Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Ellie Greenwich

1st September 2009

Lois Wilson pays her respect;


Songwriter, singer, arranger and producer Ellie Greenwich sadly died of a heart attack on August 26, 2009 aged 68. She played an integral role in sculpting what became known as the girl group sound, mapping the tumultuous teen condition of falling in and out of love in her goose-bump inducing melodramas for Phil Spector’s Philles and Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird labels. It was arguably her first husband Jeff Barry and the aforesaid Spector who brought out the best in her; together they gave us The Ronettes’ Be My Baby and Baby I Love You, The Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me, Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep Mountain High and I Can Hear Music, the latter recorded by The Ronettes in 1966 but hitting big for The Beach Boys in 1969. She also conjured magic with Spector and Tony Powers (Darlene Love’s (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry, Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts? by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans), with Powers alone (Jay And The Americans’ This Is It, The Shirelles’ I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You, The Exciters’ He’s Got The Power) and with Shadow Morton (The Shangri-Las’ Out In The Streets and Leader Of The Pack).

1-10 Out In The Streets

Born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn on October 23, 1940, Eleanor Louise Greenwich’s family upped sticks to Levitttown, New York when she was 11 and she began composing shortly after. An attentive student, she learned dance, accordion and piano and honed her own singing and writing craft in girl group trio The Jivettes. In 1958 aged 17 she penned her debut 45, Cha Cha Charming, released on the RCA label under the name Ellie Gaye, (the moniker her nod to US R&B singer Barbie Gaye of My Boy Lollipop fame.)
Four years later in ’62 she graduated with a BA (hons) degree in English from New York’s Hofstra university – it was there that she started courting fellow student Jeff Barry, they’d marry in ’62, then divorce in ’67 – and after a brief stint at teaching she began work at the Brill Building. At the same time she was performing in The Raindrops with Barry and they scored US hits with 1963’s What A Guy and the same year’s The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget. They also released a self-titled LP. Later Ellie would release solo records; the spine-tingling heartbreak ballad You Don’t Know, scribed with Barry and Shadow Morton and released on Red Bird in 1965, the James Hendricks scribed, Bob Crewe produced more raucous I Want You To Be My Baby on United Artists and albums, 1968’s exceptional Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces and Sings and 1973’s follow up Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. They proved she was as gifted a singer as many who covered her songs.

1-07 You Don’t Know

Ellie was also a dab-hand at recording demos – she was dubbed the New York demo queen – providing backgrounds – for everyone from Dusty and Aretha to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra – and A&R – she discovered Neil Diamond in 1966 and with Barry co-produced his Solitary Man, Cherry Cherry, Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon and Kentucky Woman to name just a few.

Greenwich and Barry also saw their songs successfully recorded by The Dixie Cups, The Ad-Libs, The Drifters, The Chiffons, Lesley Gore, Tommy James and the Shondells and Manfred Mann in the ’60s but with the turn of the decade and her marriage to Barry over, Ellie turned to writing jingles (although she also found time to record that second solo LP.) The following decade saw her immortalised in the musical Leader Of The Pack, which went to Broadway in 1985 while in 1991 she and Barry were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame. And yet, considering the amazing body of work Ellie has left behind her, she never really got the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. Songwriting geniuses are few and far between, and alongside Holland, Dozier and Holland, Ellie Greenwich was the genuine article, one who had that rare ability to transport the listener to a magical place with her exquisite songs.

To hear Ellie’s work check out ‘Do-Wah-Diddy: Words And Music By Ellie Greenwich And Jeff Barry‘ (Ace).