Ellie Greenwich, who penned dozens of classic songs in collaboration with producer Phil Spector and Jeff Barry for acts like The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, The Jelly Beans and The Dixie Cups -- the “girl group” sound, died this week of a heart attack in New York’s St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital; she had been admitted for pneumonia a few days earlier. She was 68.
In her 50-year career, Greenwich, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was awarded some 25 gold and platinum discs. BMI Publishing lists more than 200 songs Greenwich wrote or co-wrote, including such classics as “Leader Of The Pack,” “Chapel of Love,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” “Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Look of Love,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “I Can Hear Music,” and "Hanky Panky.”
Born Eleanor Louise Greenwich on Oct. 23, 1940 in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was 11 when she began studying accordion before switching to piano. As a teen she started her own group called The Jivettes. She got her first break as a songwriter working for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had written dozens of classic 1950’s rock tunes. Her first chart success was "This Is It" with the Jay and the Americans, which she co-wrote with Doc Pomus and Tony Powers.
Greenwich became part of the mythical Brill Building stable of songwriters where she teamed up with her husband Jeff Barry. Other Brill writers included Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil plus the likes of Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Paul Simon.
Greenwich and Barry also recorded a few sides as The Raindrops; their biggest hit was “The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget.” In 1964 alone, the two song writers were responsible for some 17 different singles reaching the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However the following year, 1965, she and Barry divorced, and Greenwich suffered a nervous breakdown.
She went on to produce songs for artists like Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, The Definitive Rock Choral and Ella Fitzgerald, but she really hit her stride working with Neil Diamond, producing his early hits “Cherry Cherry,” “Solitary Man” and “Kentucky Woman.” In 1968, Greenwich released her first solo album, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Produces and Sings, and included two charting singles, "Niki Hoeky" (a #1 hit in Japan) and "I Want You To Be My Baby."
In the 1980s she created a musical based on her life entitled Leader of the Pack, from the song co-written with her former husband Barry. The Broadway musical included many of her hits and told the story of her rise and fall. It scored several Tony and Grammy Award nominations.
This past week the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson was quoted by the L.A.Times, saying, “She was the greatest melody writer of all time.”