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Ellie Greenwich 8/2009

ellie greenwich picAugust 26, 2009 – Eleanor Louise “Ellie” Greenwich (October 23, 1940 – August 26, 2009) was born in Brooklyn New York into an immigrant family with an amateur music tradition. At age ten she was quite proficient on the accordion which she later replaced for piano when she started writing music and performing. In the sixties she was the driving force of a music partnership that brought rock and roll to the foreground with classic pop songs such as “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep, Mountain High”, “Doo Wah diddy” and “Be My Baby”.

Greenwich, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, is considered one of pop’s most successful songwriters. She had a rich musical partnership with the legendary Phil Spector, whose “wall of sound” technique changed rock music. With Spector, she wrote some of pop’s most memorable songs, including “Da Doo Ron Ron.” But Spector wasn’t her only collaborator.

She also had key hits with her ex-husband Jeff Barry, including the dynamic song “Leader of the Pack” (years later, Broadway would stage a Tony-nominated musical with the same name based on her life).

He was the first male I could actually harmonize with,” she once said.

While she garnered her greatest successes as a songwriter, Greenwich started out as a performer. She performed in talent shows as a child, and by the time she was a teen, she had her own group, called The Jivettes.

Still in college, in 1962, Greenwich got her first break in the business when she traveled to the Brill Building to meet John Gluck, Jr., one of the composers of the Lesley Gore hit “It’s My Party”. Needing to keep another appointment, Gluck installed Greenwich in an office and asked her to wait. The office turned out to be that of songwriter-producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Hearing piano music from the cubicle, Leiber poked his head in and, expecting Carole King, was startled to see Greenwich, who introduced herself and explained her reasons for being there. Recognizing her potential as a songwriter, Leiber and Stoller agreed to allow her to use their facilities as she wished in exchange for first refusal on songs she wrote. They eventually signed Greenwich to their publishing company, Trio Music, as a staff songwriter.

She had her first chart success with the Jay and the Americans song “This Is It” which she wrote with Doc Pomus and Tony Powers.

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became one of the most successful songwriter duos of the Sixties. In 1964 alone, this husband-and-wife team saw 17 of their compositions make the pop charts. The voluminous Barry-Greenwich catalog includes five songs that went to Number One: “Chapel of Love” (Dixie Cups), “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (Manfred Mann), “Leader of the Pack” (Shangri-La’s), “Hanky Panky” (Tommy James and the Shondells) and “Da Doo Ron Ron” (Shaun Cassidy). However, that was just the tip of the iceberg, as the duo composed hundreds of songs recorded by a variety of artists during their relatively brief but prolific union. Between them, they wrote 25 songs that went gold or platinum.

They also teamed up with producer Phil Spector, who by then had his own Philles label. Writing as a trio, Spector, Greenwich and Barry created not just pop songs but pop art. In addition to “Da Doo Ron Ron,” their shared byline could be found on such formidable classics as the “Be My Baby”  and “River Deep-Mountain High” (Ike and Tina Turner). Other songs they wrote with Spector include “Then He Kissed Me” (Crystals), “Baby I Love You” (Ronettes) “Hanky Panky” (Tommy James and the Shondelles) and the seasonal favorite “Christmas (Baby Please Some Home)”.

They reigned as songwriters at the peak of an era when the roles of songwriter, producer, vocalist and musician were more clearly defined. Once the Beatles bundled those tasks, establishing a precedent of self-sufficient bands that wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, there was less need for professional songwriters in the pop-music realm. The divorce of Greenwich and Barry in 1965, combined with the changing landscape of the Sixties rock scene, put an end to their prodigious collaboration.

Unlike a lot of songwriting teams, Greenwich and Barry did not follow rigidly defined roles. Each contributed words, music and ideas in a total collaboration. Their demo recordings were highly regarded within the industry and Greenwich’s vocals – she handled both lead and overdubbed backing parts – earned her the reputation of being the “queen of demos” in the New York area.

In fact, Leiber and Stoller thought so highly of one demo (“What a Guy”) that they insisted on its release, intact and unedited, as a single. Having to contrive a group, Greenwich and Barry named themselves the Raindrops (after Dee Clark’s hit of the same name). Released in 1963, “What a Guy” received regional airplay and just missed the national Top 40. Their second single, “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” was a Top 20 hit. The Raindrops placed six singles in the Top 100 during a two-year period, all on the Jubilee label.
In the following years Greenwich worked as an arranger and singer, a role that saw her working with artists including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. She is also credited with helping Neil Diamond get his start and was a co-producer of early Diamond hits “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.”
Greenwich and Barry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991.
She died in 2009 of a heart attack following a bout of pneumonia. She was 68.
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