Although best known as the composer of many early 1960s classic rock songs, the multi-talented Ellie Greenwich also excelled as a singer, studio arranger and producer, and music business entrepreneur. Her songs—recorded by stars such as Lesley Gore, the Dixie Cups, the Shangri-Las, Jay and the Americans, the Exciters, and Phil Spector’s Philles roster—were unsurpassed in reflecting the teen experience of that era.
Born within the suburban confines of Long Island, Greenwich sang at school functions and first tried her hand at songwriting while majoring in education at Hofstra University. Her only recording—released by RCA in 1958—was a failure commercially. After graduating in 1961, she briefly tried teaching English at nearby General Douglas MacArthur High School. Realizing she was more interested in popular music than literature, she began working for the songwriting/production team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. She also sought an outlet for her singing, making demonstration tapes of other writers’ songs—in the early 1960s she was referred to as the "Demo Queen of New York"—and supplying all of the voices in the studio for a vocal group, the Raindrops, which also included her husband and songwriting collaborator, Jeff Barry. The act’s biggest hits—"What a Guy" (Jubilee 5444; 1963; #41) and "He’s the Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget" (Jubilee 5455; 1963; #17)—featuring tight production values and nonsensical vocal flourishes, represented prime examples of the neo-doo-wop tradition.
Some of Greenwich’s finest compositions were supplied to Spector, including the Ronettes’ "Be My Baby" (Philles 116; 1963; #2) and "Baby, I Love You" (Philles 118; 1963; #24), the Crystals’ "Da Doo Run Run" (Philles 112; 1963; #3) and "Then He Kissed Me" (Philles 115; 1963; #6), and Darlene Love’s "(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Going To Marry" (Philles 111; 1963; #39). She also worked closely with the Red Bird label, owned by Leiber, Stoller, and George Goldner, providing such hits as the Dixie Cups’ "Chapel of Love" (Red Bird 001; 1964; #1) and "People Say" (Red Bird 006; 1964; #12), the Jelly Beans’ "I Wanna Love Him So Bad" (Red Bird 10003; 1964; #9), and the Shangri-Las’ "Leader of the Pack" (Red Bird 008; 1964; #5).
Taking a cue from the Red Bird operation, she and her husband turned increasingly to publishing and production work in the mid-1960s, most notably with Neil Diamond. Among the singles ensuing from the collaboration were "Solitary Man" (Bang 519; 1966; #55), "Cherry, Cherry" (Bang 528; 1966; #6), "I Got the Feelin’" (Bang 536; 1966; #16), "I Thank the Lord for the Night Time" (Bang 547; 1967; #13), "Kentucky Woman" (Bang 551; 1967; #22), and "Shilo" (Bang 575; 1970; #24).
Various personal problems, including the breakup of her marriage and substance abuse—and changing popular music fashions led to a drop-off in productivity by the late 1960s. She revived her career, however, by focusing on radio and television commercials through her firm, Pineywood Productions. In the early 1970s, Greenwich wrote ad material for Ford, Cheerios, Prince Albert Tobacco, and other companies. She also contributed vocals to jingles for the likes of Beechnut, Clairol, Coca-Cola, Noxzema, and Helena Rubenstein.
At the height of the rock ‘n’ roll revival, she recorded an album of her classic hits, Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung (Verve 5091; 1973). Deemed by critics to be even better than her 1968 release, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces, and Sings (United Artists 6648), she spent much of the 1970s and early 1980s performing live. This success led to support for a Broadway musical based on her songs; Leader of the Pack opened in early 1985 to mixed reviews and modest box-office success. The income derived from reissues of recordings of her compositions, though, has continued to pay high dividends.
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