Ellie Greenwich, Pop Songwriter, Dies at 68
By BRUCE WEBER
Ellie Greenwich, a songwriter who collaborated with Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and others to create a greatest-hits list of 1960s teenage pop songs like “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Hanky Panky” and “Leader of the Pack,” died on Wednesday in Manhattan. She was 68.
The cause was a heart attack following a case of pneumonia, said her niece, Jessica Weiner.
Ms. Greenwich was among the songwriters, music publishers and producers working at the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway in Manhattan, which (along with 1650 Broadway, across the street) became a center of pop music in the early 1960s. The buildings were home to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Carole King and Gerry Goffin, among many others, and from their offices and studios came a flood of teenage anthems, story songs and achy love songs fraught with the hormonal angst of the young.
For a time, Ms. Greenwich and Mr. Barry, who was her husband, were the most successful of the famed partnerships, especially when they wrote for the girl groups the Crystals, the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-Las, among others.
In 1964 alone, according to “Always Magic in the Air,” a 2005 book by Ken Emerson about the pop music of the time, 17 singles by Ms. Greenwich and Mr. Barry landed on the pop charts, including “Chapel of Love,” a No. 1 hit for the Dixie Cups, and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” which became a No. 1 hit for the British band Manfred Mann.
Among their other compositions, many of which have been covered by myriad artists, Ms. Greenwich and Mr. Barry also wrote “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You” and “River Deep, Mountain High” (all with Mr. Spector). They were also singers, recording their own songs (and others) as a duo called the Raindrops.
Perhaps their most famous song was “Leader of the Pack,” which Ms. Greenwich and Mr. Barry wrote with George Morton, a producer who was known as Shadow Morton. Telling a soap-operaish tale of a girl who was in love with a biker but forbidden by her parents to see him, it ends with the biker’s death as, after their breakup, he speeds away from her and crashes. Woven into the melodramatic music are sound effects, spoken words and a plaintive cry of anguish — “I met him at the candy store” — the overall result being what Mr. Barry called “a movie for the ear.”
It was a No. 1 hit for the Shangri-Las in 1964, and became emblematic enough to be lampooned almost immediately by a band calling itself “The Detergents,” who recorded a song called “Leader of the Laundromat.”
“Leader of the Pack” also became the title of a stage show, a theatrical collage of songs by Ms. Greenwich and others that made it to Broadway in 1985.
Eleanor Louise Greenwich was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 23, 1940. When she was 11, her father, William, an electrical engineer, and mother, Rose, a medical secretary, moved the family to Levittown, on Long Island. She attended Queens College and graduated from Hofstra University, but the career she had planned as a teacher ended after only a few months when it became evident she would rather write songs at the piano than stand in front of a classroom.
She got her break in 1962 when she showed up for an appointment at Trio Music, the company started by Mr. Leiber and Mr. Stoller, in the Brill Building, and Mr. Leiber himself offered her a chance to use the company’s resources in exchange for the right of first refusal to publish her songs.
She met Mr. Spector, the legendary producer, who had not yet perfected his trademark “wall of sound,” at Trio as well. He produced a handful of her early songs, written with Tony Powers, including “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts,” for Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” by Darlene Love.
Ms. Greenwich also worked as an arranger and producer, and she is generally given credit for discovering Neil Diamond, co-producing his early hits, including “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.”
“Ellie Greenwich was one of the most important people in my career,” Mr. Diamond said in a statement on Wednesday. “She discovered me as a down-and-out songwriter.”
Ms. Greenwich’s marriage to Mr. Barry ended in divorce. She is survived by a sister, Laura Weiner.