Every inch on every wall of her apartment was filled with awards, gold records, recognitions, framed notes and articles. There were pictures of her with the Beatles. Lyric sheets, music sheets, album covers. If she and I had lunch plans I always insisted on meeting her at her apartment. A half hour early. Ellie Greenwich’s apartment was like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Better. It was in New York, not Cleveland.
You may not know her name but you’ve sung her words.
You many not recognize her voice but you’ve heard it on the radio a billion times.
Ellie Greenwich was a singer/songwriter who during a golden period of the 60s expressed the feelings, angst, and joy that my generation was experiencing and she put them into the meaningful words we couldn’t … even if those words were Da Doo Ron Ron and Doo Wah Diddy.
Ellie Greenwich passed away this week. She was only 68.
Along with Jeff Barry and other collaborators, Ellie wrote many teen anthems. “Leader of the Pack”, “Be My Baby”, “I Can Hear Music”, “River Deep/Mountain High”, and countless more. The Broadway musical “Leader of the Pack” was loosely based on her career. She discovered Neil Diamond and sang background on all his hits. She had a couple of hits herself as lead singer of the Raindrops. She’s produced records, wrote famous jingles (e.g. "Ooh-La-La-Sasson"), sung with Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Blondie, and Cyndi Lauper. Brian Wilson called her "the greatest melody writer of all-time".
Ellie was part of the Brill Building, which basically was a stable of songwriters who churned out most of the smash hits of the day. Working in little offices side by side were Leiber & Stoller, Bacharach & David, Goffin & King (as in Carole), Mann & Weil, Sedaka & Greenfield, and a few other heavyweights. (Some of them like Neil Sedaka were still teens in high school at the time. I always loved the fact that Jewish kids who couldn’t get a date would take the subway into Manhattan after school and write the love songs that every teenager in America was singing.)
Anyway, I had an idea to write a musical about the Brill Building and connected with Ellie about providing the music. Thus began a collaboration (although I never got the project off the ground) and friendship I have cherished for years.
God, she could make me laugh. There are some people who just know how to tell a story. Hers often involved giving Phil Spector shit (it’s a wonder he didn’t shoot her). They were the kind of stories you couldn’t repeat because no one but her could do them justice.
She used to love my travelogues. I email them to my friends as well as posting them. One of the joys of writing these travelogues (lord knows I’m not making any money off of them) was hearing from Ellie. And it’s ironic because I’m writing this on a plane to Cincinnati and am in the middle of another travelogue. I’m sending it to her anyway.
Ellie Greenwich loved a good song and loved a good laugh. I hope all of those wonderful treasures and keepsakes on her walls are given a good new home; somewhere where the life and contribution of this lovely talented lady can be forever appreciated. Y’know, Cleveland’s not so bad after all.