Of all the people I interviewed for my book and radio series on girl groups, Ellie Greenwich was perhaps the most charming. I met her on a trip to New York in the late '80s, but I still remember her as though it was yesterday. A glamorous blonde with a cracking sense of humour, she exuded a genuine excitement and delight about having been part of pop history, and told her stories of those days gleefully, without a trace of the bitterness that characterises so many of her contemporaries. I got the impression that she was absolutely thrilled to have found a creative outlet for her musical talents, not to mention writing some of the classic songs of pop history; and the fact that the music industry had moved on, and that she hadn't made a fortune out of her songs, didn't really bother her. What was also engaging about her was that, years after her heyday, she still seemed to epitomise the sense of innocence and fun at the heart of the girl-group sound. A wisecracking New Yorker, she wasn't in the least cynical; the classic songs she had written were about the hopes and dreams of youth, and I sensed that she still cherished these ideals, even though her optimism had taken something of a battering on the way.

When I met Ellie, she was living in a small apartment near Broadway. There was a big brass musical note on the door, so it was easy to see which was hers. I pressed the bell, and she opened the door, a huge smile on her face. Her hair was platinum blonde and she was fully made up, with pale pink lipstick and plenty of black mascara, just as in the '60s. She looked dazzling, despite being 20 years older than the girl I'd seen in the photographs, and having a heavy cold that day, which she had decided to ignore. She welcomed me in, and for several hours we sat and talked while she drank coffee and chain-smoked. I was enchanted by her; Ellie had a way of sounding conspiratorial when she spoke to you, as though you were a girlfriend she hadn't seen in ages and you were meeting for lunch to discuss your (naturally very exciting) love life. And unlike the girls of Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives, she was witty, without ever being nasty about anyone; and open, without overdoing the emotional drama. Above all, she didn't take herself too seriously, which made her pretty much unique among the artists, musicians, and producers I spoke to on that trip.

After I met Ellie, I travelled down to Los Angeles to meet her ex-husband Jeff Barry, with whom she had written her classic girl-group songs. Jeff was also charming and hospitable, but I was struck by the differences between them, and between the two cities in which they lived. New York and L.A seemed like two different continents. The New Yorkers I met seemed to have an irrepressible sense of humour that would creep into, and subvert, even the most intense conversation; whereas in L.A., people were, on the whole, very guarded and self-conscious, so much so that cracking a joke would often lead to a bewildered look, followed by a hurt silence.

This wasn't the case with Jeff, who seemed to have retained his New York sense of humour (he was especially funny about one of his early efforts, a song called 'The Water Was Red', a tortuous tale of revenge in which a boy tracks down and kills a shark after the shark has killed his girlfriend). But even so, it was all very different in L.A. The songwriters who had moved there - among them, Jeff Barry, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann - seemed to have a lot more money than those, like Ellie, who had remained in New York. And with their new-found wealth and success, had come a sense of the importance, and seriousness, of the task of making music. It was clear that these people had moved on: they were no longer teenagers holed up in little rooms writing absurdly romantic love songs for a pittance, but grown-up men and women living in big houses with big careers, big bank balances, and big security systems.

Unfortunately, I got the impression that this improvement in their fortunes had proved somewhat of a burden. It certainly didn't seem to be a great deal of fun. The songwriters who had perhaps become the most successful of all were Cynthia Weil and Barry Man, who lived in great style in a mansion in Beverley Hills. The downside was that they were walled up behind fences and guard dogs, seemingly unable to go out for a Coke without a major planning session. Like all my interviewees, they were the soul of courtesy; but nevertheless I was quite glad to get away from the oppressive opulence of their beautiful home. And when I played the retrospective tape that they had given me (yes, we still had tapes in those days), I was rather taken aback to find that the music seemed to deteriorate rapidly as time went on and the string sections, not to mention the shoulder pads, got bigger. Gone were the unforgettable songs like 'On Broadway', and in their place were a series of indistinguishable, overwrought diva-style ballads.

As I boarded the plane from Los Angeles to fly back to London, I couldn't help reflecting that the one person I'd met on my travels who really didn't seem to have lost her youthful idealism, or her sense of humour, was Ellie Greenwich. She was the girl from Brooklyn who had stayed in New York, near Broadway, the street of dreams. She hadn't made a lot of money (or so she told me, though I find it hard to see why, given her back catalogue). She hadn't achieved the enduring marriage that she'd dreamed of. Instead, she had written a bunch of classic pop songs that, as she put it, made people happy. And that, it seemed, was enough for her.

[ click on images to enlarge ]

MGM publicity shot, 1973.

Ellie, Jeff Barry and sister Laura Greenwich as the Raindrops, 1963.

On Broadway in
'Leader Of The Pack', 1984.

German 'Let It Be Written,
Let It Be Sung' LP, 1973.

Australian Raven CD, c. 1998.

At United Artists, 1968.

In the studio, 1968.

Visiting the cast of a British production of 'Leader Of The Pack', with Katrina Leskanich to the
right of the real Ellie, 2001.

At the piano, c. 1968.

Looking good in blue, c. 1973.

Promoting a never-released single, 1970. Dusty Springfield used the backing track instead.

L-R: Mike Rashkow, Ellie
and Johnny Cymbal, c. 1966.

L-R: Artie Ripp, Jeff Barry,
Phil Spector, Paul Case, Ellie,
Jerry Leiber and Ed Silvers,
at a BMI function, c. 1964.

United Artists shot, 1968.

L-R: Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry,
Ellie and Bert Berns, c. 1966.

In the studio with Jeff, c. 1966.

c. 1972.

Razor & Tie CD, 1999.

With Bob Crewe and Bobby Darin,
c. 1972.

Publicity photo, 1984.

On their wedding day, 1962.

L-R: Jeff Barry, Ellie and
Neil Diamond, c. 1967.

Les Girls, L-R: Jean Thomas,
Ellie Greenwich, Mikie Harris, 1967.

Spanish picture cover, 1968.

Reverse of above.


Original Broadway cast double LP
on Elektra, 1984.

In 'Leader Of The Pack', 1984.

In the studio, 1967,
L-R: Valerie Simpson, Jean Thomas,
Ellie and Mikie Harris.

Jeff and Ellie in their office
at the Brill Building, 1963.

With Jeff and the Dixie Cups, 1964.

L-R: Ellie, Jeff and Shadow Morton,
at a BMI function, c. 1964.

In the studio with Bob Crewe, 1967.

At United Artists, 1968.

Japanese 'Let It Be Written,
Let It Be Sung' CD, 1997.

'Composes, Produces And Sings' LP, United Artists, 1968.


CHARLOTTE: In the '60s, there were three husband and wife songwriting partnerships that were really big, and you were one of them with Jeff Barry. The others were …

ELLIE: … Mann & Weil and Goffin & King.

CHARLOTTE: What was it like working like that, with your husband?

ELLIE: When things were working, and you're really connecting, what could be better? Here's the person you're in love with, and you're being creative together, and things are going well - it's the highest high you can imagine. However, when there were disagreements, it was very hard to leave it at the office and go home at night and change hats: "Hi honey, what do you want for dinner?" Jeff and I both got very involved in studio work, and we were putting in the same hours. We'd finally get home from a long day's work at the office - writing the songs, rehearsing the groups, going in the studio - we'd get home and you'd be hungry. You tell me, who's gonna cook the meal? It wasn't like I was home all day, waiting for him: "Here's your little dinner, dear." There became some problems. It wasn't like, the man is the breadwinner, and this is what you do. There was some rub there with Jeff and I for a while, but we worked it out. It is hard to leave things in the office when they don't go well.

CHARLOTTE: You and Carole King both made solo albums. She did incredibly well with hers …

ELLIE: … I didn't wanna record. I absolutely did not want to record. But with the advent of 'Tapestry' doing so well, labels were calling me left, right and centre, saying, "Ellie, you've got to record." I'm not stupid, and after a while I thought, "I have to take one of these offers." But I wasn't up to it; I didn't have an image for myself. I knew I didn't want to perform, and you had to, at that time. The 'Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung' album did so-so over in England and in Europe, but not here. I did a tour - just interviews, all over the country here, and I went over to Europe, England, France - the whole thing. I went out on the road to promote it, but I lip-synched because I was petrified to do anything live.

Also, at that time, I opened up a jingle production company, and was doing fairly well with jingles. That can be healthy money, when you are writing jingles and singing on them. The residuals can be kinda nice. I thought, "Let me get away from records, and start a whole new thing." I did that for a while, but towards the end of '72, into '73, I fell apart. I guess you could say I had a nervous breakdown. I left the business for a little over two years. When I came back into the industry, I thought, "Let me get back into background singing, I'm so happy on microphone. I could pretend I was in a girl group, get a couple of other girls, have a good time. I inched my way back into the things I wanted to do. Then I started writing again. I had some records with Ellen Foley, then got involved with Cyndi Lauper. Slowly, I found my way in.

CHARLOTTE: You were also involved with Blondie, weren't you? I just talked to Alan Betrock about 'Out In The Streets', one of their first demos.

ELLIE: Yes. As a matter of fact, I had gotten tapes in from Alan on this new group he had, Blondie. Really, those demos weren't done particularly … well. I hate to say it on microphone, but this is the truth. Debbie did have a look, but I opted, unfortunately for me, not to get involved. Surely, there they were several months later, becoming the biggest thing since sliced bread. I sang on their first album, a lot of background stuff, and on some songs on the 'Eat To The Beat' album. We're sort of friendly-ish today, we keep in touch.

Cyndi Lauper's stuff has a '60s edge also, although she doesn't wanna see it that way, because she doesn't wanna be dated, so to speak. 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' could have been 1960s, if you took those synthesizers out. Cyndi Lauper is a great singer. She can really handle mostly any kind of material. I had a song that was the B-side of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', a thing called 'Right Track, Wrong Train'. And I sang background on her first album, and her most recent album.

CHARLOTTE: You also wrote some songs for Nona Hendryx.

ELLIE: In the early '80s, I started writing with a guy named Jeff Kent, who was with a group called Dreams and a group called Pierced Arrow. We wrote some things that were a little more guitar oriented, a little heavier. I'm very close friends with Nona and her manager, Vicki Wickham. Nona was getting ready to record and asked me if I had any stuff. She came over. Jeff Kent and I had written this song called 'Keep It Confidential', which really had more of a country slant to it, than R&B. It was an attitude kind of a song. Nona loved it. We wrote the song with Ellen Foley, who used to be with Meatloaf. It was supposed to go on her album, but Nona took it, rearranged the whole thing, and it came out as a single. That did so-so. Then we got together, and she, Jeff and myself wrote a couple more things that went on her last couple of albums. Then 'Leader Of The Pack' happened in '83.

CHARLOTTE: How did that show come about

ELLIE: Some friends of mine own the club The Bottom Line in New York City. I'd always go there to see different shows. I had taken a break from writing for a while in the '70s. I started to write again, and a lot of the acts that were recording my songs - such as Nona Hendryx, Karla DeVito and Ellen Foley - were doing shows at The Bottom Line, so I would go see the shows. For years, the owner, Alan Pepper, would say, "Why don't you do a show here?" I'd say, "No, no, I don't perform." Also, I was really petrified. It wasn't that I wasn't interested. Late in '83, I'd gone down there to see a show, and Alan took me aside. He goes, "I'm really serious, I wanna do a show with all your music. I'd love you to be in it, but if you don't wanna be in it, just talk about it. We'll see what we can pull together." I figured, what the heck? So we got together and we did this little show. A friend of mine came in and wrote a little script, just to get from one song to the other, a little story about me and my music. They sort of convinced me to be in it. So I took a deep breath - for two or three nights that wouldn't be so bad. This was in January of '84. We had two shows a night. The response was phenomenal. Some people from Broadway came down and thought it might be a great idea to take to Broadway. We re-ran the show for a month, April 27th through May 27th of the same year, down at The Bottom Line, to wonderful reviews. We were sold out all the time. It was terrific.

Then we moved on to Broadway, which, unfortunately, became very problematic. The show ran for five months, but there were a lot of internal problems with the producers - the usual business stuff that goes on. There was really no vision for the show. It's kind of a hybrid. It's rock'n'roll, and Broadway doesn't really readily accept rock'n'roll. It worked better in a smaller club. It might have worked well on Broadway if they'd have stuck to a musical revue format, with a few anecdotes about the time and myself. They didn't quite get a book musical out of it, and it wasn't really quite a rock'n'roll revue. The vision was lost. The book people didn't know how to respond, nor did the rock people. Had there been more of a vision, and some money put into advertising, we could have run. Because the audiences loved it. They love the music; it's a proven thing.

CHARLOTTE: You've got a good voice, and you're not a shy person, so why did it take you song long to want to get out there and perform on stage?

ELLIE: Well, I'm not shy, but I am. I don't consider myself as having a good voice. I have what they call a "sound". I did want to perform in the '60s, but I was married at the time, to Jeff Barry, with whom I wrote a lot of hits. He didn't feel that I should perform, because we were very busy writing for all the groups that were recording our songs. We were also producing records. He just felt that we were doing so well writing and producing that to start a career as an artist might have hurt that, which it probably would have. Being married, and being from that time, I felt that this is what my husband wanted, so I opted not to perform. I didn't mind saying no. He was never emphatic, "You mustn't do it." We talked about it, and I tended to go along. As the years went on, the more I thought about doing it, the more I got scared. The more you don't do that, the harder it is to even consider it. So it left my mind.

So when this thing happened with 'Leader Of The Pack' at The Bottom Line, I figured it was only six shows, I could bring all my friends, you know, never expecting what happened to happen. So I went from really doing nothing to The Bottom Line to Broadway, which is kind of strange. In one respect, the show was one of the most thrilling things that ever happened to me, but it was also one of the worst, because of all the BS that goes on.

CHARLOTTE: In the '60s, when you were making all those records, there was a big split between the songwriter and the artist, which is something that's changed. How do you feel about that change?

ELLIE: You mean that the artist would be the artist, and they would take outside songs from independent songwriters, whereas today the artists write their own thing? As a songwriter, it was much easier in the '60s, when there was an artist who just sang. There was a huge market and a need for the independent songwriter. As a matter of fact, when the British Invasion came here it greatly hurt. Here came all these self-contained groups that wrote their own material and played their own instruments, the whole thing. We wondered what we were going to do with our music. We had to find our own artists to record as vehicles for our material. It was great for those people that wrote their own stuff and recorded it, but the independent songwriter did suffer.

But it was at the time of the British Invasion that I discovered Neil Diamond. A music publisher called me in to sing some demos of some songs this guy had written. I'm there singing these songs, doing these demos, and I said, "Who are you?" He told me he was Neil Diamond, and that he'd had a record out on Columbia. I thought his songs were kind of interesting. I told him I'd like to hear more things. This was in '65. I told him that I'd like my husband to hear some of his songs. Jeff said we were kinda busy, that we wouldn't have time, but we had him come in. Neil came in and played us a bunch of songs. I loved the way he wrote and Jeff liked his voice. So we went to a very dear friend of ours, Bert Berns, may he rest in peace, who ran Bang Records at the time, and we said, "We have this guy, do you want to hear some things?" He heard a couple of songs and goes, "Here's some bucks, go in and cut 'Cherry, Cherry' and 'Solitary Man'. So we opened a company with Neil Diamond called Talleyrand Music, and we co-published all his music with him. We salaried him, weekly, and Jeff and I produced all his early hits. We now had our own self-contained artist, who wrote his own material, and sang it, and we were the producers.

CHARLOTTE: Do you think overall in pop, it's been a good development to have these singer-songwriters, or not?

ELLIE: I think if you're good, it's great to be able to write your own music and perform it. Because I don't think anyone's gonna feel it the way you do. In that respect, creatively speaking, if you're talented and can write some good stuff and perform it, that's terrific. But for those that aren't that good, I think it's a terrible thing.

CHARLOTTE: What happened after Neil Diamond?

ELLIE: Jeff and I were divorced right during that interim period. That took me quite a long time to get over. It wasn't just the marriage going, it was the career also - a double whammy. Plus, divorce was not overly accepted. It was a major catastrophe. So I had to deal with my family. At that time I got involved with a guy named Mike Rashkow and we opened up a company called Pineywood. But my head was nowhere. For close to six years, I just didn't care what happened. I made a couple of records, I did this, I did that. But my bubble was burst. My dream was shattered, never to be really put back together again. I had a very hard time.

CHARLOTTE: These days, every person is expected to contribute more than in those days, when you could be a great songwriter, but not really have a great voice.

ELLIE: Back in the '60s, there really were compartments. Everyone had their own little spot. There was the record label. There was the music publisher. There was the songwriter. There was the record producer. There was the artist. They all had their little jobs. Most of the time, those jobs did not overlap. Nowadays, people publish their own music. The business has grown so that people are much smarter on the business level. There's a lot of money to be made in publishing, or producing records. As technology has advanced, it's made it so much easier to produce records. Once again, I think if the talent is there, I see no problem whatsoever with everything crossing over. It was a little easier in the '60s when everyone did know their place, so to speak.

CHARLOTTE: Of course, there were people like Phil Spector and, to some extent, Carole King and yourself, who fulfilled all those functions really.

ELLIE: Spector, of course, wanted to do all those things by himself. People like Carole and myself happened to come into an industry as songwriters, but we also sang, didn't have bad voices, and would make demonstration records of the songs we wrote. Often those demos really came out great. The publisher would hear it and think it could be a record. They would go to a record label and the label would put it out. A case like that was a group called the Raindrops, but there really wasn't a group, it was just myself and Jeff doing all the voices. We did this demo for a group called the Sensations, who'd had a hit with 'Let Me In', (sings) "Let me in, wee-oo, oop wee-oo". We wrote a song called 'What A Guy' that we thought would be a great follow-up for them. We went in and made the demo. The publishers heard it and thought it could be a record. But there was no group. Back then, a lot of labels put out what they called dummy groups. We'd throw a few people together, go out and lip-synch the records, but there really wasn't a group called the Raindrops. (In such cases, the record company) would want to know who produced the record? Well, Carole King produced it, she was in the studio doing whatever, or Jeff and I were in the studio doing it. We sort of came in the back door. We didn't think about being producers, it just sort of happened to us. Whereas someone like Phil Spector wanted to have his own label, wanted to write, wanted to produce, wanted to control everything.

CHARLOTTE: In those days you had arrangers. Now you have a songwriter and a producer, and in the more kind of adult music you still have arrangers. Do you have still have arrangers in ordinary rock music?

ELLIE: Back in the '60s we used arrangers, which we still do today. Very often arrangers are used for their ideas, to some degree, but very much to notate what's to be played. Sometimes a songwriter hears an entire record in his head, but doesn't want to take the time, and is probably not that well equipped, to write down all these parts. So they'll hire an arranger, pay him whatever, and have him arrange a session. With bands, they jam all the time, and the arrangement happens. With a solo artist who does not have a band, you have to have musicians play something. Very often the producer, the songwriter and the arranger will sit down and just brainstorm, but the arranger will notate it.

CHARLOTTE: When you went into the business, did you have the technical skills, or were you just a new green person?

ELLIE: I was a new green person, Charlotte. (Laughs) I played piano well enough to write my songs. I do not consider myself a good musician. I have very good musical instincts, but I would never hire myself for a recording session. I was signed to Leiber & Stoller - very big record producers and songwriters. At one point they said, "We really ought to have a lead sheet for this song." I sat there for hours counting - one and two and - and I wrote these notes down. I learned out of fear how to write my own lead sheets. I knew timings, I knew what the notes were, I knew what to do, but I had never really applied it. I think a lot of songwriters are kind of lazy. If your main forte is songwriting, you don't really wanna be bothered with the other stuff. So you hire an arranger.

CHARLOTTE: Did you come from a musical family?

ELLIE: My dad was a painter, and he sang a little bit and played guitar, balalaika - he was of Russian descent - mandolin, and all that stuff. He had some talent. My mom loved the arts. She tried to sing, but not too well. So no, my family was not overly musical.

CHARLOTTE: What kind of family was it? Where did you live?

ELLIE: I was born in Brooklyn. At the age of ten we moved to Levittown, Long Island. We lived on the corner of Starlight and Springtime Lane. My birthday is October 23rd, on the cusp of Libra and Scorpio. My father was Catholic and my mother was Jewish. I was destined for something - half and half, and on the cusp of everything.

CHARLOTTE: How did you find it as a woman in the music industry?

ELLIE: When I first came into the industry, in the middle of 1962, most of the women were background singers, or they were lyricists. There were very few women who played piano, wrote songs, and could go into a studio, work those controls and produce a session. I wasn't your typical after-singer, as we called them, who could go in and read that piece of music on the stand, do 17 songs in three hours, boom-boom-boom. It was a whole different thing. I'd go in, think of the background parts, and put them down myself. I learned about overdubbing. Back then they'd call me the Demo Queen. Many different publishers would hire me to record demos of other writers' songs.

As a matter of fact, that's how I first met Dusty Springfield. Every time somebody wrote a song for Dusty - they thought of all the singers in New York at that particular time, I sang closest to her - publishers would hire me for a nominal fee to go into the studio; we'd run down the song, they'd have a little band there, and I'd sing all these demos. Dusty, when I first met her, said she had all these demos. She'd wondered who the girl was singing on them, so they finally told her. When she came here I was hired for one of her sessions to sing background. So there we were stood on microphone, looking alike - I tried desperately to sing exactly like her, because she's one of my idols, vocally - and we've been friends ever since, which is kinda nice.

CHARLOTTE: In those days there was a hierarchy, where the artist is at the bottom of the pile. Then you get the songwriter and the producer. Would you agree with that?

ELLIE: Fortunately, there was a grouping of us songwriters that was able to make a career out of it. But there were people who had one or two hits and then went into obscurity. They had a rough time. But we were fortunate enough to be able to sustain. I believe it was timing, luck, and our stuff was accepted. Back in the '60s there were many small record labels - such as Red Bird, Bang Records, and so on - that offered you the opportunity to run up there and say, "Listen to this song." There was a spontaneity that happened. The doors were a little easier to walk through. A record label would give you a shot to go out and produce a single. No more. The single is no longer happening. It's always album, album. The business has grown. It used to be called the MUSIC business. Now it's the music BUSINESS. These days artists do publish, do produce. The artist is real powerful nowadays. Back then they weren't. If a songwriter had three or four things in a row that made it, they had some power. The artist might have been on the bottom rung in the '60s, but not today.

CHARLOTTE: A lot of the girls, the artists, who I've spoken to say that they were exploited. Would you agree with that?

ELLIE: Yes, absolutely. I don't know what happened business-wise with groups I was involved with, such as the Ronettes, the Crystals and the Shangri-Las. I was not a record label, so I don't know what kind of deals were made, what kind of money they got. I wrote the songs, I rehearsed them on the songs, I would sometimes co-produce a record with them, but as a rule, I didn't know what their deal was. But very often they were not paid the high royalties. In the late '50s and very early '60s, those girl groups never got royalties at all, which is terrible exploitation. Even male groups, like Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, didn't get the time of day. They'd get $50 to come in and do the session - "See ya, kids." It's terrible. They're still fighting things like that today.

CHARLOTTE: As a songwriter, did you get the publishing dues that you should have had?

ELLIE: This is a tough question. People say that, "We can't believe that you don't own any of your songs." That's sort of what happened then. You mention the word publisher … I thought, "Wow, it's gonna be in print, these people are publishers, like a book publisher." I didn't connect that you could actually publish your own stuff. Everybody was much smarter than we were, coming in as kids. They knew, "Ooh, there could be money here in publishing." The Leiber & Stollers, the Don Kirshners, they all had their own publishing companies. And we were very grateful to be signed to them and get a weekly little paycheque. We always got our royalties. We got our writer's money, but never really knew to ask or question - which wasn't really their fault - about retaining a piece. I mean, I wish I had a little piece of every one of those songs I have written.

CHARLOTTE: So none of those songs actually belong to you, but you get royalties?

ELLIE: I get royalties as a writer. People say, "God, you were so ripped off!" I wouldn't say ripped off. I just wish that there were people around me at the time that said, "Before you sign this contract, why don't you consider A, B or C?" It didn't even enter my mind. There's a funny story: in the 'Leader Of The Pack' show: I had gone to Leiber & Stoller's office, and they thought I was Carole King. I was waiting for an appointment, and I was playing away on the piano. They went, "Carole!" I went, "No, no, no!" I was a nervous wreck. They heard some stuff I had written and, within a month or so, they had offered me a job, writing. They offered me $75 a week. I thought that was a funny number, and I said, "No, a hundred, you have to give me a hundred." They finally agreed, and I thought, "Wow! A hundred bucks a week! I'm really flying high here! I have the publishing, I have a little cubbyhole to go to every day and write my stuff. Who knows who I'm gonna meet?" I will say one thing, in defence of not being involved in the business - monetarily, a stupid, stupid move, but on a creative level, you weren't bothered with any of those problems. All you did was come in and hone in on your craft - go in and write your songs. It was a happy time. To me, so I didn't get $200,000, I got $25,000 - it was fine. You didn't really think in those terms. In hindsight, years later, I went, "Oh my lord!" But who knew that the songs that Goffin & King, or Mann & Weil, or Jeff and I were writing would continue to live on? We just thought, "It's a hit - great!" You worried about your next hit, and you went on, never thinking about 10 or 20 years down the line. We didn't know.

CHARLOTTE: At the time, the way people thought was completely different. Your songs, particularly your songs, I notice, centre an awful lot around marriage, romance, idealism and all that. Why were you writing those kind of songs?

ELLIE: Well … I guess I was writing the boy/girl relationship songs because I'm really a hopeful romantic. And I think they work. That's what we got out there: boys and girls. Everybody loves to be in love. Everybody hates it when things are going wrong. You meet someone you've flipped over; you really want it to work out. Perhaps take it all the way and get married. Also, what happened was, you start writing songs, and you start having hits with that kind of theme, and you don't wanna tamper with something that's successful. You gear yourself to stay in that area. As a matter of fact, in the middle '60s, I started writing some "message" songs. They said, "Ellie, give us another 'Da Doo Ron Ron'. Give us a 'Be My Baby'." They almost expected a certain type of song to come out of me.

CHARLOTTE: Those songs were so young, so much to do with teenage life. I think that that music is under-estimated. People like it, but they see it as simplistic. Yet they don't see other music, like Elvis or whatever, as something old fashioned.

ELLIE: It's hard for me to relate to my music, because I did it - that was the music I grew up with, that was my job, that's what I did. You watch audiences, these young kids going 'round loving 'Da Doo Ron Ron'. It's new to them. Yet you see this other group of people, aged between 35 and 50, the baby-boomers: it takes them back to another time, an age of innocence. They recall their first love, look at their husband and say, "That was our song." There's something very nice about that. These songs were part of their lives, which is heavy duty, it really is.

CHARLOTTE: Then the music changed as the teenagers grew up, and the real problems of life came in on them. Do you think there was also something about American society that was changing? Now, you come to America, and you don't get the feeling of hope and that great sense of a new society doing something wonderful.

ELLIE: What's going on in society always affects culture, what's going on in the arts. I think, with the loss of innocence, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, and all that happening her, people got very cynical and very bitter. And, of course, a lot of the music reflected that. However, the music that would talk about that was a constant reminder of what was going on out there, but there was this other grouping of musical stuff that allowed you to escape. It's rough out there. I would hate to be a teenager growing up today - afraid of nuclear war, afraid of this, afraid of that, afraid of pollution. Progress is wonderful, but boy, it can ruin some nice things.

CHARLOTTE: At a certain point, these male groups appeared from England, a lot of whom were doing covers of girl group songs. What happened then? Why was there a sudden shift from girls to boys? Or was that just chance that the Beatles happened to be a male group?

ELLIE: When you get phenomenons that happen, such as an Elvis Presley, or the Beatles, I think an industry is in need of a change. They'll pull out every single stop to make that happen. People say, "Wow, thank goodness for the girl groups. [Without them] what would have happened to your songs? I say, "Well, maybe it wouldn't have been as tender, and had exactly the same meaning, but I could've seen a boy group doing (sings) 'and then she kissed me.'" It just so happened that I got involved working with Phil Spector, who had Philles Records, and he happened to have girls - Darlene Love, the Crystals, the Ronettes. We never even thought in terms of girl groups, we just wrote a song. I think some of it was chance that the male groups came. The girls were out there, it was happening. Then came the British Invasion, a new look, a new sound - we were ready for it.

CHARLOTTE: Who were the fans of girl groups? Were they boys, or girls, or both?

ELLIE: I think both. The guys thought, "Oh wow, would I love to be with her!" Then there were the girls who wanted to emulate them. Also, the girl group songs were very universal subject matter, and relatively simple. A lot of kids could sing along. The fans were definitely mixed.

CHARLOTTE: Looking back on it, the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes stand out as girl groups who had a strong image. The other girls were more goody-goody. Were they bad girls?

ELLIE: Overall, the girl groups had very sweet images, except for the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las, who had a tougher, harder attitude. By today's standards, they were as innocent as the day is long. Back then, they seemed to have a street toughness, but with a lot of vulnerability. Mary Weiss [had] the sweetest long straight hair, an angelic face, and then this nasal voice comes out, and this little attitude - the best of both worlds. Were they tougher than [say] the Dixie Cups? They were a little harder. They also knew they had a look, and they played into it. But if you blew too hard on them … "Waaaah!" You'd say, "This is what you're gonna do" The most they'd ever say was, "Well, we're not gonna do it." Ten minutes later, they were doing it. That's as bad as they got, if you wanna consider that bad.

CHARLOTTE: In the '70s and the '80s, there were a number of people who went back to that girl group sound, but in a more tongue-in-cheek way. Was it meant tongue-in-cheek to begin with? I know you were sincere about what you were doing. I think people think that they've discovered a humorous edge in what was meant in a very sincere, perhaps rather naive way in the '60s. But when you look at what the Shangri-Las did, you can't believe that it was 100% serious.

ELLIE: OK, 'Leader Of The Pack' … believe it or not, 'Leader Of The Pack' was serious. (Laughs) Back in the '60s, when you started making money, a lot of people went out bought motorcycles. We figured, "Ooh, we'll take a trend that's happening, make a boy/girl love song, but let's give it a sick element, let's have the guy die." It was like a little soap opera. We wrote that song with a guy named Shadow Morton. He wrote 'Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)', songs like that. Now, they look at songs like that with a satirical edge, but when we wrote it, we were serious about it.

CHARLOTTE: A lot of feminists would feel that the songs you wrote - because they were saying how wonderful marriage was, how great it would be the day you got married and had babies - were oppressive to women.

ELLIE: I know people that have gotten married in the past two years who have used 'Chapel Of Love' as their wedding song. I think, no matter how much of a feminist one claims to be … Lord knows, if you go by my songs, and the way my personal life has gone, you'd say, "Oh my, this lady was dreaming." It didn't exactly happen the way I was writing it. However, I would have liked it to have gone that way. I am a very firm believer in equality, women and men: if you can do the job, by all means go ahead and do it. But I still feel it would be nice if that romance can be there, birds could sing if you fell in love, and you could hear violins. I think that would be really terrific - I don't care how old you are, or what generation.

Most of my famous songs were early to mid-'60s. Attitudes starting changing in the late '60s, into the '70s. A lot of people that I got involved with in the music industry - '70s people, the next generation - would ask me, "What was it like in the '60s? Were you really like your songs?" I'd tell them that I came in right out of college, grew up in a nice middle class family out in Long Island, got my degree as a teacher, taught for three and a half weeks, and thought, "Naah, I gotta try music. I'll always have this to fall back on." I wanted a little house with a picket fence, 2.3 children. I really wanted that. That's what I had hoped was gonna happen for me. To hear my stuff on the radio: "Ooh, ooh, ooh, this is bliss, ultimate bliss." I really came into the industry with the belief that if you work hard enough, I could have a taste of that. But then, when my marriage did fall apart … well, the disillusionment, you can imagine: the person who wrote 'Doo Wah Diddy' and 'Chapel Of Love' has gotta be devastated. I realised, those words, "'Till death do us part", they don't really mean anything. Through the good times and bad times - what happened to that? We're having bad times - why should this be over? I think if Jeff and I hadn't been so successful so quickly, and had taken the time to grow together as people, and gotten to know each other a little better … I knew him very well for the year and a half we were dating, but then we got so busy in the throes of the industry - writing, contracts, studios and this and that - that the minute a personal problem came up, we put it on the back burner. We didn't have time to work out those things.

CHARLOTTE: 'River Deep - Mountain High' sounds like a more adult kind of song. I read that you were breaking up with Jeff at that time.

ELLIE: We were already divorced. When we got divorced, because we were such a successful writing team, we thought that for business purposes, if people find out, fine, but let's not overly publicise it. We got divorced right around Christmastime, December 13th, but we'd already had all these cards printed, "From Ellie & Jeff Barry." We just signed them, "Ellie & Jeff", and sent them out. People found out as time went on, but we were still working together, although we took time off to clear the head. Phil had called Jeff about the three of us getting together to write again, which we hadn't done in a couple of years. We met at Jeff's apartment, and we had to fill Phil in, "By the way, we're no longer together." He was concerned if we could still write together. We said, "No problem, we can certainly do it." Phil told us it was for Tina Turner, and it would be a big departure from what she had been known for. We sat down, I think over a period of two days - now, we were all working individually, Phil had started something, Jeff had started something, I had started something - sat down at the piano and played the things we had started. We pulled from all those things, and out came 'River Deep - Mountain High'. It was like a little potpourri of all the things we had been writing.

At that same writing session we also wrote 'I Can Hear Music', which is kinda interesting: "This is the way I always thought it would be." My, my, my, what's going on here? I think the fact that I had now gone through a divorce - so had Jeff, and Lord only knows what Phil Spector had been through, and still goes through - gave a little edge to our writing. Yet that hopefulness was still in there: "When I'm with you, I can hear music, everything else disappears."

CHARLOTTE: Are you still in touch with people like Jeff Barry, Phil Spector, Leiber & Stoller?

ELLIE: Leiber & Stoller I speak to occasionally, and see at certain music business functions.

CHARLOTTE: I read that they never really liked girl group music. They thought it was … silly.

ELLIE: Well, it wasn't the kind of stuff that they wrote, but I don't think things like 'Yakety Yak' and 'Charlie Brown' were exactly … hey! But they didn't have to get involved in that side of things. They had signed writers, Jeff and myself, who took very good care of that end of what was happening in the business. They did very well financially from our songs.

CHARLOTTE: What's going on with your career at the moment?

ELLIE: My career's had some ups and downs, like everybody's has. At the present time I'm starting to write again, which I haven't done in quite a while. I've also opened up a jingle production company - great name, it's called Hook, Line & Singer. A guy named Steve Tudanger [1] and myself, we write and produce commercials for radio and TV. Also, my manager Bob Weiner and I have just recently acquired the stage rights for the 'Leader Of The Pack' show and we hope to get a tour out there [2].

[1] Steve Tudanger died in 2006. Read Ellie's tribute to him here:

[2] 'Leader Of The Pack' has since been played by over 3,000 schools and colleges
in the US and Canada. It has also been performed professionally in
England, Canada and Australia. Find more info at Ellie's website:

'How To Write A Hit Song' by Ellie Greenwich:

Ellie Greenwich on CD:

Charlotte Greig: