Loss on top of loss: Ellie Greenwich, the pioneering female songwriter who wrote some of the most flat out brilliant songs of the 1960s, including “Be My Baby,” “And Then He Kissed Me,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “River Deep, Mountain High,” and “Leader of the Pack,” died this morning at the age of 68. Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, Greenwich released her first record at the age of 17, and got her start as a songwriter in the Brill Building, where Jerry Leiber initially mistook her for Carole King.
After writing “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” and “Why Do Lovers Break Each Others’ Hearts?” with Tony Powers and Phil Spector, Greenwich married Jeff Barry in 1962. The Greenwich-Barry team had, within a year, written “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You,” as performed by the Ronettes and “Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” as performed by the Crystals. Phil Spector co-wrote and produced all four songs. The next year, Greenwich and Barry teamed with the Shangri-Las mastermind George ‘Shadow’ Morton to pen “Leader of the Pack,” still one of the most stunning, bizarre, and creative songs in the history of pop music.
Barry and Greenwich would go on to divorce, but they continued to work together. Before the decade was out they’d discovered Neil Diamond and written “I Can Hear Music” for the Ronettes and “River Deep, Mountain High,” for Ike and Tina Turner. In late ’60s and early ’70s, Greenwich released two solo albums and sang background on countless others, working with Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, and Bobby Darin. In a neat bit of trivia, she wrote “Right Track Wrong Train with Cyndi Lauper in 1983, a record that became the B-side to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” A Broadway show, 1984’s Leader of the Pack, memorialized her life and music, and in 1991, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Her total body of work is at once one of the most appealing and also, at times, avant garde in all of pop music. She deserves a bit of your time today. There are many places to start.