven” peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in Vancouver. Other examples are hit #3 hit in September 1960, “Run Sampson Run“, and “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.

Little Devil/I Must Be Dreaming by Neil Sedaka

“Little Devil” is a song about a gal who’s “always running around,” a “heartbreaker” and a “mischief maker.” The guy who’s all “in a whirl” over the little devil vows “to make an angel out of you.” He’s determined she’s gonna be his. Now that he’s “wise” to her game, as far as he’s concerned she’s met her “Waterloo”.

“Little Devil” peaked at #1 in Vancouver, and Syracuse (NY), #2 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Toronto, #3 in La Crosse (WI), #4 in San Diego, Denver, Calgary (AB), Colorado Springs (CO), and San Francisco, #5 in Erie (PA), Saint Charles (MO), Little Rock (AR), Ottawa (ON), and Miami, #6 in Amarillo (TX), and San Bernardino (CA), #7 in Buffalo, Tallahassee (FL), Winnipeg (MB), Lafayette (LA), Cleveland, Wilkes-Barre (PA), Fort Dodge (IA), Charleston (WV), and Montreal, #8 in Pittsburgh, Kalamazoo (MI), Allentown (PA), Sacramento (CA), Boston, Seattle, Richmond (VA), and Milwaukee (WI), #9 in Indianapolis (IN), #10 in Springfield (MA), Grand Rapids (MI), Boise (ID), and York (PA).

As “Little Devil” was at the end of its chart run, the deejays on Vancouver’s CFUN were getting requests to play the single’s B-side, “I Must Be Dreaming”.

Little Devil/I Must Be Dreaming by Neil Sedaka

With instrumentation by Stan Applebaum and his Orchestra, Neil Sedaka hoped he’d have a double-sided hit. The song evoked the experience of someone who’s ecstatic to discover that the person they’ve been in love with for so long loves them back. Though “I Must Be Dreaming” peaked at #102 in the USA, it spent seven weeks on the CFUN charts peaking at #11 in Vancouver. Elsewhere, “I Must Be Dreaming” got little airplay in North America. It peaked at #20 in San Antonio (TX), #23 in Worcester (MA) and the Top 40 in Seattle.

Sedaka recorded an Italian version of “I Must Be Dreaming” as “Un giorno inutile“. Together with an Italian version of “Little Devil” (“Esagerata”) the single was a Top Ten seller in Italy. Similarly in Germany “I Must Be Dreaming” was also a hit where it was recorded as “Heute Sind Es Träume“. If you choose to listen to the linked versions you can decide if you prefer “I Must Be Dreaming” in English, Italian or German. The Stan Applebaum orchestration was the same for each versions with Sedaka making one studio recording for each of his foreign language versions. In 1961 love was in the air. The movie adaptation of the Broadway production of West Side Story kept the themes of first love and young love in their idealized forms on people’s radar. Neil Sedaka’s “I Must Be Dreaming” was all part of this trajectory.

That same year Steve Lawrence recorded his hit “Portrait Of My Love”. The lyrics similarly speak of dreaming as a way to metaphorically express the impact of coming to terms with the gift of romantic love.

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.

On August 26, 1976, Neil Sedaka gave a performance in Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum.

In 2016 Neil Sedaka continues to tour into his 78th year with concert dates scheduled in the UK and USA into September 2018, according to his official website.

December 10, 2016
Ray McGinnis

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.
Neil Sedaka Concerts – Canada,” setlist.fm.
The Fabulous Forty,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, May 6, 1961.
C-FUN-Tastic 50,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, July 1, 1961.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

One response to “Little Devil/I Must Be Dreaming by Neil Sedaka”

  1. Judy says:

    “I Must be Dreaming” must have done well in Montreal, since I remember every note very clearly from my pre-teen years. It’s one of my all-time favourite ballads — I just love the introduction and the lush arrangement. I used to sing it (along with Forty Winks Away) with a very dear friend who passed away recently, and the song means a great deal to me. Thanks so much for this post, Ray.

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