Neil Sedaka wrote a hit song about John Lennon’s immigration problems

It is well known that in the early days of Beatlemania, there were several songs about the Beatles that hit the charts. One of the most remembered of these songs is the novelty song “Ringo, I Love You” by 17 year-old Bonnie Jo Mason which was released in March 1964. Bonnie Jo Mason was actually named Cherilyn Sarkisian but producer Phil Spector wanted all of his artists to have American sounding names, so Sarkisian issued her first single under the name Bonnie Jo Mason; soon she would drop Bonnie Jo Mason and simply go by the name “Cher”. However, there is only one song about an ex-Beatle that was intended to help his legal battles. The 1975 song “The Immigrant” by Neil Sedaka was written about John Lennon’s immigration difficulties.

On his Facebook page, Sedaka made a post on May 9, 2013 in which he wrote, “I wrote this song for my friend John Lennon during his immigration battles in the 1970’s. I’ll never forget when I called to tell him about it. Overwhelmed by the gesture, he said, ‘Normally people only call me when they want something. It’s very seldom that people call you to give you something. It’s beautiful.” He left a video of a live performance of “The Immigrant” on the Facebook post.

John Lennon and Neil Sedaka had a common friend in Elton John, the most popular recording artist of the 1970’s who gave both veteran artists a boost. Elton John performed backing vocals and lent his keyboard talents on John’s “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night”, which topped the charts for one week beginning on November 16, 1974. It was the ex-Beatle’s first number one hit in the U.S., making him the last of the four ex-Beatles to top the charts; ironically, this song was Lennon’s only number one song during his lifetime as “(Just Like) Starting Over” hit number one three weeks after his murder on December 8, 1980 and stayed on top for five weeks. Believe it or not, Ringo had two number one hits before John had his first one; “Photograph” hit number one for one week on November 24, 1973 and “You’re Sixteen” topped the charts for one week on January 26, 1974.

Around the same time, Elton John helped Neil Sedaka top the charts for two weeks in October 1975 with the song “Bad Blood”. Sedaka had recently signed with Elton’s new label, Rocket Records, in hopes of overcoming a career slump of almost twelve years. Written by Sedaka and Phil Cody, “Bad Blood” was practically a duet of Sedaka and Elton, but Elton insisted on giving Sedaka the sole billing and staying in the background. Signing with Rocket Records catapulted Sedaka back into both prominence and up into the top of the charts. Ironically, “Bad Blood” was knocked out of the top position on the charts by Elton’s “Island Girl“, which stayed in the number one position for the first three weeks of November 1975.

Sedaka and songwriting partner Howard Greenfield were among the famed “Brill Building” songwriting teams which included Carole King/Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill, Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman and a few others. Sedaka and Greenfield wrote “Where the Boys Are”, which became Connie Francis’ signature song. As a solo performer, Sedaka scored thirteen songs in the Top 40 between 1958 and 1963, which included six top ten hits and the 1962 number one hit “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”. His 1959 song “Oh! Carol”, written for singer/songwriter Carol King, hit # 2 while the 1960 # 4 hit “Calendar Girl” has been frequently used in commercials over the years.

A rough period of eleven years was ended after he signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records in the hopes of breaking the streak of bad luck. His first single to chart, “Laughter in the Rain”, landed on top of the charts for one week in February 1975, which was followed a couple of months later by his John Lennon tribute “The Immigrant”, peaking at number 22 and staying in the Top 40 for five weeks. Another song, “That’s When the Music Takes Me”, charted and reached number 27 prior to the success of the “Bad Blood”, which topped the charts for two weeks in October 1975. This incredible comeback on the part of Neil Sedaka received more steam when an old Sedaka/Greenfield song, “Love Will Keep Us Together”, was recorded by The Captain and Tennille and topped the charts for four weeks in June/July 1975, in between the two Sedaka number one hits that year. The title of the Sedaka comeback album was Sedaka Is Back, and as the song “Love Will Keep Us Together” is fading out, Toni Tennille sings “Sedaka is back”. This upswing in Sedaka’s career featured three more Top 40 hits in 1976, the most notable of which was a slower version of his 1962 number one hit “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” which reached number 8.

After such success with “Love Will Keep Us Together”, Captain and Tennille lost no time in recording another Sedaka tune. Sedaka wrote and recorded “Lonely Nights (Angel Face)” for his The Hungry Years album. The Captain and Tennille version was released in January 1976, and reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. When Sedaka was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on January 24, 1975 in the show’s inaugural season, he performed “Lonely Nights (Angel Face)”.

Sedaka’s own immigrant background was that of having a Sephardic Jewish father of Turkish origins and an Ashkenazic Jewish mother from Poland. Sedaka was a first cousin to late Grammy-winning singer Eydie Gorme, who was born Edith Garmezano in New York City to Sephardic Jewish immigrant parents from Sicily and Turkey.

John Lennon’s problems with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service are well known. The Nixon Administration denied him status as an important artist, a legal battle ensued, which was finally resolved on October 9, 1975, a day that marked both John’s 35th birthday as well as the birth of his son Sean. In the 1983 book The Book of Rock Lists by Dave Marsh, there is a list of ten celebrities who signed a petition that was sent to the I.N.S. on Lennon’s behalf. They were: 1) Fred Astaire 2) Saul Bellow 3) Leonard Bernstein 4) Bob Dylan 5) Lawrence Ferlinghetti 6) Allen Ginsberg 7) Jack Lemmon 8) Henry Miller 9) Virgil Thomson 10) Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

However, there was only one song written about Lennon’s immigration problems that charted on The Billboard Hot 100 !

Billy Preston ……… the unique “Fifth Beatle”

As is well known, Billy Preston was the only musician to get billing on a Beatles song as the worldwide # 1 hit “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”. The talented keyboardist, who died in 2006 at age 59, first met the Beatles in Hamburg when he was touring with Little Richard. Preston was one of the first artists signed to the Apple Records label.

While there were several people who were dubbed “The Fifth Beatle”, Billy Preston was the only one from that list who had a number one song of his own, and two of them at that. “Will It Go Round in Circles” was in the top position on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in early July 1973. “Nothing from Nothing” stayed at number one for one week in October 1974.

Preston also co-wrote the song “You Are So Beautiful” with Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson. Of course, this tune became the signature song of Joe Cocker; “You Are So Beautiful” also came to be the one song that Dennis Wilson would sing during Beach Boys concerts. Preston toured with the Rolling Stones from 1973-1977, playing alongside original Stone-turned-road manager Ian Stewart. He appeared on all of the Stones albums from time frame, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock and Roll, and Black and Blue.

Billy Preston toured as a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1989 and 1995.