‘Be My Baby’, ‘Leader of the Pack’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’, ‘I Can Hear Music’, ‘River Deep Mountain High’, or even the much less cool ‘Sunshine After The Rain’ – it’s an old cliché, but they simply don’t make them like that anymore. All were co-written by the great Ellie Greenwich, who died this week at the age of 68. Theiconic producers behind her biggest hits (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Phil Spector) are rightly given credit for defining the sound of popular music at that time, but their influence would not have been so pervasive were it not for the quality of the writing of Greenwich and her partner Jeff Barry. Whilst the other husband and wife writing teams of the time, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, remain household names, few are even aware of Greenwich’s achievement.
Many of her songs exalted the naïve excesses of adolescent emotions, making them readily identifiable for many. Whilst they were undoubtedly written for a commercial imperative in a rapidly growing market, they also came to define the genuine art of the 2-3 minute pop songs. Here was all the grandeur and feeling of a symphony, compacted into a readily digestible form. The harmonic progressions were necessarily simple, but the formula was always irresistible and endlessly repeatable.
Many will know Greenwich’s best loved songs, even if they are completely unaware that she wrote them. Fewer will have any idea of her own solo recordings as a singer-songwriter, most of which are criminally unavailable. Posthumous it will now be, but a reissue programme would be greatly appreciated.