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Legendary '60s Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dies

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Legendary '60s Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dies

Music Interviews

Legendary '60s Songwriter Ellie Greenwich Dies

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One of the great songwriters of our time has died. Ellie Greenwich was a rarity - a woman in the music business who found great success writing and producing hit after popular hit. Greenwich died this morning at a New York City hospital. She was 68 years old.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY: Along with Phil Spector and her then-husband Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich created this song.

(Soundbite of song, "Be My Baby")

THE RONETTES (Singers): (Singing) So won't you please be my, be my baby. Be my little baby. My oneā€¦

ULABY: And this one.

(Soundbite of song, "Then He Kissed Me")

THE CRYSTALS (Singers): (Singing) So I whispered I love you, he said that he loved me too, and then he kissed me.

ULABY: And this one.

(Soundbite of song, "Da Do Ron Ron")

THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still, da do ron ron ron, da do ron ron.

ULABY: Just because Ellie Greenwich earned 25 gold and platinum records doesn't mean she could predict a hit. Here she is a few years ago on WHYY's Fresh Air.

Ms. ELLIE GREENWICH: In my whole career of being in the studio producing, there were only two songs that I literally walked out of the studio and said, either these records are gonna be zippidy do-nothing, go-nowhere or No. 1 records. That was "Chapel of Love" and "Leader of the Pack."

(Soundbite of song, "Leader of the Pack")

THE SHANGRI-LAS (Singers): (Singing) I met him at the candy store. He turned around and smiled at me, you get the picture?

Yes, we see.

(Singing) That's when I fell for the leader of the pack.

(Soundbite of motorcycle)

ULABY: Ellie Greenwich started her career writing songs for her cheerleading squad on Long Island. Her music would help define the American teenager in the 1960s.

Ms. GREENWICH: It wasn't that accepted back then, a female being in that end of the business.

ULABY: Honestly, it's not even all that accepted now. Women break into the industry as singers. Greenwich was a good singer, but her Midas touch as a writer and producer earned her a perch in the Brill Building, New York City's famed pop music factory, along with Carole King.

Ellie Greenwich told NPR that the girl groups she produced were not always happy about a woman being in charge.

Ms. GREENWICH: At first, it was like, well, who does she think she is giving us orders here or telling us what to do? But on the other end, if you just were very open with them, they saw they could be your friend, and then it became an asset to be a woman dealing with the girl groups.

ULABY: The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las.

(Soundbite of song, "Out in the Streets")

THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) He don't hang around with the gang no more, gee, he doesn't smile like he did before.

ULABY: Ellie Greenwich's music sold in the tens of millions. But she felt upstaged, like many other American songwriters, by the British Invasion. She endured a painful divorce and a nervous breakdown. Both were part of an autobiographical Broadway show that opened in the 1980s.

Jimmy Iovine is the chairman of Interscope Records.

Mr. JIMMY IOVINE (Chairman, Interscope Records): Very few people have as many classic songs as Ellie Greenwich did. She was incredible.

ULABY: Iovine says Greenwich discovered Neil Diamond and worked with Cyndi Lauper, Desmond Child and Ike and Tina Turner. Iovine says if he had to pick just one favorite Ellie Greenwich song, it'd be "River Deep - Mountain High." But Ellie Greenwich left us dozens upon dozens of songs.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "River Deep - Mountain High")

Ms. TINA TURNER (Singer): (Singing) When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll, the only doll I've ever owned. Now I love you just the way I loved that rag doll, but only now that love has grown. And it gets stronger in every way. And it gets deeper, let me say. And it gets higher day by day.

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