Who wrote these great teen anthems of the sixties: Be My Baby, Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry, Chapel of Love, Da Doo Ron Ron, I Can Hear Music, Leader of the Pack, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, River Deep and Mountain High and Then He Kissed Me? They are all three-minute masterpieces from the pen of Ellie Greenwich, who died on Wednesday. As a measure of her significance, consider that in 2004 Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time included six by Ellie Greenwich and her husband and writing partner, Jeff Barry – more than by any other songwriting team. They had 17 singles in the pop charts of 1964, surpassed only by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles and the Americans Holland, Dozier and Holland.
Ellie Greenwich helped to shape and popularize the ‘girl group’ sound of the early ’60s that included such acts as the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and the Crystals, becoming, in the process, one of the most respected pop songwriters of the era. Like most of her generation, Greenwich was transfixed with the sounds of rock n’ roll and, between college classes, hung out at a local record shop in her home of Hicksville, New York. The owner of the shop introduced Greenwich to some label scouts and soon she found herself recording a single for MCA under the name Ellie Gaye. The single flopped, however, but in a moment of fate she met aspiring songwriter Jeff Barry in 1962 at a party and soon the two began writing songs together, eventually becoming husband and wife. After composing for a few short months, the duo made an appointment at the famed Brill Building where other songwriting teams such as Leiber and Stoller, King and Goffin and Mann and Weil where beginning to find success. Greenwich and Barry were taken into the fold by Leiber and Stoller and began writing and producing for Phil Spector’s short-lived Philles label. It was during this period that Greenwich co-wrote some of her most lasting songs, including Da Do Ron Ron and Be My Baby. In 1964 Greenwich and her songwriting husband teamed up with Leiber and Stoller to write for their Red Bird imprint. It was with Red Bird that the girl group sound was molded into perfection by Greenwich, Barry, Leiber, Stoller and producer George “Shadow” Morton. Providing songs for the Dixie Cups (Chapel of Love) and the Shangri-Las (Leader of the Pack), the Red Bird staff produced records whose love-struck lyrical content belied the complication and sophistication of the music. Greenwich continued to write hit records with Jeff Barry, including the seminal River Deep, Mountain High and the Beach Boys 1969 hit I Can Hear Music, but…when their marriage soured so did their writing partnership. Greenwich continued on in the music industry, recording a singer-songwriter album for Verve Records in 1973 and providing background vocals to many of rock’s biggest stars. [Allmusic]
On the Ellie Greenwich website there is this piece which Ellie wrote several years ago. Called Lure Of An Era (60’s Music), it crystallizes the impact of these songs back then – and the way their magic still lingers:
I’ll be the first to admit that when I first started writing songs professionally, in the early 60’s, I never,not once, wondered what would be going on twenty-five, thirty years later. Oh, sure, I wondered how my marriage would be, how many kids I would have, where I would be living, and what I would be doing…but I never considered whether or not the music that was being created during this era would have longevity and survive.
Listening to the radio today, and seeing the number of revivals and “Oldies” shows, it’s obvious that the music has lived and thrived. It has done that in spite of what would seem to be cultural changes and a more complex society. If you view the survival and prospering of 60’s music from a somewhat psychological reference, maybe it’s survival makes a lot of sense.
Being a grown-up…I mean a true fifty-ish/sixty-ish adult…who has had many cyclesof good and bad times, illnesses, death of family members, etc., coming to terms with certain realities, and realizing and accepting that while we may feel eighteen and twenty years old, we are not, and we shouldn’t try to be. Life today seems more violent, more complex, more uncertain and harder to hold on to than it was back then, especially the early 60’s. Life was fairly simple and straightforward. There was a large degree of innocence, and flirting, courting and naiveté was the rule, not the exception. The music of that era reflected the simple life and easy times. It was a comfortable place to be, and people knew what to expect. JFK had people feeling hopeful. My generation was just graduating High School or College or moving on to the Trades or the Service. It was an exciting time, and people had a plan…or seemed to. There was something (intangible), to anchor yourself to. One of the biggest anchors was the music which was paramount in every waking hour of their lives…our lives…
Now, thirty years older, I believe that many of my generation have reached a new plateau and it’s an interesting place. You can realize the fruits of years of hard work and you can watch your grown children slipping into the roles you are now leaving, but you also are painfully aware that you don’t quite fit into society any longer. It’s not the same world you knew. You are facing old age (oops!…I mean the “Golden Years”), and you really don’t want to. It’s a frightening time for many people. We feel somewhat scattered and directionless and we wish we were back in the 60’s. We need to grab that anchor of stability once again, but can’t find it…until we hear a familiar tune on the radio…you know, a song we listened to while our parents nagged and complained; a song we first-kissed to; a song we listened to with our friends while hanging out, sometimes pretending to be the groups themselves. And for those precious moments we can go back where we came from – go back to where it was fun, happy, safe, simple and comfortable. Need I say more?
Ike & Tina Turner: River Deep Mountain High
The Crystals: Da Doo Ron Ron
Beach Boys: I Can Hear Music
Ellie Greenwich: Goodnight, Goodnight