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Ellie Greenwich dies at 68; co-wrote 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' 'Chapel of Love' and other '60s hits

August 27, 2009|Randy Lewis

Ellie Greenwich, the New York songwriter behind a string of 1960s hits that gave effervescent voice to unbridled teen romance including "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Chapel of Love" and "Be My Baby," many of them in collaboration with producer Phil Spector, died Wednesday of a heart attack, according to her niece, Jessica Weiner. She was 68.

She was being treated for pneumonia and "some other heart issues" at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York when she suffered the heart attack, Weiner said.

"She was the greatest melody writer of all time," Brian Wilson told The Times on Wednesday. The chief creative force of the Beach Boys, whose music was strongly influenced by many of the hits Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry wrote with Spector, has often cited "Be My Baby" as his favorite record of all time.

Greenwich and Barry were part of the fabled Brill Building stable of professional songwriters that also included the teams of Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil as well as Paul Simon, Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond.

Greenwich also broke ground as one of the first female record producers, working with Barry in crafting Diamond's early recordings, including "Cherry Cherry," "Solitary Man" and "Kentucky Woman."

Greenwich and Barry's collaborations with Wall of Sound creator Spector are regarded among the greatest singles ever created. The music publishing rights organization Broadcast Music Inc. lists more than 200 songs she wrote or co-wrote, including "Then He Kissed Me" (the Crystals), "I Can Hear Music" (The Ronettes, Beach Boys), "Hanky Panky" (a hit for Tommy James & the Shondells), "Maybe I Know" (Lesley Gore) and the song Spector considered his greatest recording, "River Deep, Mountain High" (Ike and Tina Turner).

Eleanor Louise Greenwich was born Oct. 23, 1940, in Brooklyn, N.Y. She enrolled at Queens College when she was 17 and in 1958 released a single with two songs she had written, "Silly Isn't It" and "Cha Cha Cha Charming." She transferred to Hofstra University, where she met Barry. She graduated in 1962 and married Barry the same year.

Their common interest in music also gave birth to a songwriting team. On a visit to the Brill Building, Greenwich introduced herself to songwriter-producer Jerry Leiber, showed off some of her songs and soon Leiber and his partner Mike Stoller offered her a songwriting contract at Trio Music.

She and Barry recorded a few songs as the Raindrops, but their biggest hit, "The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget," reached only No. 17.

Greenwich suffered a nervous breakdown after she and Barry divorced in 1965, and the hits stopped flowing.

In the '80s, she created a musical titled "Leader of the Pack" that included many of her pop hits and told the story of her rise to fame and equally steep fall.

Greenwich is survived by her sister, Laura Weiner.

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randy.lewis@latimes.com

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