Female Composer Leading the Pack in 1960s Music
Music can be a hard field to break into for anyone in any decade, but imagine being a women in the late 1950s who not only wanted to perform and sing, but had a dream of composing and producing hit songs that would be shared with the world. It was simply unheard of at the time. Meet Ellie Greenwich (pronounced gren-ich) who changed the music world with her fun, creative songs which have sold millions of copies over the last half of a century! What? Never heard her name before? That's okay, I would bet you have heard at least a few of her songs. I have to admit I had only heard her name in passing until about a year ago when I was asked to perform in a musical about her life in an area theater. The musical is called "The Leader of the Pack" - the title rang a few more bells in my mind, but I still did not realize her impact to woman musicians until receiving the musical score and starting rehearsals. Do any of these titles sound familiar - “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?”, "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Chapel of Love", "Then He Kissed Me", "Be My Baby", "River Deep, Mountain High", "Leader of the Pack", "Hanky Panky", "Look of Love", 'Baby, Please Come Home", "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", or "I Can Hear Music"? I have been so inspired by Ms. Greenwich that I wanted to know more about her life and career. Therefore, my search began with what is shared below.
Keyboard Photo by Butterfly.
Recorded by Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
Co-written by Tony Powers and famous producer Phil Spector, this became one of the first Ellie songs to make the charts in 1963! The cast members of the "Leader of the Pack" production I was in wore t-shirts with the graphic of a 45 record. It was amusing when younger members of the audience asked me what was on my shirt after performances! :) Shoo be shoo be doo whah!
Recorded by the Ronettes
The Ronettes were one of the female groups that were instrumental in taking Ellie's songs to the top of the charts. The song made #2 on the Billboard charts with the Ronettes and has been recorded by many other artists over the years. The song was listed as song 22 on "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" by Rolling Stone magazine, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and given numerous other awards. The song was included on the soundtrack of the movie "Dirty Dancing" because of its continued popularity. ~ Did you know that the Ronettes were the only female group to ever open for the Beatles? Pretty cool!
Recorded by the Crystals
The mystery question for Ellie was frequently, "What does 'da doo ron ron' mean?" Her response when she answered live on stage during original "Leader of the Pack" performances in New York was "Nothing, absolutely nothing!" Apparently when she and hubby, Jeff Barry, were quickly popping out numerous song lyrics, sometimes they would create nonsense syllables as a temporary fill-in to be changed later, but this particular one was catchy and stuck with the song during the recording! What would you put after this first line of lyrics? "I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still ..."
Featuring the Original Broadway Cast
Although I've performed in many types of musicals, orchestras, bands,and choirs, I have to admit that when I was lucky to be in a local version of "Leader of the Pack" last year, I had more fun performing it than I did in harder, better known musicals. The music was simply cool stuff that was easy to learn and hard to forget! The multi-aged audiences had a blast dancing and singing in the aisles, too.
"Leader of the Pack" is a musical based on the life and career of Ellie Greenwich. This is the only CD version that was created from the original two record set from 1985 of the Broadway cast that includes Darlene Love and of course, Ellie herself! The musical tells of her early career then switches to the 80s when Ellie came walking on the stage to sing the last few songs. The musical won a Tony Award for Best Musical while this recording won a Grammy Award.
Recorded by Darlene Love
Darlene Love has an unforgettable voice and has recorded many memorable songs from the 60s including this one from Ellie and her co-writers. Darlene performed in the Broadway version of "Leader of the Pack" in the 1980s helping it to earn a Tony Award.
Recorded by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans
A song definitely written for love struck teenagers, this song was recorded by a group with an interesting name, Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans. Recognize the lead singer? That is Miss Darlene Love who over the years sang many songs that Ellie had a part in writing.
Recorded by the Dixie Cups
Ellie co-wrote this sweet tune with Jeff Barry and Phil Spector and was recorded by the Dixie Cups in 1964 - just two years after "going to the chapel of love" herself with Barry. It went to #1 on the charts for three weeks for them and sold over 1 million copies. It was also recorded by the Ronettes, Bette Midler, the Beach Boys, Elton John, and other artists.
Recorded by the Shangri-Las
Another popular girl group, the Shangi-Las recorded "Leader of the Pack" in 1964. Although it is quite a sad song about a teen girl and the death of her motorcycle riding boyfriend, its popularity is still widely known. - Love the hair, by the way!
Recorded by Manfred Mann
Another fun song to sing from the "do wah" category! Although recorded in 1963 by a group called the "Exciters", this version by Manfred Mann a year later is the one that people remember. It made it to #1 in both the Billboard Top 100" and the "UK Singles Chart". Bill Murray added his personality to the piece in the 1981 movie, "Stripes".
Recorded by Tommy James & the Shondells
Ellie composed this one with her talented husband, Jeff Barry, and the two of them recorded it as "The Raindrops". Tommy James and the Shondells took it to #1 later in 1966. What a simple, repetitive, and cute tune!
More from the Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry Songbook
If you enjoyed listening to the few Ellie songs and videos on this page, then I know you will love this collection of 24 of the songs that she composed with Jeff Barry while they worked at the Brill Building in the early 60s! Included are "Baby, I Love You" by the Ronettes, "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups, "Wait 'Till My Bobby Gets Home" by Darlene Love, "Da Doo Ron Ron" by the Crystals, "Don't Ever Leave Me" by Connie Francis, "Why Don't They Let Us Fall in Love" by Sonny & Cher, "I Wanna Love Him So Bad" by the Jellybeans, "I Wonder" by the Butterflies, "Look of Love" by Leslie Gore, "She Hangs Out" by the Monkees, "Not Too Young to Get Married" by Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans and many others.
Recorded by the Beach Boys & Kathy Tricolli
Recorded by Ike & Tina Turner and Glee
Another Greenwich, Barry, and Spector collaboration, this was recorded in 1966 by Tina Turner. Although it exhibited all of her excitement and talent, it didn't chart as well in the United States as hoped. Darlene Love sang the piece in "Leader of the Pack". My teenagers recently introduced me to a modern version done by the popular musical show, "Glee", demonstrating how Ms. Greenwich's music is still influential today. (See second video below.)
Inspiration and fun!
With so many amazing female musical artists on the top of the charts these days, I wonder what it would be like if Ellie had not followed her dreams of composing, recording, and producing. What would have happened if she had not worked so hard to achieve her success when she had many obstacles? Would female artists today have the same impact if someone had not paved the way and opened a few doors? Although most of Ms. Greenwich's music was written and recorded before I was even born, I can't help but respect what she accomplished! Besides composing on her own, she co-wrote tons of songs with other well known musicians, had her songs recorded by numerous successful artists of many styles and decades, sang on solo albums as well as back up to huge stars, and have done remakes of her music in movies and recordings with the newest generation. Although Ms. Greenwich passed away a couple years ago, her music is still touching the hearts of listeners.