AN INTERVIEW WITH
THE LATE ELLIE GREENWICH
Correspondent', my friend Dave Lincoln Brooks, runs a graphics company
in Texas and is, although he'd be the last to admit it, an
eloquent and highly knowledgeable expert on popular music and culture
as well as something of an Anglophile. Dave has managed to catch up
with music legend Ellie Greenwich, one of the 'team' of great
songwriters who provided us with the soundtrack to our youth on both
sides of the pond. I have somehow managed to put jealousy aside! I
personally can recall so many events and moments in my life that have
been lived with Ellie's songs in the background and I always regarded
her name on the credits of a song as a guideline of quality. We are
thrilled with this interview and would like to thank Dave, Ellie and
Bob (her business manager) for their efforts in providing retrosellers
with this wonderful, frank, entertaining, informative and fun insight
into the songwriter's life and work. Best wishes to all of them for
Digger October 2003.
Ellie in London
preface: To the majority of RETROSELLERS readers, the name Ellie
Greenwich is synonymous with pop music. And those who donít yet know
this illustrious singer/songwriter/arranger surely will be familiar
with many of her classic hits from the Golden Age of Rock ĎNí
Roll... To name but a few: "Chapel Of Love", "Do Wah
Diddy Diddy", "Be My Baby", "Leader Of The
Pack", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "River Deep, Mountain
High", "Baby I Love You", "Today I Met The Boy
(That Iím Going To Marry)", "And Then He Kissed Me",
"Take Me Home Tonight (Just Like Ronnie Said)",
"Hanky-Panky", "I Can Hear Music", "Maybe I
Know", "The Kind Of Boy You Canít Forget",
"People Say", "I Want To Love Him So Bad", and
many more. A lifelong New Yorker, Ellie was an integral part of the
now-legendary Brill Building stable of young prodigious songwriters...
composers and lyricists whose oeuvre has only burnished in lustre over
the years until it has firmly ensconced itself in the collective
unconscious of not only every Baby Boomer, but generations the world
over. With her then-husband Jeff Barry, along with the
brilliant-if-eccentric monstre sacrť of pop, Phil Spector, (and a
little help from engineer Jack Nitzsche), Ellieís songs gave birth
to the "Wall of Sound" production technique-- a thundering
orchestral style which, for sheer emotional wallop, has since become
the yardstick by which all pop records may be measured. Ellie is also
the producer of some of the early career-making Neil Diamond classic
hits, and her punchy background vocals and vocal arrangements may be
heard on most of the early Neil hits, as well as on most of the great
Lesley Gore sides, hits for Lobo, ELO, Blondie, Cyndi Lauper and
Robert John. That muscularly soulful, call-and-response girl choir you
hear backing up Aretha Franklin on her powerhouse "Chain Of
Fools"? It wasnít arranged by Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, Thom
Bell, Van McCoy or Maurice White III-- it was the handiwork of this
pioneering brown-eyed blonde from Levittown.
graciously gave me an hour of her candid reflections in a telephone
chat we shared on Wednesday, 3rd September 2003.
Dave Lincoln Brooks (DLB):
Before we begin, do you wish to comment on Phil Spectorís recent contretemps?
Ok. Then, would you concur, given the manís history, that he was a
Yes I would.
The 60's trio is of Ellie's group The Raindrops.
Ellie left. The brunette is Ellie's sister, Laura.
The man is her husband Jeff Barry
Ellie, your music has meant so much to me, more than you can perhaps
Iíve been an enormous fan since I first heard "Chapel Of
Love" at age 4....
(in disbelief) Get outta my sight!
My uncle had "Chapel Of Love" by The Dixie Cups on a Red
Bird 45.... I think the flipside was "People Say"-- am I
Ahh... no, that was a follow-up. He mightíve had a copy that
had both of them on it, but "People Say" was a follow-up.
I remember seeing your name on the record: Greenwich/Barry/Spector ...
And it was only many years later, when I bought the Blondie album EAT
TO THE BEAT...
(chuckles) Oh! Thatís hysterical...
...and fell in love with the song "Dreaminí"-- I love that
song-- and saw on the liner notes that you had provided the background
vocals to that song. It was at that time that I began to check into
you, and began to realize all you had contributed to the world of
music. Since then, Iíve just been astonished at your great output
and brilliant songs.
Well, thank you. Now that youíve flattered me, Iíll just hang up
and fly around the place here!
Itís all quite sincere.
The first time I saw your face was on the great 1984 RHINO video
production, GIRL GROUPS: THE STORY OF A SOUND. It was a
fabulous show that I mustíve watched countless times.
That show was really a lot of fun to do. It really was.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined Iíd meet two of the
key interviewees in that film, first Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and
now you! Ellie, what was your upbringing like? You were born in
Yes. And I still talk that way. I donít sing that way. Iíve
never lost that Brooklyn accent.
I adore it; it sounds very "showbiz" to me.
Yes, it doesnít really faze other Americans, but when you talk to,
say, someone from England or Australia, they kind of look at you and
go, "What is that?" (Laughs.) Yes, I was born in
Brooklyn, spent eleven years there. It was kind of an interesting
It was such a... family neighborhood, you know. People took
care of each other-- literally. Nobody had to lock their doors. And
there were, like, these little old ladies on the corners in their
little chairs. No countryside there-- it was all trees and cars-- and
theyíd be doing their knitting and watching everything go by. They
just... watched out for you. It was so wonderful. Then we moved to
Levittown, Long Island.
Now this is the famous Levittown, right? The developer William
Levitt got the idea in the late ĎForties to create a new kind of
suburbia especially designed to house the G.I.ís who were returning
from World War II, and their families...
So you came from a solid, middle-class background. I know that some of
the Brill Building people-- Bacharach, Carole King and Lesley Gore
come to mind-- came from decidedly affluent backgrounds... and I know
that Neil Sedaka, by his own accounts, came from a quite tough
My dad had worked in the Navy shipyards, and he just wanted to see
what itíd be like to have, you know, your own little house, your own
lawn, your own trees on your own little lane... I was destined,
Yes you were. I know you have a sister, Laura, who would join you and
Jeff [Barry] to form your first really chart-topping group, The
Raindrops [Their biggest hit would be "Heís The Kind Of Boy You
Yes. She was younger than I was.
Did you have any other siblings?
So your parents were blessed with two beautiful and talented
daughters, one a brunette; the other, strawberry-blonde. I love the
photo of you on your official homepage, of you as a delicately pretty
teenager seated at the piano, your hair in that pretty bob...
Yes, it was, well, more "dirty-blonde", actually!
You would eventually leave The Raindrops to have massive hits with
other songwriters... was there ever any, you know, sibling rivalry
between you and Laura?
No, not really. What youíve got to understand about my sister is,
she is very much a Caretaker. She very much wants fairness in the
world. Sheís a "take-carer". So she actually is a Special
Ed. Teacher. Sheís been that way all her life. She does dream of
what it would have been like had she followed her real love in life--
being a dancer... a dancer on the stage-- but that never was.
then I, on the other hand, did what I did, but never got my
social life together, or the marriage thing together, or had kids.
Which is my biggest loss.
Yes, I think that was intimated to me in that recent A&E
documentary about the Brill Building about two years ago... that you
do have some regrets there....
totally regret that I never had kids. I wouldíve been a great Mom. I
wouldíve been a fun Mom. Love kids. I love how their minds work. I
wouldíve been a Mom that always stayed a Mom, but then who became a
friend when it was necessary?
I totally believe that.
Really I would have. But now Iím totally like a second mother to my
niece and nephew. Maybe that was meant to be: that they could
have such an incredible aunt! [chuckles.]
Those are Lauraís kids?
Yes. And theyíre just the best. Iím just their "Crazy
Aunt". Nothing makes them happier than to see my songs out there.
And the show is going on now [Ellieís acclaimed musical stage revue
of her songs, LEADER OF THE PACK, now being performed
worldwide] , and I would have thought that they were born a little bit
late-ish to appreciate it, butó
Kids today know your songs. Iím a high school teacher, and recently
played a tape of your songs for my kids-- The Crystals, The Ronettes,
The Shangs-- they loved it! And knew most of them.
Itís amazing. And I think one of the best things is, my niece is the
little one, you know, and I remember when she was in Sixth Grade or
thereabouts, and one night she was sitting at the dinner table and
quietly said, "I have to tell you something. Weíre playing
"Do Wah Diddy Diddy" with the band!" And Iím, like,
"Oh, cool!" And then she added, "I went up to my
teacher and told him, ĎMy aunt wrote that song.í And he didnít
believe me. Could you come to school and tell him that you really
loved that! You know, they do LEADER all over the country; a
lot of schools do it, and I get these emails... So I am actually at
the moment writing a book: A THANK-YOU LETTER TO MY FANS.
[emphatically:] These letters have made me so happy. And
there have been other situations in which, say, kids would be doing LEADER,
and theyíd write a letter to Bob [Weiner, Ellieís longtime manager
and trusted assistant], and Bob would set it up with the director so
that I could address them over their intercom during one of their
rehearsals... and the kids didnít know about it beforehand! If you
could have been a fly-on-the-wall! I mean, I canít tell you... I was
on the other end of the phone, hysterically crying. The squealing
that went on with those kids when the director got on the phone with
me and whispered, "Say Ďhií". I went, "Hi, guys...
itís Ellie..." Well! The squealing and the carrying-on
that went on...! And I was totally sobbing, and the director asked the
kids, "Do you have anything you want to ask Ellie?" You
could just hear them lining up! Each one would come forward, and say
[now speaking in a young childís earnest "reciting"
voice]: "Hi, my name is such-and-such, and I play Mickey in the
chorus... and I was just wondering... um... er... uh... Can you make a
lotta money in the music business?"
Some of the questions were so fabulous. You know, like:
"Are you still speaking to Jeff Barry today?" Iíd say,
"Yes I am." "Are you still friends?" And Iíd go,
"Nevah!" And theyíd crack up laughing... it was so
cute. And then theyíd say, would you like to hear something? And
Iíd go, sure. So theyíd sing something to me. And Iím trying to
control myself-- because they sound so good. You could hear the
good time they were having... Then theyíd ask me, "Would you
sing something with us?" so Iíd think a bit, and choose
something simple that I could maybe start and then have them come in
with me. And... I canít explain to you the thank-youís...
and the notes Iíd get later from them... At moments like those,
Iíd hang up the phone and think, Wow. Look where all this has
gone: from sitting alone writing my songs, to having hits everywhere,
to hearing these people all having a good time... I have touched those
You have touched the whole world, Ellie.
But thatís amazing. And they have all touched my life in
You continue to have a very loyal contingent of fans in Australia...
the impact youíve made on the UK is huge... and then, letís
remember, your own recording of "Niki Hoeky" was a Number
One hit in Japan!
know it! It even beat Aretha Franklinís version by one week! You
know, one of the saddest things for me is that I didnít perform more
in the ĎSixties... I was certainly widely encouraged in the business
to do so. I was sort-of "The Girl Next Door". A lot of
publishers and labels wanted to send me, for instance, to England,
with the idea that I would make it huge over there first-- like
another Dusty [Springfield] or whatever-- and then import me over
here. But we were doing so well over here that Jeff wasnít really
happy with that idea. Which I suppose I can understand. And, of
course, it was the ĎSixties, and in those days, between a man and a
woman... it was, well, not quite "whatever the man the
wants" or anything, but...
Yes, I know what you mean... My own parents are your age, and I
remember what it was like between my own parents in those days...
...so I sort of said, "Yeah, well, I guess if that would make you
happy, I wonít do that..." Because I was looking down the
line-- I assumed we were working towards whatever it was we were
working to. I thought eventually Jeff would keep going on in the
business, and I would eventually, you know, stop. It got... complicated.
So complicated. So thatís another regret that I have. And then, when
I got a little older, when money started barreling in about TAPESTRY
[the landmark smash 1972 album for fellow Brill alum Carole King that
virtually set the tone for all singer-songwriters in the 1970ís].
And people then said to me, "Címon, you just gotta do
something!". But I sort of said, "You know, I just really
donít feel like it... Iím not..." And I never really
seriously tackled that area again. So, I feel kinda badly. I think now
that I would have enjoyed it.
But you did have a marvelous rebound again in 1997, with
"Sunshine After The Rain" [a Number One dance hit in
Australia for the boy group 98 Degrees]. What a coup!
That... that was amazing to me. It was a nice rebound to have that
hit. But you know, I havenít written in a long time-- which I really
should. I did start to write again, and I wrote some fabulous
songs that are hopefully going into the LEADER OF THE PACK movie.
ĎCause, when the show closed on Broadway, Universal [Pictures] had
bought the rights to do a movie, but then that kinda fell through, but
then Disney picked up on it, and they were going to do it, and
after, like, seven or eight years -- Oh, God! -- scripting
and consulting and then, because of song permissions
difficulties from some sectors, it just never worked out. Which is
unfortunate. It was too bad. I was very hopeful: Ďcause I already
had my actors for opening night: I wanted to have either Goldie Hawn
or Bette Midler play the part of me. I had it all planned out.
But it kind of fell by the wayside there, so that was kind of a
"downer", to say the least, you know? But at that point I
had written some terrific songs... One, in particular, called
"The First Time", I know would have been a Number One
record coming out of that movie. But the movie never happened, so ya
have to kinda leave it there. The songís still there, so-- you never
know... Thatís the way it is with music: you never know.
think the easiness of the time I grew up in allowed me to daydream, to
write the kind of things that I did... to kind of look at a guy, and
go [in a moony, teenage voice:] "Ohhh-- gasp-- I love him
so-o-o!!" You know?
[continuing her riff:] "Someday weíll be together...
Tra-la-la-la!!" I mean, seriously!
"Heís the kind of boy you canít forget"... ?
Nowadays, itíd be kind of like: [improvs another mock-lyric:]
"Gee, I hope he doesnít shoot-up with drugs! I hope he
doesnít shoot up people! " I mean, I wasnít even there!
Well, then, let me ask you: What did you, in fact, think when
that whole druggy San Francisco thing came into being... starting
around, say, 1966 or í67 ?
Well, I kind of sat there in wonderment... I sort of thought...
[bemusedly]: "I wonder what itís like to feel that free?"
Yeah, I did. That scene could have never been "me".
Never-ever-ever-ever. And I donít know why. Yet I didnít
put it down, necessarily. But I do think it kind of went
overboard. A little overboard.
Well, it got kind of... oh... tacky and more than a little
barbaric after awhile, didnít it, that whole drug-and-ballroom
Yeah, it did. People running around nude and always stoned and
everything. I remember thinking to myself, "This is not ĎPeople
Finding Joy In Somethingí; this is ĎPeople Running Away
From Somethingí". I cerebrally understood it, though I
could never emotionally fathom it. But, I suppose it did certainly
bring a whole new breed of personality into the industry... Some of it
was very good in fact. But I think thatís the way every style is:
there was rotten Doo-wop, and there was good Doo-wop. There were good
"message" songs, and there were terrible "message"
songs. There were some wonderful Girl Group things, and then there
were some that were, like, "Yeah, well, theyíre okay..."
think Leonard Bernstein-- may he rest in peace-- said it perfectly
when he said, "There are only two kinds of music: good music and
I tend to agree. I once told my younger brother, when he was learning
to play bass guitar, something of a paraphrase of that: "Music is
like food: Thereís nourishing music and non-nourishing music."
Thatís interesting. I once wrote something along those lines myself
many years ago, and only re-read it recently: Thereís comfort food--
and thereís comfort music. And I think thatís where my
music falls: itís a comfortable place to be. Even for me.
then sometimes, after a while, Even I donít want to hear my own
songs anymore... Itís like: Iíll hear them, and itís like, [in a
blasť tone]: "yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah..." [Laughs].
Oh, really? Because I never cease to enjoy your records... I can sit
and play them and love them anytime!
Yes, but you know whatís different? You donít have to sit
and talk about them all the time!!
Well, okay. So people like me are kind of a.... drag at times?
[Laughs] But, you know, then there are other times when Iíll listen
to them and gasp, "Wow! Those are really good!!"
Your song "River Deep, Mountain High" has been adjudged one
of the greatest rock songs ever written, and I concur. I think itís
magnificent. Not only the song, but the whole record with Tina
Turner.... I mean, it sounds as though... the whole heavens are
Yeah, so you can then understand why Spector left the business for
awhile: I mean, he thought this was the Rock ĎNí Roll symphony
of all time. This is IT! I understand that, but,
you know, when I first heard the record, I wasnít overly thrilled. I
thought it was a little bit "too much" again... a little bit
It was... it was kind of over-the-top, but to me thatís part
of the majesty of it.
But at the time, I was going, "Ooh, maybe itís just
too..." And then, when it didnít "happen" in America,
it was kinda like, [dejectedly]: "Oh, well...."
But didnít it go to Number One in England?
Yes it did. Yes it did. In fact, Spector took out a great ad in the
paper [VARIETY magazine]...
Oh, I remember that!
Remember? It said: "Three cheers for Benedict Arnold!"
Yes. He really thumbed his nose at the American music industry... Now:
do you like CŤline Dionís recent remake? [her version, largely
synth-pop flavored, on her 1996 album FALLING INTO YOU].
[matter-of-factly]: Not really.
Did you find it too... synthetic?
think sheís really wonderful. But I think they couldíve done it...
oh, how can I put it? I think she could have made it more her own.
I donít she got it quite as Big as Tinaís record, you know? It
seems like itís only a "90% copy". It didnít quite go
think that when youíre trying to emulate that same sound, youíve
gotta be better than that...
Well, thatís what they always say: One shouldnít do a copy of
another artistís record unless youíre sure you can significantly
improve upon it.
Absolutely. Or at least sit there right with it. Not even go 1%
lower. But just go, whoom! "That did it!!" But
I concede her record is very good... I mean, I like CŤline.
Sheís a wonderful singer.
Thereís no doubt about that. I guess what Iím really honing in on
here is, the difference between...
[Bluntly] It didnít have the balls Tinaís record had. Okay??
[Laughs loudly]. Well, thatís what her husband Ike [Turner, as
portrayed by Laurence Fishburne in the 1993 Touchstone Pictures biopic
of Tinaís life, WHATíS LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT] said:
[imitating Fishburneís gritty "Ike" voice]: "Now that
is a woman who can sing like a man!!"
Really! Yep, it really just didnít have... that... in there.
Yeah. Now, Ellie, tell me something about the differences between the
world of the recording/engineering sound of monophonic in the early
Sixties, as compared to, say, a CŤline Dion recording...
Specifically, Iím referring to "3-track" versus...
"128-track, 96-bit full digital".
Mm-hmm. I like the way we did the best we could given the tools we had
to work with. I mean, they didnít even have... Like, when we did
some of The Raindrops stuff, early on? We went down from
track-to-track-to-track-to-track-to-track-to-track. It was, Bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce!
So the quality was never there...
BMI Awards, 1964.
Phil Spector glowers to the left of Ellie in front
How did you manage to ping-pong so many tracks down without some
really bad tape hiss creeping in?
Well, they turned off the hiss. They equalized so much.
Everything was so equalized. Iím very bad with technical
terms, but theyíd put this machine on it... youíd turn it on, and
it would remove, like, 90% of the hiss. And you know what? When
everything was really happeniní-- the "oohs", the
"ahhs", the handclaps or whatever-- you didnít really hear
it that badly. And that end product was what you had. I
sometimes like that in records: I love mistakes in
So funny you should mention that. Just yesterday I posted a thread to
an online 60ís Rock ĎNí Roll newsgroup [cf.
rec.music.rock-pop-r+b.1960s] in which I said, Isnít it interesting
in which the minor flaws in Sixties records to me are somewhat akin to
the little flaws that Moroccan rugweavers would deliberately weave
into their rugs-- so as not to offend the gods with manís hubris.
And itís real. Itís magic.
Itís real, darn it!
Iím reminded of that song "I Saw Her Again Last Night",
you know, by The Mamas And The Papas? On that record-- I donít know
if it was intended or not, but if you listen, there is a premature
entrance of the vocals. You hear the instrumental section, then
suddenly, "I saw her ag---" [pauses abruptly] then, "I
saw her again last night..." And Iím hearing that, going,
"Wow! They kept that in! How neat!"
Yeah. And then to hear in, say, "Fingertips, Pt. II" [by
"Little" Stevie Wonder] youíll hear the bassman, during
the middle breakdown improv section, shouting: "What key? What
key, Little Stevie??" [Laughs].
Yeah, I love that!
And even on "Be My Baby" [by The Ronettes], I donít know
if it was intended or not, but after the instrumental midsection,
youíll hear that the girls go, "So, come on and be, be
my..." Then thereís, like, a beat... And they miss the first
Yeah! And you know what? I listen for it now, and I love it!
I was just listening yesterday to another Girl Group song, you know
"Party Lights" by Claudine Clark? In the song, she says
something that is ungrammatical... or it just doesnít make any
sense... She sings something like: "Mama, dear, I see the lights,
I see the party lights, theyíre red and blue and green; And
evírybody in the crowd is there, but you wonít let me make a
scene". And Iím thinking: surely the original lyric was
written as "...but you wonít let me make the
scene.", which, in the context of the song, would make perfect
sense; but instead she sings, "... but you wonít let me make a
[Laughs] Well, how do you think I felt when Manfred Mann comes out
with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy": He sings throughout the song:
"I knew we was falliní in love." Now David, Iím an
English major! I never wrote that! "We was
You mean, you originally wrote, "We were falliní..."
Yes!! Never would I write "We was" !!
Oh... See, and all this time I just thought he was trying to sound
"soulful" or "ghetto" or something...
That doesnít sound soulful-- it sounds stupid!! [Laughs]
That sounds incorrect. And every time I would hear it, it would
glare at me. Iíd picture my old English professor going:
[pedantically] "Hel-LO Ellie..."
[Laughs] "So THIS is what youíve done with your degree!"
But it was fine, really.
And now itís become etched indelibly into the public subconsciousó
...so much a part of the song. Yep. Amazing. Itís amazing how ideas
can become such a mainstream part of someoneís life. I think
thatís so fabulous. And I mean any creative endeavour. And I
do think that-- getting back to my growing up thing-- even throughout
college, I had such support from my friends.... all of them knowing
that, at some point, I was probably going to try the music business.
When I graduated, I taught for 3Ĺ weeks... really only 3Ĺ
weeks! They gave me high school seniors.... I mean, here I am, like,
21 years old, and there they were, like 17 or 18! Didnít work. They
were, like, [in a goombah accent]: "Yo, Ellie!" [Laughs]
You were scarcely older than they were...
Yeah. It was, like, "I donít THINK so!" The
principal was at my level, he knew I was musical and stuff, and he
asked me, "Do you think you can handle these kids?" And I
was, like, "Unh-unh. I donít think so..."
[Chuckles]. Then he said, "You wanna go try music?" And I
said, "Yeah, could I?"
"....and then if I donít do well, could I come back here?"
He goes: "Yeah, donít worry about it. Bye-ee...!"
Ellie, what did you, at age 14, present to Archie Bleyer [owner of
CADENCE records, famous for producing The Everly Brothers, and The
Chordettes of "Mr. Sandman" and "Lollipop" fame]
when your mother introduced you to him?
Hmm... what did I present him....? I played him a song called
"The Moment I Saw Him". This was something that I wrote
about a senior in high school that I had a big crush on.
...and you were only 14? Wow! Thatís incredible.
Amazing. In those days, anything I was feeling, or anything that was
going on in my life, Iíd put down in a little poem. Or write a
little song. And then I formed a little Girl Group (it was so bad, I
canít tell you!) called The Jivettes. And... I wrote a song
called "The Jivette Boogie Beat"... It was so cute... rather
like cheerleaders doing their little thing, yíknow? But that was
what was happening at that time in my life for me. And Iíd question
is a game. How can people play games on each other? That is not nice!
I was wandering down by a river, and thinking about how wonderful love
could be, and lovers should not play games."
there was an early starter, hm? Oh, I had so many songs... so many
little "ditty" things Iíd written down that Iíd play for
him. On my accordion, there I stood! I mean, he
mustíve gone [in a dubious tone:] "Hmmmm...." [Laughs] But
he was wonderful, the way he took the time for me. This was Archie
Bleyer, whoíd done so many things for the Everlyís and The
Chordettes... and I just couldnít believe-- oh!-- he was talking
he just flatly said to me, "Finish school." And I heard
that, and I promised him that I would. He said the music business
would always be there. And he was right. Although, there are times
when I wonder what it would have been like had I not gone into
college, but rather gone directly into the music business in-- when
was it?-- 1958? [Thoughtfully:] I wonder what I would have been doing.
Where I would have fallen at that point... But, in a way,
itís wonderful that it happened the way it did. [Laughingly:] None
of us can change any of that, anyway.
I think it was your dharma... when and how you came into
the business... You were meant to give this gift to the world.
Yíknow, when you say that to me-- Seriously, I donít mean to be
humble or anything-- but I feel... funny.
dunno. Because... because that was my job. I was given a
certain talent-- thank you, God-- that I was able to utilize and make
some money at... Not that Iím saying there wasnít grief
involved with some of that-- there was plenty! Some
pretty grievous stuff, let me tell you!-- But basically, how wonderful
that I was able to take what I felt, and do what I did. So when
someone goes, "Thank you.", Iím like: "No-no-no,
thank YOU! Thank you for liking my stuff, buying it and keeping it
it like this: my sister went to work and did her thing, and helped
kids, or whatever. And I went to work and wrote songs, or whatever,
and records happened, and sold, and made some people happy, and made
some publishers a lot of money, etc., etc. etc. So I look at it like a
job. And fortunately, we reached a lot of the world. While I
appreciate the "thank-youís", I do feel a little
uncomfortable sometimes. Isnít that weird?
You know, Iíve heard you quoted in several interviews, that, during
some particular recording sessions, as soon as the tape was within the
can, you knew that the song was going to be a huge hit. Here
Iím thinking specifically of "Chapel Of Love"---
...and "Leader of The Pack."
I remember that Phil Spector once issued his famous Four Criteria of a
hit record... I remember two of them: One, a record must be emotional,
not cerebral. Two, you have to create a Sound that cannot be easily
replicated by anyone else. I donít recall the other two...
think also a record has to be memorable. You have to have a great
Hook. People have to walk away from your record after only one hearing
and be able to sing at least something-- I believe that. I do
think it has to hit an overall emotional "button" somewhere,
even if that button is only "Letís DANCE!!".
[Laughs]. A record has to hit something; it canít just
"lay there". Because a record is an extension of
can you imagine what itíd be like if we really had the
answers to what all the stuff really means? The whyís and the
howís of stuff? How much money we could make! We could open
up a business and claim, "Weíll tell you how and why your song
did This or That..." [Laughs].
Ellie, do you think that some successes have been fluke-y? Due to the
timing of their release?
Absolutely. [matter-of-factly] Well, I think all of us songwriters
just write our songs and just hope that weíll hear them on the
radio. I donít think any of us songwriters ever really sat down and
thought, "Hey, díyou think that if I had known that my songs
were gonna last forever-- or even up until now-- that I would have
given away the publishing??" I donít think so! We
didnít know! You know, the copyright comes up again in 28 years... I
mean, we were 22 years old! What did we know about anything? We
couldnít even envision ourselves 28 years down the road... Weíd
sign things, going, [impatiently]: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah....."
And then one day, weíd look around ourselves and realize, "God,
itís coming up on 28 years! Whatís goiní on here?" You
never think that one day youíre going to grow up and get to that
point; you really donít. And it gets to the point where itís not
even a "musical thing" anymore... you wake up and say,
"Oh, God, I just lost half my income!" [Laughs]
think a lot of the business involves flukes. In fact, Bob [Weiner] and
I were thinking about opening up a new company-- getting involved
doing little projects and things here and there. Weíre going to call
it FLUKE PRODUCTIONS.
No, really! I firmly believe in synchronicity... you know, youíll be
walking down the sidewalk and realize, "Oh no, I left my wallet
at the bar!" And just when you turn back around the corner to
retrieve it, something fortuitous will happen right at that very
moment. There are flukes in life. You see, "Iko
Iko" was a fluke.
We never planned on recording that. We were just there, standing
around in the studio...
Now, if Iím not mistaken, that song is originally a very old New
Orleans Creole chantey...?
Yep. We were all just finishing up with a Dixie Cups session,
yíknow, sitting in the control room, killing some time before we
start mixing, and then all of a sudden we hear some singing:
grandma and your grandma... were sittiní by the fire..."
thought, whatís that??
And what a fabulous record it became. I dig that record so much.
And itís funny, because--- oh, now I remember!-- Jeff and I
had just gotten married, and weíd honeymooned in Jamaica. And weíd
brought home with us one of those, um, metal boxes.... you know, a
wooden box with those metal strips of different sizes that you plunk
with your thumb? Tung! Tung! Tung! Tung! So anyway, we
all started adding to the rhythm of the groove, hitting on tables,
hitting on peopleís attachť cases, hitting little sticks together,
and I sat there-- with bleeding fingers-- just plunking away on that
Jamaican finger piano: Toom! Toom! Toom! Toom!
from there came the record! And how much fun was that?!
...and that fun totally comes out in that record; I love that record!
But what you gotta see is, that record was never planned. I believe it
was a fluke. What if those girls had never started out singing
that song that day?
[Slowly and thoughtfully] Thereís no substitute for the actual
joy of music-making, is there?
No, no substitute. You know why? Itís the only thing that I
know-- to me-- that makes me laugh, cry, get angry even... I mean,
thereís some music that that can make you very angry! [Laughs]
For example, I find there are some opera things that rile me up. They
make me, like, grrr-rrr-rrr! Music brings out so many
emotions. And you can link music to any given something that was an
important part of your life, at all different times: This
was the song that I did such-and-such to; thatís the song
that I did some other thing to, and so on. If I had to pick the
one thing that would cover the gamut of all my emotions from
head-to-toe, it would be music. I mean, even orgasmically--
some songs just make you go [groan of ecstasy]: Unghn-n-n!
Unbelievable!! Iím getting goosebumps! ...or whatever. Itís
music. And I think itís that way for a lot of people. They can just,
like, lose themselves in it totally. How great is that? [With
slow emphasis]: And to think that itís all done with twelve
Absolutely. You know, itís funny that you should mention the
"twelve notes". As Iíve discussed in another RETROSELLERS
interview [see my interview with pop music historian Rob Pingel], you
guys at the Brill Building were Men & Women At Work, werenít
you? I wouldnít go so far as to say that you were a Factory,
It was a "semi-Factory". Yes it was.
...but you certainly were churning out songs, many on spec.... youíd
be commissioned, say, to write something new for Connie Francis, or
maybe Bobby Vinton would quickly need a new piece, or something.
...and if a song hit, it hit; and if it didnít, well...
Listen, I was always doing so many demos, as you know-- I believe
Iím down in history as one of the Demo Queens"?-- You know,
theyíd hire me for that "sweet" sound. And Iíd be doing
some demos for somebody... Iíd ask them: "Now, who is this
for?" And theyíd say something like, letís say Lesley Gore.
Weíre after a Lesley Gore sound. "Interesting." So Iíd
go back to Jeff, and weíd write some stuff. And I eventually ended
up doing background vocals for Lesley...
[Slowly and emphatically] ...and those records are priceless!! "Maybe
I Know" and "The Look Of Love" ? Good God, those
are great records!!
[Chuckles] And we had so much fun; doing those background vocals was
such a good time. And, yísee, I didnít know how big theyíd be,
but I thought theyíd make it. In the Top Ten at least.
Ellie, when I think about why they perhaps didnít chart as high as
they should have or could have, is this: really, theyíre quite
sophisticated. On "Maybe I Know", for example, the Dorian
harmonic progression that the brass are doing on "I
hear them whisperiní... when I walk by..." the way the
horns go from minor to major to minor again is really very
sophisticated, and thus fairly challenging to many lay-listeners.
Ooh, you really know your stuff here!
I was a songwriting and arranging major at Berklee College of Music in
Oh, well! Now I really feel flattered. To understand harmony
and progressions, or whatever--
So I hope Iím not coming across here as a total zshlub.
...but what impresses me is that you guys [Brill Building songwriters]
were kids. And yet you were employing so much genuine melody
and so much rich harmony. Qualities that are almost totally absent in
so much of todayís pop music.
Yeah, theyíre kinda hard to find. And then, when someone finds it,
people are like "Wow!", and Iím over here thinking,
[nonplussed] "Wow, what??"
Itís there, I suppose, but itís so bestial, so.... barbaric. Pop
music has been reduced almost to the point of rocks being clinked
together. Correct me if Iím wrong: you guys had learned much from
the Tin Pan Alley songwriters? Or where did you learn your
Were you just "winging it" ?
Yeah. Thatís literally true. When Jeff and I started out, he knew
two chords, and-- thank God for me-- he then had three to
work with! I mean, when we started out, there were very few schooled
musicians. I mean [Burt] Bacharach was certainly schooled, as was
[Neil] Sedaka, and so was Carole [King]. But most of us there were
right from the streets-- we were very "street", very
simple... a lot of us were not musicians. But what made us special was
the way we felt things. We felt certain things; and
weíd even sing a cappella as a way to come up with
Ellie, let me ask you this: What records were in your house as you
were growing up?
Well, let me think... There was the Big Band stuff... all the Perry
Como, all the pop songs of the day, in the era before rock music, like
"How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?". There was
always music playing, and my mother Ďs family, in particular,
loved to dance. All my aunts and uncles would come over, and theyíd
always put on Benny Goodman and "Sing! Sing! Sing!", and
theyíd all be dancing around. So my house was always filled with
music. So while I was growing up, I heard their music; and then
the minute I became of age, I began to fill the house with the kind of
music that I was getting into. So that was always playing, too.
And I was collecting records. You know, in those days, youíd go to
the record store, and for every, say, ten records you bought, youíd
get an eleventh one free. Well, I had more "free" records
than you could count! I mean, there was nowhere left to put them! We
had this cart for putting 45ís on; it was unbelievable. And you know
what? Even the scratches sounded fabulous!
Yes! I think of a 45 I have of the Hermanís Hermits doing "Mrs.
Brown, Youíve Got A Lovely Daughter"-- Iíve had it for
years-- and the opening lip has a particular set of pops and scratches
that, to me, are inextricable from the song itself.
Absolutely! Also, with both my parents being of Russian origin, my Dad
especially, had a lot of, like, old Russian music. And every now and
then, heíd like-- totally by ear, mind you-- play along with them on
a sort of mandolin or balalaika.
And that was kind of interesting, too; all those dark, minor chord
changes. [sings a stately minor melody]: "Yah-h-h dum-dah,
ya-ta-ya-ta, umta-tata..." So that was there in
my upbringing, too. I used to love all those melodies, although the
minor always made me feel so... sad.
I love minor songs.
Me too, me too. So Iím sure that those songs had an influence on me
musically; in that I just always remembered them, and how they made
You know, I think there are minor-mode songs from the Brill teams
that, to me, sound like a Russian or Eastern European melody. Iím
thinking of, say, Bacharachís "The Windows Of The World",
or Neil Diamondís "Solitary Man". [Singing the Dionne
Warwick hit in the style, not of a pop singer, but with the
ecclesiastical pomp of a temple cantor:] "The windows of the
world are covered with rain; when will those black skies turn to
Itís true, itís true! [Then, entertaining the conceit, singing in
the same ponderous. "quasi-Russian" style:] "Belinda
was mine till the time that I found her... loviní Jim.... and
love those! They definitely create that feeling. And that
Russian minor sound was what was in my house till I took off with all
Were you an Elvis fan?
[Hesitantly:] Not totally, no.
So that whole Rockabilly thing didnít move you?
[Emphatically:] You liked authentic Black music, didnít you?
[Meekly:] Yeah, I do!
I totally hear that in your music.
Of course, I also had The Kingston Trio, and a lot of
those folk artists. However, ultimately that really wasnít where I
It was a little bit "white bread", wasnít it? [Laughs]
Very pleasant in its own way; very warm and convivial....
Yeah, and the majority of people were into that. And that was OK,
and that was good. I certainly didnít put it down or
anything. But... Iíd run real quickly to my other
You liked those African harmonies-- the parallel triads, the blues
And, yíknow, when I hear your song "Heís The Kind Of Boy You
Canít Forget" [a hit for Ellieís early vocal group, The
Raindrops] I perceive that that underlying groove is really a Black
church gospel-clap feeling. [Sings and claps the song:]
remember when I first saw him.... Diddle-liddle-liddle-lip,
Diddle-liddle-liddle-lip.... Something happened, and I couldnít
got that bouncing, triplet-feel and brisk backbeat, you know?
Oh God, you should hear the one that the Pointers [The Pointer
Sisters] held-- like a pregnancy-- for nine months. It was called
"Heart Made Of Stone". I have gotta tell ya! Talk
about gospel! And then, one night, when we were doing LEADER
OF THE PACK down at THE BOTTOM LINE [legendary Greenwich
Village cabaret, now celebrating its 30th year featuring
the most renowned names in Blues, Folk, Jazz and Rock] before the show
went to Broadway, Darlene Love did it.... and with the background
vocals-- it was, like, so-o-o gospel!
grandmother, who was Jewish-- I was brought up in a mixed family; my
father was Catholic, my mother was Jewish... I guess you could call me
"Cathol-ish or "Jew-lic", whichever one you preferó
...so I was exposed to all different kinds of... worlds growing
up. You know, most grandmothers would say, "Go out and meet a
nice guy", or whatever. But my grandmother said to me: "You
know what you should do? Take a tambourine. Go down to the Baptist
Church. Lose yourself in that. And be done with it!" [Laughs].
Because I was always so... with the harmonies, the rhythms and the
finger-snapping... I mean, Iíd become maniacal! Seriously!
And that was what really made me the happiest: being a part of that,
uh, I mean it was like a fever! I donít know how else
to describe it...
Yes, and thatís exactly what that style of music was originally
designed to do in Africa: rile the tribe up into an ecstatic state.
And I totally hear that quality in your records...
[Laughs] Oh, great! Are you saying I wrote hysterical music??
No, but seriously, that kind of music always felt so good.
...and when I listen to "Chapel Of Love"....
Now thatís kind of "New Orleans", though...
Is that what that groove is?
...that triplet shuffle feeling: DOObity-DOObity-DOObity-DOObity....
Yeah, itís kind of like a cool little New Orleans thing...
Iíd wondered where that came from...
Well, now that Iím naming it, I guess thatís where it came
from.... we werenít thinking "New Orleans" particularly at
the time, though... But if you have to pigeonhole it, I guess thatís
what weíd say it is.
But you know, frankly, I canít think of any big songs in the
pop-rock genre, prior to "Chapel", that have that particular
rhythmic groove.... The only thing I can think of just immediately
prior to "Chapel" would be, say, Perry Comoís "Round
And Round".. [Sings:]
a wheel... and it goes Ďround, Ďround, Ďround as it spins along
with a happy sound..."
even that rhythm is nowhere near as relaxed.... itís kind of stiff,
without the broad swing of "Chapel"...
Yeah, itís more like "Oom-pah"...
...or polka. But then you guys came along with that nice
triplet-feeling, that much more relaxed swing... [Sings:]
to the chapel, and weíre gonna get ma-a-arried...
was suddenly so much sexier. And novel on the charts.
See, I think songs like that-- being of the feel that they were
and what they were saying, and so forth-- Iíve seen it often
be the case that songs like that either make it really big-- or not
at all. They really "bubble under". They either
drop dead, or theyíre sitting right there on top, going [Perkily:] "Hi
Really! In every respect. They might be redundant, theyíre this,
theyíre that, they talk about a very specific thing,
they feel a certain way. So either youíre gonna like them or
you wonít. No "in-betweens" with that kind of thing. So...
I guess you could say we got lucky! [Chuckles.]
Ellie, I think youíll remember that the first contact I made with
you was an email in which I wrote you saying that I was enamoured with
your great song and solo performance of "You Donít Know".
Wow! I think that-- of all your songs-- just might be in my Top
Five... maybe even my Top Two! [With great emphasis:] I...love...that...record!
[With scant enthusiasm:] Yeah-h, but itís a little flat in the end
[Surprised:] Whaddya mean, "flat in the end" ?
Well, the bass is off, the vocals are terrible at the end of that
record; but really I loved it. Now that was a record I thought
was going to do really well for me, but didnít. Because it came out
at exactly the same time as [With the faintest hint of rancor:] Jackie
De Shannonís "What The World Needs Now is
So now I realize that "You Donít Know" came out a little
later than Iíd thought it had...
Come to think of it, it might have been í64 even... Iím not
One thing I love about that particular record was, in those days,
there was a particular reverb sound... a certain ambience...
Was "You Donít Know" recorded in stereophonic?
Uhh, yes. Yes it was.
And the reverb you guys achieved at Red Bird... was it totally derived
from the room acoustics in which you recorded?
Oh, it was helped along a little bit! [Chuckles] Sometimes it helps
not knowing exactly what youíre doing. I mean, [George]
"Shadow" Morton had all these, like, "visions" and
stuff... God bless Ďim, he was kind of like a "soap opera"
person.... I mean, everything had to be kind of like...
Yeah! Which was fabulous! Sometimes, in the studio, heíd raise his
hands and say, "Cut! Here, I have to hear this." ,
and so forth. And Iíd exclaim, "But you canít do
that!" And heíd reply, "Oh, but you can!" Very
unconventional. It was much the same way with Spector: Iíd say,
"You canít do that." And heíd retort, "Ah,
but you can!" Just taking our chances with--
...with two pianos, two basses...
Right-- never sticking to what the "norm" was for recording
in those days. Iím not really sure of all the technical details
around then... I was more concerned with: "Iím actually making
a real record theyíre gonna to be putting out there and
trying to do something with!" "What am I to do!"
I was very, like, so uptight, getting every detail just right. I was
going to be single-voice! Theyíre not gonna double me-- what am I
gonna do??" [Laughs]. You know, all those kinds of worries you
You know, itís funny that you see the flaws in that record, because
to me, that is a flawless pop record! [Editorís Note: the
now-rare Ellie Greenwich solo recording of her song "You Donít
Know" is now available on the Rhino Records digitally re-mastered
release, THE BEST OF THE GIRL GROUPS, VOL. II,
do think that arrangement-wise, it was so wonderful.
Itís so... together. And that great bassline [Sings,
imitating the recordís memorable bass guitar lick:] Doom, doom,
da-da, doom, doom... It is priceless; I love it!
Yeah, well, I have to give credit to Shadow Morton on that one.
Because he was very creative. But also very unreliable. [Laughs]
...hence the nickname, "Shadow"?
[Flatly:] Thatís it.
Neil Diamond, Jeff, Ellie and Bert Berns, the owner
of BANG records, circa 1966
Letís talk about Neil Diamond.
My feeling is this: Youíd be on my map of one of the most important
Rock personalities of all time just from your productions and vocal
arrangements of the early Neil Diamond hits... [Editorís Note: Here
I am referring to the dozen or so songs which may be found re-mastered
on the Columbia recording CLASSICS: THE EARLY YEARS which
chronicles Diamondís first hits from the period of 1965-69. Ellie
and her husband Jeff Barry were instrumental in launching Diamondís
career and shaping the sound of his earliest hits]. Thatís how
beautiful those records are... When you consider that the "Holy
Grail" of all the Brill Building writers was The Perfect
They worked so well!
Neil was, and is, a phenomenon unto himself. Once again, I met him
through doing all these demos for publishers. I had gotten a call from
this publisher-- I think it was Pincus Music-- and he had a guy up
there who had some songs, and he needed a girl singer. Thatís how it
all began. Now, you see? A fluke. What if I had been busy that day?
Think about it. What if Iíd said, "Naw, I really canít make
it today. Sorry." That wouldíve been it! It just
so happened I was available; I went. And then the rest
became history. He had written these two songs... as I recall, one was
called "Call Me His". I donít have a copy of that today--
which kills me! ĎCause Iíd love to hear the lead vocals I
did of two Neil Diamond songs. And I donít have them. But I remember
I thought his writing style was kind of interesting.
Yes... very intense, very "New York", very heartfelt, very
sincere, very energetic. I love Neil. Though I must say I love his
early material better than I would come to like his later 1970ís and
While I wouldnít say I like all of it, I will say I appreciate all
of it. I know where heís coming from, you know? Even when I recorded
those first two songs of his, I thought, hmm, thatís different.
I didnít even know if I loved them or not. But I thought, thereís
something here. Thereís something here. And when he sang them to
me, I was like, "What a weird voice!" [Laughs.] It wasnít
the kind of voice I was hearing on the music scene in those days. The
long and the short of it: I did the demos, and I said to Neil, "I
really would like you to meet my husband. What are you doing?"
And he replied, "Who are you?" [Laughs]. And he
hadnít been around on the scene for long, he was trying to get some
of his stuff recorded, he sang, but nothing was really happening for
him. So I mentioned him to Jeff-- who initially didnít even want to
bother with him, he was so busy. I eventually convinced him to give
Neil a listen. And as it turned out, Jeff was really taken by the way
he sang, as opposed to his writing. Whereas I liked his writing, but
was not initially sold on his voice. A perfect match.
Now, Ellie, were you actually doing those vocals on the background of
those early Neil records?
So you mean thatís you on the tag of "Iíve Got The
Feeliní", going "Whoa-oh, whoa-oh."?
Thatís it... I wrote that lick and performed it.
Oh my lord! Ellie, youíd be on my list of favorite rock people just
from that lick alone! Itís so inspired... It sounds like a woman
sobbing... supporting the meaning of Neilís lyric. Itís fabulous.
And I love doing background vocals. I mean, literally, I could just
make a living just out of doing backgrounds. Iíd be happy just
stepping in at recording sessions, going, "OK, you-- you
come in right here with this... Try this over here." And
so forth. Iíd love that. You know, David, sometimes I think that the
background vocals are as important to a song or record as the lead
Well, in the [1965 Neil Diamond] record, "Cherry, Cherry",
that record is unthinkable without the background singers going, "She
got the way to move me... She got the way to groove me..."
Unthinkable without that hook.
...and thatís your baby, right?
Yep. And years later, I was working with Cyndi Lauper on her single
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". And during the rehearsals, they
got kind of... stuck on the breakdown part of the song. So I
thought for a minute, and then it came to me: "Girls. They
want. Wanna Have Fun. Girls. They wanna have. Just wanna, they just
wanna. Girls. Girls just wanna have fu-un." And so
thatís what we went with.
You spontaneously generated a counterpoint! Incredible. And what I
love about your background vocals is the way you used them as what
modern synthesizer arrangers would call a "pad". In other
words, your backgrounds created a soft, unobtrusive cushion of harmony
which the lead vocals, lead guitarist, etc., could sit on top of.
Providing the harmonic context for the whole record. A foil. That, for
me, was such a source of beauty...
So I guess what you could say is, Phil came up with the Wall Of Sound,
and I came up with the Wall Of Voice.
Ellie Greenwich, thank you.
Ellie in 1967
Music Memorabilia - The site devoted to the Bath and
Knebworth Festivals 1969-1979
Ltd was started in 1999 by Henrietta Bannister
with the express intention of reproducing posters,
programmes and T shirts etc. from the festivals
organised between 1969-1979, by her father, promoter
Freddy Bannister. The aim is to offer exact replicas
of the originals, reproduced to the highest standards
The posters are printed in limited editions and
signed and numbered by the promoter as proof of
authenticity. In keeping with Freddy Bannister's
philosophy of always giving the very best value for
money (just look at the admission price on the
festival posters) the price of the items has been kept
as low as possible and represents truly excellent
Tel: +44 (0)1954 268088
|Visit the website for details
more information on Ellie Greenwich, her discography, biography, list
of awards and more, be sure to visit Ellieís official homepage, www.elliegreenwich.com
also want to visit the excellent and extensive website www.spectropop.com
for more information on the songwriting team of
Greenwich/Barry/Spector, the Brill Building songwriters, performers,
and their inimitable legacy of song.
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