I may be doomed to note in this blog the passing of the writers of my record collection, but Ellie Greenwich, who died last week aged 68, was – alone, or with her then-husband, Jeff Barry, or with other partners – the queen of a particular sound in the 1960s, and the lyricist and musician behind some of the really great singles – Be My Baby, Leader Of the Pack, Chapel Of Love, River Deep – Mountain High, And Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron – that linger on, on the airwaves and in the sub-conscious, long after they first appeared. Be My Baby, Brian Wilson’s favourite song, as he never ceases to say, is one that can be listened to in a vacuously hummable way, over and over again. It’s true that the production lifts it (courtesy of the now incarcerated Phil Spector), as is also the case with Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High (mysteriously not an American success): but you have to have the framework on which to build, and Greenwich and her partners provided it. The acid test is whether it can be recorded successfully by someone else, and Chapel Of Love, originally by a forgotten group, The Dixie Cups, is, in that first incarnation, quite a mournful little song, slow and actually not very breezy, with a great hook. But hear Bette Midler transform it, and you realise what a nifty song it is (Midler is under-rated in this respect: she is the only singer who sings Cole Porter’s dirge-like ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ at breakneck speed, and makes you wonder why no-one else ever did).
When I got married, the assembled throng (crowd? assembly?) were treated to first the Dixie Cups, and the Bette Midler, as a warm-up to the main action. We had some trouble with the registrar over this carefully-thought-out choice, because Rules State that, if you are being married in a converted milking-parlour (which we were), that you should not hint at any religious associations. We took some time to strong-arm the registrar and her assistant into submission, but they colluded in the end.
Greenwich’s big years were 1964 and 1965. Like Jackie de Shannon and Carole King, she had an eye on a solo career, but, as with de Shannon, the career never took off, although the royalties on the songs above must have kept her in considerable comfort. On the debit side, she discovered Neil Diamond (sorry folks, I’m not keen). And she also co-wrote Do Wah Diddy Diddy (although she denied writing the ungrammatical line ‘I knew we was falling in love’!), which is certainly catchy, but then so is swine ‘flu. Peter Cook took Do Wah Diddy Diddy to pieces in his spoof interviews with Clive Anderson, when he pretended to be an alien enthusiast who had been asked by extra-terrestrials to explain the lyrics. Her last really big hit was years later (The Sunshine After The Rain).
What I like about Greenwich’s songs (even when they are doom-laden like Leader Of The Pack) is their great, in-your-face innocence, and their joy in love. And that she rhymed ‘My heart stood still’ with ‘Somebody told me that his name was Bill’. Be honest, you’ve sung it.
You’ll probably sing it in your bath, too, now I’ve mentioned it. The chorus ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ was just filler until they thought of something better. Luckily, they never did.