I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ellie Greenwich, a true pop genius, late last week from a heart attack brought on by complications with pneumonia at the age of 68. Don’t recognize the name? Surely you’ll recognize her work if you’ve listened to pop music in the last five decades–her catalog is that vast and influential. Quitting her high school teaching gig in ’62, Greenwich claimed a role in the music industry that was highly unconventional for a woman of her time: “…most of the women were background singers, or they were lyricists,” she told writer Charlotte Greig. “There were very few women who played piano, wrote songs, and could go into a studio, work those controls, and produce a session.”
One of the leading lights of the early ’60s in the legendary NYC Brill Building factory of songwriters that also included Lieber and Stoller, Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich cranked out a simply unbelievable amount of landmark pop songs and iconic hits. Collaborating with her then-husband Jeff Barry, they actually had 17 songs in one year hit the Top 40 charts in 1964. A partial list of their artistry includes “Be My Baby,” “Leader Of The Pack,” “Chapel Of Love,” “Baby I Love You,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “River Deep Mountain High,” “Maybe I Know” and “Look of Love” (two of the greatest Lesley Gore songs not called “It’s My Party” and “You Don’t Own Me”), “Then He Kissed Me,” “I Can Hear Music,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Christmas(Baby Please Come Home).” Greenwich and Barry also performed together as a duo called The Raindrops, and Greenwich helped a young Neil Diamond launch his own career, producing the singer’s early hits “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.”
Ellie Greenwich also sang back-up for Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfeld, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Cyndi Lauper (among many others), and was a creative consultant and appeared in the On and Off Broadway stage productions of THE LEADER OF THE PACK, a musical partially based on her story. A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, this was a truly gifted woman who left her creative footprint on the music world, and we should all be thankful she did.