So, Ellie Greenwich died today of a heart attack. Wasn’t expecting that one. Only this past weekend I was admiring her personal website, noting how endearingly homemadeÂ andÂ homely it was.
If you’re not familiar with Ellie Greenwich, here’s a sampling of songs she wrote:
Be My Baby (The Ronettes), Then He Kissed Me (The Crystals), He’s Got the Power (The Exciters), Hanky Panky (Tommy James and the Shandells), Do Wah Diddy Diddy (Manfred Mann), Chapel of Love (The Dixie Cups), Da Doo Run Run (The Crystals), I Can Hear Music (Ronnettes/Beach Boys), Leader of the Pack (Shangri-Las), Maybe I Know (Lesley Gore), River Deep, Mountain High (Ike & Tina, Harry Nilsson) and many more.
She also had hits as an artist, even if it initially came about somewhat accidentally. Similar to the stories of Carole King’s early singles or Little Eva’sÂ ”The Locomotion,” Ellie’s first hit was just a demo that a label decided to press: “What a Guy.” Since Ellie did so many harmonies on the recordings, the single was marketed as a doowop group, the Raindrops. Subsequent releases featuredÂ then-husband Jeff Barry laying down a bass vocal. The Raindrops released a few additional hits, including one of my favorite silly doowop tunes: “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget.”
She also discovered Neil Diamond and producedÂ the original versions of songs like “Solitary Man,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Cherry Cherry.”Â If that’s notÂ enough for you, she also arranged the vocalsÂ and sang for Aretha’s “Chain of Fools,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” in addition to countless other recordings from the 60s and 70s.
I first got an idea of Ellie’s greatness after watching this documentary about the Brill Building songwriters – all of which were amazing talents in their own right. The sad fact that struck me from watching the documentaryÂ is that it seemed like Ellie had been somewhat lost after the Brill Building heyday, alluding to serious depression.Â So it was somewhat of a consolation to stumble on her websiteÂ recently and learnÂ thatÂ theÂ Broadway musical based on her music and lifeÂ (Leader ofÂ the Pack) had been providing her vicarious joy through communication with aÂ younger generation of high school drama students who wanted to know about her.Â While itÂ looks like they’ve already taken the link down, asÂ recently asÂ this weekend, her websiteÂ listed her personal email address and invited high school students who had performed the play to write her.
Here’s a quote from an essay Ellie wrote on her website:
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
Hopefully oldies radio does play tribute to this behind-the-scenes superstar. For a while, I’ve been meaning to download all the Ellie Greenwich songs I hadn’t heard before and make my own complete Greenwich-Barry collection (I did the same thing for early Carole King and Randy NewmanÂ songs a few years ago, and both were great). Now seems like a great time to follow through with that idea.
Here’s one of Ellie’s first solo singles, “Baby.”