Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ellie Greenwich: 1940-2009

As the world mourns the symbolic end of the Camelot era with the passing of Ted Kennedy, another icon of those halcyon days -- Brooklyn-born songwriter Ellie Greenwich, best known for the Brill Building era standards "Be My Baby", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", "River Deep Mountain High", "Chapel of Love", and "Leader of the Pack" -- has also died. Although she never parlayed her talents into the solo stardom attained by contemporaries like Carole King and (to a much lesser extent) Fred Neil, Greenwich -- who collaborated on many of her hits with another Brooklynite, then-husband and lyricist Jeff Barry -- played an integral role in advancing the role of women in the music industry; along with Sylvia Robinson, Greenwich was one of the few female producers/business professionals active in the late 60s and early 70s, having recorded the likes of Dusty Springfield and The Raindrops (another collaboration with Barry) and discovered fellow Brooklynite Neil Diamond. In the eighties, she enjoyed renewed attention with the Tony-nominated Leader of the Pack, an autobiographical musical revue that featured Greenwich and Spector-era stalwart Darlene Love in its initial 1985 Broadway run.

Along with the Mann-Weil songwriting team, Greenwich-Barry were among Phil Spector's most prolific collaborators; the relatively simple structures of "Da Do Ron Ron" and "I Can Hear Music" -- coupled with Spector's agitprop productions -- played a key role in the crystallization of what the late feminist critic Ellen Willis described as "a counter-tradition in rock and roll that had much more in common with high art -- in particular avant-garde art -- than the ballyhooed art-rock syntheses." It is this tradition that has prospered and prevailed over time, and continues to inspire new generations of musicians to this day. With "Be My Baby" sounding almost as fresh today as it did in 1963, her songs will endure for years to come.

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