Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
- Ellie Greenwich
- Jeff Barry
The dynamic duo topped charts with tight, sophisticated pop songs.
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich rose to the top of the Brill Building songwriting staff with such hits as “Leader of the Pack,” “Da Do Ron Ron” and “River Deep, Mountain High.”
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich were among the most successful songwriters of the Sixties.
In 1964 alone, this husband-and-wife team saw seventeen of their compositions make the pop charts. The voluminous Barry-Greenwich catalog includes five songs that went to Number One: “Chapel of Love” (Dixie Cups), “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (Manfred Mann), “Leader of the Pack” (Shangri-La’s), “Hanky Panky” (Tommy James and the Shondells) and “Da Doo Ron Ron” (Shaun Cassidy). However, that was just the tip of the iceberg, as the duo composed hundreds of songs recorded by a variety of artists during their relatively brief but prolific union. Between them, they wrote twenty-five songs that went gold or platinum.
They wrote much material for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Red Bird label and also teamed up with producer Phil Spector, who by then had his own Philles label. Writing as a trio, Spector, Greenwich and Barry created not just pop songs but pop art. In addition to “Da Doo Ron Ron,” their shared byline could be found on such formidable classics as the “Be My Baby” (Ronettes) and “River Deep-Mountain High” (Ike and Tina Turner). Other songs they wrote with Spector include “Then He Kissed Me” (Crystals), “Baby I Love You” (Ronettes) and the seasonal favorite “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (Darlene Love).
Greenwich was born in Brooklyn and moved to Long Island when she was 11. She played piano and led a high-school group, the Jivettes. She wanted to pursue music as a livelihood but was counseled—by Archie Bleyer, owner of Cadence Records—to finish college first, which she did. While attending Hofstra University, where she earned an English degree, she met Jeff Barry.
Distant relatives by marriage, Greenwich and Barry were introduced at a family get-together and discovered they had much in common. Like Greenwich, Barry (whose birth name was Joel Adelberg) was born in Brooklyn, played piano, wrote songs and loved pop records. While Greenwich was still in college, they collaborated on a pair of singles, “Red Corvette” and “Big Hunky Baby,” with Greenwich using the pseudonyms Ellie Gee and Kellie Douglas.
They shared a consuming passion for songwriting, and when they formally joined forces in 1962, songs flowed and hits followed. However, they initially worked at separate publishers with different partners. Greenwich and Tony Powers wrote the Top 40 hits “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?” and “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” Both were Phil Spector productions sung by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and Darlene Love, respectively. Barry co-wrote “Tell Laura I Love Her,” a Top 10 hit by Ray Peterson. He also wrote Sam Cooke’s first single for RCA Records, entitled “Teenage Sonata.”
Greenwich and Barry married in 1962. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller united them professionally that same year, giving them an office at their Trio Music headquarters in the Brill Building. Their union as songwriters and spouses lasted until 1965. They reigned as songwriters at the peak of an era when the roles of songwriter, producer, vocalist and musician were more circumscribed. Once the Beatles bundled those tasks, establishing a precedent of self-sufficient bands that wrote their own songs and played their own instruments, there was less need for professional songwriters in the pop-music realm. The divorce of Greenwich and Barry, combined with the changing landscape of the Sixties rock scene, put an end to their prodigious collaboration.
Unlike a lot of songwriting teams, Greenwich and Barry did not have rigidly defined roles. Each contributed words, music and ideas in a total collaboration. Their demo recordings were highly regarded within the industry and Greenwich’s vocals—she handled both lead and overdubbed backing parts—earned her the reputation of being the “queen of demos.” In fact, Leiber and Stoller thought so highly of one demo (“What a Guy”) that they insisted on its release, intact and unedited, as a single. Having to contrive a group, Greenwich and Barry named themselves the Raindrops (after Dee Clark’s hit of the same name). Released in 1963, “What a Guy” received regional airplay and just missed the national Top 40. Their second single, “The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget,” was a Top 20 hit. The Raindrops placed six singles in the Top 100 during a two-year period, all on the Jubilee label.
As songwriters, Barry and Greenwich hit Number One twice in 1963: with the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” (co-written with producer George “Shadow” Morton) and with the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (co-written with Phil Spector). The latter was the first single on Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label. The duo started their own publishing company in 1965 and signed a struggling young singer-songwriter named Neil Diamond, whose career they helped launch.
After their separation, Greenwich and Barry continued a professional association for a short while, co-writing “I Can Hear Music” for the Ronettes, as well as a surprise chart-topper (“Hanky Panky,” cut by Michigan’s Tommy James and the Shondells) and a spectacular flop (“River Deep-Mountain High,” which only reached Number Eighty-Eight). The inexplicable failure of that song, a Barry-Greenwich-Spector epic sung with volcanic intensity by Tina Turner, caused producer Phil Spector to retreat from the business for a few years.
Greenwich subsequently recorded two solo albums, Ellie Greenwich Composes, Writes and Sings (1968) and Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung (1973). She co-wrote and appeared in the musical Leader of the Pack, a spirited celebration of her and Barry’s songs and the era when they were hits. One of the first “jukebox musicals,” Leader of the Pack enjoyed a successful run at New York’s Bottom Line nightclub for a few months in 1985 before moving to Broadway.
Barry found success with the Monkees (whose Neil Diamond–penned “I’m a Believer” he produced), the Archies (the comic strip-inspired faux group for whom he wrote “Sugar Sugar”) and Canadian singer Andy Kim. He also co-wrote, with Peter Allen, Olivia Newton-John’s chart-topping “I Honestly Love You.” Over the decades, Barry has composed for television, film and Broadway. He wrote the theme songs for One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Family Ties and Where’s Waldo? Barry also served as president of the National Academy of Songwriters in the mid-Nineties. In 2000 he made Jeff Barry and Friends, a PBS special featuring performances of songs he wrote with and without Greenwich.
Greenwich and Barry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991.
Inductees: Jeff Barry (songwriting, piano, vocals; born April 3, 1938), Ellie Greenwich (songwriting, piano, vocals; born October 23, 1940, died August 26, 2009)