As songwriters go, Ellie Greenwich has few peers. During the ’60s,the Brooklyn-born Greenwich wrote an enviable stretch of hit songs with her then-husband Jeff Barry, five of which went to #1: “Chapel Of Love,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Hanky Panky,” “Leader Of The Pack”(Co-written with George “Shadow” Morton) and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” first a Top 5 hit for The Crystals and later a #1 hit for Shaun Cassidy in 1977.
Known as “The Demo Queen,” Greenwich met and “discovered” Neil Diamond and went on to produce and sing on several of his early hits like “Cherry, Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman,” “I Thank The Lord For The Night Time” and “Solitary Man.”
Though her first love was songwriting, several of her demos turned into hit records. Working at the famed Brill Building, Ellie also wrote in the offices of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and for legendary producer Phil Spector. The roll call of artists Ellie has worked with turned into a veritable “who’s who” from back in the day. In addition to Diamond, she wrote and produced songs for The Shirelles, The Dixie-Cups, Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, The Ronettes, Dusty Springfield and many others.
When the run was over, Ellie’s songs earned her over 25 gold and platinum records, and sales in the tens of millions. She was given the ultimate honor by being inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1991. Though admittedly somewhat of a recluse these days, Greenwich talked to Goldmine about her career, some of the songs that have made an indelible mark on pop culture, and her working relationship with Phil Spector.
The Brill Building’s reputation as a “hit making” factory in the early ’60s was second to none. What do you recall about that period?
Ellie Greenwich: You know, whenever I’m asked about that “Girlie” period of the ’60s, like ’62, ’63 and ’64, it was like… the business certainly was maybe one-tenth the size of what it is now. And there were certain groups of writers doing the same thing at the same time, all very young and very optimistic, even though they were the competition. There was such a camaraderie… it just felt like a family. We were all going for the same record, so every team was in there in their little cubby holes bangin’ out a song and trying to get the record.
So did you all get along or were you all trying to get that hit?
EG: We all wanted to have a hit, but we were so naïve. We never thought about the money. We never thought about the publishing and who owned what. We were just so grateful to be doing something that we loved. And, of course, there was always, “I wanna get a record and that could be wonderful.” But, we never knew the importance of it. We just thought it could be great; otherwise, why are we doing it other than we were stroking ourselves and loving what we did. And we were genuinely happy for somebody who got the record.
But in addition to your writing, you were also recording demos. Did you lean one way or the other, especially after having a hit with The Raindrops?
EG: Yeah, but you know that The Raindrops is a very interesting story. There was a group years ago out of Philadelphia called The Sensations, and they had a hit called “Let Me In.” And I loved that song. It was so much fun. So, Jeff and I decided we were gonna write a song and submit it to them. Literally, we wrote the song on a train coming in from Queens, Long Island, as we were recently married, and booked the session at Associated Recording and the session consisted of Jeff, who played drums, and me, who played piano.