Friday, September 4, 2009

Queen of Heartache and Cool Gibberish: Deceased Artiste Ellie Greenwich

The obits for Brill Building legend Ellie Greenwich elaborated the many, many hits she cowrote with her then-husband Jeff Barry (from “Then He Kissed Me” and “Leader of the Pack” to “I Can Hear Music” and “River Deep, Mountain High”), but what impresses me about Greenwich’s work was the the split — the wonderful only-in-pop-music schism between heavy-duty melodramatic tales of heartbreak and woe, and three of the most impossible to forget goofy-hook songs of the Sixties: “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Hanky Panky,” and “Doo Wah Diddy.” Not to mention “Niki Hoeky," which I particularly like since it’s never, ever played on oldies radio.

Her earliest hits were written with a Funhouse favorite, Brill Building tunesmith turned singer-songwriter Tony Powers (“Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts”). Along with her husband and co-writer Jeff Barry, Greenwich also produced Neil Diamond’s unforgettable early hits on Bang records (“Cherry Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman”). In her later years, she was a constant presence on the NYC theater scene, supervising the musical “Leader of the Pack,” which began at the late, lamented Bottom Line and eventually moved to Broadway. She also did backing vocals on Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual album and Blondie’s Eat to the Beat.

For a prime example of Greenwich in singer-songwriter mode, I direct you to the Red Telephone 66 blog’s posting of her 1973 LP Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung. The Red Telephone blog-master does a marvelous job of supplying rips of vinyl that is looooong out of print; for this he deserves our gratitude.

As a tribute to the songwriting talents of Ms. Greenwich, I decided to repost a clip I had put on the original Funhouse blog, one which had gotten a lot of hits and much traffic when it was on YT. It's from a rare 1965 TV special hosted by Murray the K. One of its finer moments features the Ronettes doing “Be My Baby” in the streets of Little Italy. Considering the song’s solid identification with the once and future classic Mean Streets, the clip is doubly historic. Sure, it’s a lip-synch (and the sound ain’t so hot on the mono VHS copy I’ve got), but it’s loaded with “atmosphere.” R.I.P. Ellie G. The songs will not be forgotten....

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