Ellie Greenwich


Ellie Greenwich, one of the most prolific hitmakers of the 1960s, who was the co-writer of such catchy and enduring pop hits as "Be My Baby," "Chapel of Love," "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Leader of the Pack," and who was credited with launching the career of singer Neil Diamond, died Aug. 26 of a heart attack at Roosevelt Hospital in New York, where she was being treated for pneumonia. She was 68.

Ms. Greenwich was in her early 20s when she joined the celebrated Brill Building school of songwriters, named for the New York workplace of such renowned pop tunesmiths as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus, Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

With her then-husband Jeff Barry, Ms. Greenwich teamed with producer Phil Spector and turned out one Top 40 hit after another. Their songs, often written from a feminine point of view, helped define the infectious "girl group" sound of the early 1960s popularized by the Ronettes, Crystals and Shangri-Las, among others.

The New York Times once described Ms. Greenwich as "probably the least known of all the major songwriters from the Brill Building school," but seven of her tunes with Barry are on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of the rock era. "Be My Baby," which reached No. 2 on the pop charts for the Ronettes in 1963, is ranked No. 22.

In 1964, Ms. Greenwich and Barry had three songs reach No. 1 on the pop charts: "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups, which begins with the memorably upbeat line, "Goin' to the chapel, and we're gonna get married"; "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," by Manfred Mann (originally recorded by a girl group called the Exciters); and "Leader of the Pack," by the Shangri-Las, which included the menacing roar of a motorcycle dubbed into the record. They had another No. 1 hit in 1966 with "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and the Shondells.

Another Greenwich-Barry song, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," has become a rousing holiday tradition on the "Late Show With David Letterman," performed every year since 1986 by its original singer, Darlene Love.

Besides her songwriting, Ms. Greenwich worked as an arranger, record producer and backup singer, including sessions with Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. In the mid-1960s, she encouraged Neil Diamond, then a songwriter at the Brill Building, to take up a singing career. With Barry, she produced and sang background vocals on his early hits, including "Solitary Man," (1966), "I Got the Feelin' " (1966), "Kentucky Woman" (1967) and "Shilo" (1970).

"Ellie Greenwich was one of the most important people in my career," Diamond said in a statement. "She discovered me as a down-and-out songwriter and with her then-husband Jeff Barry co-produced all my early hits on Bang Records."

Ms. Greenwich was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991. Describing her partnership with Barry in 2001, she said, "Wherever our heartbeats were, they were kind of all beating together. We thought along the same lines. We were hopeful romantics, and our songs came out that way."

Eleanor Louise Greenwich was born in Oct. 23, 1940, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up on Long Island. She played the accordion and piano, began writing songs at 13 and formed a singing group in school called the Jivettes.

"I learned songwriting by listening to the radio and pretending I was in the different groups," she said in 1984. "I sang along and became the Everly Sister. But it was the Shirelles who made me decide I had to try do it myself."

At 18, she recorded a few songs under the name Ellie Gaye, then attended Hofstra University on Long Island, graduating in 1962. She spent three weeks as a high school English teacher before quitting to marry Barry, whom she had known since childhood.

She joined him at the Brill Building to write music. They briefly formed a singing group, the Raindrops, and recorded their song "The Kind of Boy You Won't Forget," which reached the Top 20 in 1963. Ms. Greenwich overdubbed all the female vocal parts.

One of their best-known titles came about by accident. They couldn't complete the lyrics for a song and never removed the nonsense syllables meant to indicate missing words: "Da Doo Ron Ron." The record became a No. 3 hit for the Crystals in 1963.

"Da doo ron ron was literally a fill-in phrase because we didn't know what to say in that particular part of the song," Ms. Greenwich told the Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette in 2001. "We figured we would get back to it later and say something."

After Ms. Greenwich and Barry were divorced in 1965, they continued to collaborate occasionally, including the landmark "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner in 1966, which Spector considered the best example of his "wall of sound" production style. The song later became a hit on a joint 1970 recording by the Supremes and Four Tops.

Ms. Greenwich recorded two albums of her songs in 1968 and 1973 and later wrote a musical revue, "Leader of the Pack," featuring her music and life story. It opened on Broadway in 1985 -- next door to the Brill Building -- and was nominated for a Tony Award for best musical. It has toured for years, despite a damning review from Frank Rich of the New York Times: "This show does lead the pack in such key areas as incoherence (total), vulgarity (boundless) and decibel level."

In the 1970s and 1980s, while battling drug problems, Ms. Greenwich made a living by producing radio and television commercials. One of her songs from the 1970s, "Sunshine After the Rain" became a huge British hit for Elkie Brooks, and she continued to write music for Nona Hendryx, Cyndi Lauper and other singers.

Summing up her career to an Australian newspaper in 2003, Ms. Greenwich said: "I did something that I loved. I was writing and singing and doing lyrics -- and playing the piano and doing backups and producing. I was very fortunate that these songs have lived on."

1 comment:

  1. What a terrific post on Ellie. Really interesting and alot of research. those girl groups were definitely the main soundtrack of the 1960s. Thanks for writing this!

    Kimmer

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