Ellie Greenwich had a hand in some of the greatest songs ever recorded. In the early to mid-'60s, she and her husband Jeff Barry cranked out an incredible string of songs that, when listed back to back, truly seems to be impossible. Check this short list and see if you can believe it. The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You," the Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me" and "Da Do Ron Ron," the Dixie Cup's "Chapel of Love," Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy," Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High," Leslie Gore's "Maybe I Know" and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," "Out in the Streets" and "Train from Kansas City." Whew! The duo (as well as the producers and singers they wrote for) created music so epically joyous, so ridiculously heartbreaking, and so true that to call it "oldies" seems like a crime. They are timeless songs that capture the feelings of teenage love, real love and real heartaches simply and perfectly..
Through partnerships with Phil Spector, Lieber and Stoller, and Bert Burns (for whom they discovered and produced Neil Diamond), Greenwich and Barry were at the center of the American pop universe, and their work rates right up there with any songwriting partnership you'd care to mention. If this wasn't enough to make her legendary, Ellie was also a fine singer. After making some good records (1968's Composes, Produces & Sings and 1973's attempt at striking gold, ala Carole King, Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung) that never did much commercially, she retreated to something she had been doing even as her songs were topping the charts and had a long career as a background vocalist (on records as diverse as Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," Blondie's Eat to the Beat and Cindi Lauper's She's So Unusual). Her death today at the age of 69 gives us a good reason to revisit some of her best songs, some very worthwhile tracks that almost hit, and a few examples of her overlooked solo work.
The Ronettes - "Baby I Love You"
The Crystals - "Then He Kissed Me"
Leslie Gore - "Maybe I Know"
The Shangri-Las - "Leader of the Pack"
The Jellybeans - "I Wanna Love Him So Bad"
The Raindrops (with Ellie on vocals) - "The Kind of Boy You Don't Forget"
The Should Have Been Huge Hits:
The Ronettes - "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine"
Sonny & Cher - "Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love"
The Dixie Cups - "Gee The Moon is Shining Bright"
The Drifters - "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing"
The Solo Recordings:
"Goodnight, Goodnight (What's So Good About It?)"
"Baby Baby Baby"
"Sunshine After the Rain"
This last song is probably my favorite of all her songs, and was also the only song released under her name while Barry & Greenwich were writing together. It's a harrowing, almost unbearably emotional song about a relationship splitting up, delivered with chilling dynamics and a vocal from Ellie that's the equal of any singer she ever wrote for. This sample only gets a little bit of what makes the song so amazing....
"You Don't Know"
Just last year, Ace released a fitting tribute to the work of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry called Do-Wah-Diddy: Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. Though it only sticks a toe into the deep catalogue of brilliance the duo created, it's a compilation well worth picking up. Let's hope more volumes will follow, and that the songwriting genius of Barry and Greenwich will never be forgotten.