The leader of the pack, and now she's gone.
August 26, 2009 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Ellie Greenwich, one of the foremost songwriters of the rock and roll era, has died at the age of 69.

One of the staples of the Brill Building songwriting factory, her career began at age 19 when she co-wrote "Tell Laura I Love Her."

Later, in partnership with her husband Jeff Barry she was behind such songs as "Be My Baby," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "And Then He Kissed Me," "Leader of the Pack," "Chapel of Love" and "River Deep, Mountain High."

She also was the writer of one of the first jukebox musicals, also titled Leader of the Pack.
posted by ricochet biscuit (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, so many songs. Her talent will be missed.
posted by lexicakes at 11:05 AM on August 26, 2009

posted by jquinby at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2009

She also released some of her own music, as a member of the Raindrops and as a solo artist.

posted by jonp72 at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2009

posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:15 AM on August 26, 2009

Oh man, "River Deep, Mountain High" is right up there with "God Only Knows" in power and profundity for me. I didn't know who wrote it, but I always kinda had a feeling it was a woman. While I didn't know about her before this obit post, it's pretty clear that Ellie Greenwich left an indelible mark on the history of music in America.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2009

When all of my friends were raving about Kiss and Nugent back in Jr High I couldn't stop playing my teen tragedy 8-track, which had several Ellie gems. She co-wrote so many of my faves growing up.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:20 AM on August 26, 2009

I never knew she co-wrote "Tell Laura I Love Her" - I thought that was a pre-Ellie Jeff Barry song.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:21 AM on August 26, 2009

"Be My Baby" tops a lot of "best song ever" lists. Like many Greenwhich/Barry songs, it's a fascinating little study of a relationship between two people in a little over two minutes. It's a feat that anyone who's ever written anything rightly envies.

posted by chrchr at 11:28 AM on August 26, 2009

Songwriter is the most unsung job.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on August 26, 2009

Oh no. She was so, so great. One of the best, for sure. The Raindrops album is truly a gem, as well. Well worth checking out.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 11:37 AM on August 26, 2009

And co-produced all of Neil Diamond's early hits too. What a life.
posted by blucevalo at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2009

She left quite a mark on pop music. Wow. What a run.
posted by JBennett at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2009

She made my childhood rock!
posted by ahimsakid at 11:49 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My first voice teacher and Ellie have passed away on the same day. My first musical production ever was "Leader of the Pack - The Ellie Greenwich story". Mr. Joseph Robbins was my first college voice teacher, an expert on opera and classical singing and a dear man.

Two of my biggest musical influences gone at one time. Tough day.

. .
posted by pearlybob at 11:57 AM on August 26, 2009

posted by stilist at 12:24 PM on August 26, 2009

One of the oddest things that I've heard she was involved with was the Bob Crewe joint Disco Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes, an album that lives as one of the stranger outposts of dance and drug culture. She was definitely Crewe's songwriter of choice at the time, and was rumored to write songs for that project that were uncredited as part of the weird medleys that make up most of the album.

I'd like to believe that she was a part of such a bizarre detour in pop history, even aside from her undeniably huge actual legacy.
posted by klangklangston at 12:54 PM on August 26, 2009

posted by Obscure Reference at 1:05 PM on August 26, 2009

The Brill Building was an amazing concentration of talent and creativity, and Ellie was a big part of it.
posted by rocket88 at 1:07 PM on August 26, 2009


(Honestly, it hardly seems possible that she was that young.)
posted by willpie at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2009

Have a listen to Ellie singing her own compositions.
posted by Webbster at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2009

That's a pretty impressive list of songs... I can't imagine the 50's and 60's without some of those...
posted by HuronBob at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2009 classic!
posted by Capt Jingo at 1:52 PM on August 26, 2009

klangklangston -- That's a cool fact about her involvement with the bizarre Disco-Tex (Monty Rock III) phenomenon. After writing "Da Doo Ron Ron" and all those other great songs, she could marry Yoko Ono and I'd forgive her.
posted by Faze at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2009

From what I've heard she was very funny and generous too, and she sang back-up on a lot of early Blondie stuff (much of it uncredited), who definitely took inspiration from her.

posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:02 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. My mom listened to nothing but Oldies stations when I was growing up (late 80s, early 90s), and I can still sing every word to all those songs. I didn't realize they were all written by the same talented lady. The world is definitely a poorer place without her.
posted by ish__ at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2009

so what did she do in the 10 minutes she wasn't writing songs?
posted by kitchenrat at 2:25 PM on August 26, 2009

posted by Smart Dalek at 2:34 PM on August 26, 2009

posted by kuppajava at 6:52 PM on August 26, 2009

Excellent post, thanks so much for the education. One of the many good things about a well written obit post and the thread that follows is learning about that person's life, who I may never have heard of before. It feels wonderful to value this accomplished woman's life, know her name. The Brill Building is only a couple of minutes from where I live, nice also to check out more of its history.

Wow, so it was Ellie Greenwich who wrote all those cheesy, vulgar, lowbrow songs I listened with secret pleasure to on WABC with Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie on the small transistor radio Granny gave me, that I listened to under my pillow for years. She wrote the songs for those wonderfully skanky girl groups.

Having grown up in colonial British Jamaica, West Indies, then moved to bitterly cold, urban NYC in 1962, the meaning and culture of her music was so alien to me it might as well been written by a Martian. I enjoyed it from age 9, guiltily, because I would never have been given parental permission to listen to what they would have called "drek". I listened with a lot of anthropological curiosity, like eating fluorescent orange, almost like styrofoam, but somehow delicious, Cheetos. Who were the people for whom this music meant something? Who were her songs about?

Hers was the music of gumcracking girls with beehive "do's" and greasers, frosted lipstick and frosted hair. After several years of consuming her songs addictively, knowing they were empty but still enjoying them, the way I used to eat those chocolate ball Maltesers, I was blown away when that great tsunami of social change hit in 1966. Everything went from Banana Taffy to brown rice. It was Buffalo Springfield's Stop, hey what's that sound, I heard on the radio that was my personal experience of stepping over the threshold from Ellie Greenwich into another era, one of Meaning, Caring, Political Awakening.

What a strange clash that was as an experience. Now I can put a name to the writer of all those amazing songs. My God she was prolific! Thank you Ellie for being, in my life, the songwriter of the first part of that strange journey. There's got to be a leather jacketed, Juicy Fruit, Aqua Net hairspray heaven for you. May you make the angels snap their fingers and waggle their hips.
posted by nickyskye at 7:14 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

She was 68. She would have been 69 in October.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:17 PM on August 26, 2009

Doesn't say what she died from....

What a musicography! What a talent! She will be remembered in song through the ages...
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:42 PM on August 26, 2009

she also drove the hanky panky - i didn't know she wrote that one
posted by pyramid termite at 9:00 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is very sad. My husband got a call from from his ex (they are still close) today to tell him the news. She'd visited Ellie Greenwich in the hospital earlier, and although Ellie was under sedation, she was able to hold Ellie's hand and sing some songs and, though she didn't know that was what she was doing at the time, at least say goodbye. They were very close, and by all accounts Ms. Greenwich was a wonderful and kind person.

(yes, she came to their wedding and sang Chapel of Love)
posted by stagewhisper at 9:15 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

An amazing talent and someone who makes me realize that there is a dearth of good pop songs anymore.

posted by OolooKitty at 11:25 PM on August 26, 2009

Doesn't say what she died from....

"The cause was a heart attack following a case of pneumonia."
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:45 AM on August 27, 2009

Wow. I had no idea all these songs were written by the same person. What a talent for a cotton-candy hook.

posted by Tesseractive at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2009

I could have added links for another twenty songs to the FPP, but I figured that for gilding the lily.

I met her once, maybe twenty years ago, when she was working with a production of the stage show. She was charming and gracious and I was astonished that this woman, not a lot older then than I am now, had been responsible for at least a dozen songs that I know and that everyone I know knows as well.

I am puzzled that a day and a half after her passing away, her official page has not yet been updated with the sad news. Indeed, when I first heard the news, I looked there and on her entry on wikipedia and neither mentioned it, so I wondered if the report I had heard was a mistake. Sadly, no.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:45 PM on August 27, 2009

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