Greenwich passed away yesterday at the age of 68, but she’s left behind a huge legacy of rock solid tunes that have shaped the way pop music is made. She was also a female pioneer, one of the few women to work in the famous Brill Building (Carole King was another), that epicentre of pop hits that churned out hand-claps, rhymes involving “maybe” and “baby”, and some of the sweetest songs ever like they were Kraft Dinner.
It’s sad but unsurprising that Phil Spector is often credited as the architect of all those great 60s girl groups (The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, The Dixie Cups), when in fact it was Greenwich doing most of the songwriting. Phil may have built the Wall of Sound, but it was Ellie who constructed the bricks. Oh yeah, and she never murdered anyone either.
When I was a kid I choreographed a dance to Be My Baby that I would routinely force my parents to watch and admire (they obliged), and I still count on so many of these songs for their ability to make me feel good without going overboard into the land of saccharine mush. They’re so much more than just pop songs, though - they encompass a whole era, a whole style, a whole movement. Big hair! Sincerity to the max! Tragedy with a four-four beat! Dramatic voice-overs! Black women on mainstream radio!
Here are The Crystals with one of my favourite songs of the era, Da Do Ron Ron. Thank you, Ellie Greenwich. You’ll be in my heart heart heart, with your art art art.