Greenwich emerged as a songwriter when America itself was on the cusp of everything, a whole set of conventions unspooling under the power of rock 'n' roll, the civil rights movement and the incipient counterculture. Her American polyglot upbringing prepared Greenwich, who died today at age 68 of a heart attack, for what she became: one of the great sound alchemists who turned the ambiguities of youth into the essence of American pop.
Able to sing, arrange and produce as well as pen indelible hits, Greenwich found her artistic home within New York's Brill Building, where she, her husband and songwriting partner, Jeff Barry, and their peers transformed an art form without making a big deal of it. She was a natural collaborator who could match wits with control freaks like Phil Spector and totally relate to the kids in the groups who recorded her songs.
She could write silly and she could write serious. But Greenwich's key works -- such classics as "Leader of the Pack," "Chapel of Love" and "River Deep, Mountain High" as well as more obscure ones like "Out in the Streets" and "Girls Can Tell" -- have a particular resonance that goes beyond catchiness or nostalgia.
1963 press photo of the Raindrops with Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Ellie's sister Laura. But now here's the mystery. Answer if you can. If Ellie did all overdubbing as it says in her official biography, then why is Laura in this Rainsdrops photograph? Possibly she lip-synched in performances as per a sentence in the Greig interview? (When Les Paul and Mary Ford performed for audiences, the multi-track sound of their recordings was simulated by having Mary's sister, Carol, sing into an offstage microphone.)
Hi Bob, I was shocked to hear of Ms. Greenwich's demise at such a relatively early age the other day. I have a small Ellie Greenwich story...
While I never actually met Ellie, I was at her NYC apartment in the mid-'70s. My longtime friend Jimmy Iovine was 'Apartment Sitting' for her and we stopped by to make sure that the mail was in and that everything was alright. After bringing in arms full of mail that we deposited on the kitchen counter, I looked over to a pile of envelopes on the coffee table. When I asked Jimmy what they were, he nonchalantly said they were "Royalty checks, she gets a ton of them each week!" I nearly fell over with shock and joy. Being a then-budding songwriter I could only imagine that type of success.
God bless Ellie Greenwich, she was one of the prime architects of the soundtrack of our youth.