Gee Ellie Gee

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Pictured: Shadow Morton, Ellie Greenwich, and Jeff Barry

In comparing the Billboard Top Ten today with the Top Ten in 1963, many of us would agree that the quality of popular music has declined significantly.

Yeah, it’s very hard to walk away in these times singing something. You know what I’m saying? I think with Destiny’s Child—their first hit “Say my name, say my name” (Singing). I mean, wow! You remembered that. But there was nothing else memorable in that song.

Yeah, there’s not enough to hook you in.

No, not at all. I think there’s a lot of talent out there, but for whatever reason I think music has to change. It’s just the nature of the beast. I think it will go back to the song eventually.

Ugh…. I’m waiting.

Yeah, I know a lot of people are waiting. When I was in the business, I used to put it this way—I was in the music business. Now it’s the music business. You create the artists, you create the look, you create the video, and the video sells the record. I have a niece who’s 22 and a nephew who’s 27 and over the years I’ve watched them with the MTV and the VH-1. And I sat there one day watching them watch these videos. And I’m not trying to put them down, but I said, “Do you know what this song is? Or are you just watching the video because you like the outfit or the bump and grind?” I mean there are still people out there who are hitting the top two with “the song.” Like Celine Dion who had her run with “the song.” But for whatever the reasons are, the music has been very secondary these past number of years. It’s been the package that sells, not the songs.

Are there any current artists that you’re listening to?

Lemme think….One of the artists that I fell totally in love with when she first came out was Shania Twain. But then again, she does songs. “You’re still the one I love….” (Singing). If I was gonna record today that is exactly what I would record. I love the sound of her voice—it’s street. It’s wonderful. I think in the past couple of years she’s been among my favorites. But isn’t it terrible that I can’t think of anybody else that has really blown me away?

Hey, I completely feel the same way.

I mean, I think Britney’s made good records. I think they’re fine. I don’t buy liquid lorazepam love all her stuff, but I think Christina Aguilera is a great singer.

She’s definitely got a voice on her.

Unbelievable, that “Beautiful” song.

Yeah, I actually think “Beautiful” is the best song she’s ever done.

Absolutely. Absolutely. You know because I have my niece and nephew, they’re always like, “Ellie, you have to listen to Coldplay and this and that.” And I have. Some of the stuff I think is fine, but it doesn’t grab me like stuff used to. I mean, maybe it’s our age—I don’t know how old you are.

I’m 27, but I feel the same—

27??? You’re ridiculous!

No, but I feel the same way! I predominantly listen to music from the sixties because that’s where the magic is.

I mean, thank god for people like you. Actually, I’m leaving Monday to go to Australia for the “Leader Of The Pack” performances, and it’s interesting because when I look at the audiences, there are people my age and younger people—all having such a good time. It’s wonderful to see that!

Your music translates to all generations. It’s gonna be that way forever.

I hope so (Laughs). To me there’s always something good in music. But if you’re taking the art of writing songs, I think it’s more writing records now than it is writing songs. Plus it’s very much a black market, and it’s funny to say that because I tell myself, “Well Ellie, you had hits with Darlene Love, Tina Turner, Ronnie Spector—HELLO?” But that was different. It was pop. Today a lot of the pop is gone.

You’ve worked with hundreds of artists over the years—which artist made for the best collaboration in your opinion?

Cyndi Lauper. I think she’s phenomenal.

Did you encounter any sexism during the ’60s or were you always treated as an equal?

In a way I was very fortunate because I worked with Jeff [Barry] [Ellie’s then-husband and writing partner], so if they felt a certain way towards me as a woman, they didn’t show it because Jeff was around. However, when I would be in the studio and ask the guitarists to give me a “Chk chk chk on the two and the four” they’re kinda like, “Whatever.” Because at first I was Ellie in the miniskirt with the blond hair, and I don’t know how seriously they took me until they realized that I knew what I was doing.

It’s interesting because although Jeff Barry never showed it, I think there was a little bit of that there also. If you look at the Raindrops records, you’ll see that the first record reads: produced by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Then he decided that we should split the names up so it read: produced by Ellie and Jeff Barry. And then finally it was: produced by Jeff Barry. Just by reading production credits at different times you can really see how socially, so to speak, it went back then. Carole King and myself were the only two girls who wrote, sang, and also produced. I think we were very well liked, but underneath it all there was a little resentment. The girls could be the singers, maybe even a writer, but the person in charge of the studio was usually a man.

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Even today female producers and engineers are still not that common, so I think it has yet to be seen as the norm.

Now it’s so much better, but I guess it will always be “Me Tarzan, You Jane” out there no matter how you look at it.

Ha! Ha! Yeah, the men will never learn. So do you own original copies of all your records?

I do, I’m not sure if they’re melted in this warehouse or not. But I do have original copies of all my stuff. One of the rarest demos I have—that I could probably get a fortune for—is Phil Spector playing the guitar and singing lead, me playing the piano, and Jeff tapping on the piano doing “Baby I Love You.”

Oh my lord!!!

I’m tellin’ you, I could probably make a million dollars on it.

I’m sure you could with all the voracious record collectors out there.

Forget about it! I mean, Phil sounds like Bob Dylan on that. It’s funny because you hear exactly what the song was going to be. I remember whispering to our engineer Brooks Arthur, “Brooks, make me a copy!”

2 Responses to Gee Ellie Gee

  1. Kevin Birchall says:

    Wow! Sheila what an amazing interview . you were so lucky to speak to one of my fave writers along with Carole King of course.Would love to post this on my Ready Steady Girls facebook page. Do you know if the book Ellie was working on ever got published? & Oh to hear those demos she had what a treat that would be. Shame we didn’t get to meet up in Feb when we had a trip to New York especially to see the Brill Building & also found a few nice records. If you ever come back to the uk we will have to put on a Ready Steady Girls party so you can come to dj & maybe get Bob to play to. He was going to dj at last years RSG all dayer but couldn’t make it. Not sure if you know Paul Court from the band The Primitives ? He also has a good 60s Girl Pop collection .
    Keep up the great work
    Kev & Linda at Ready Steady Girls x

    • admin says:

      Hey Kev + Linda: Thanks so much for you very kind words! It was hands down the best interview I’ve ever done. She was SO lovely + upbeat. I don’t think the book she was working on ever did get published. Hopefully somehow will take what she’s written and get it out there! Definitely feel free to post it on Ready Steady Girls. And thank you so much for the recent mention on there. I’m going to be in the UK in early September for a wedding so would love to spin at one of your parties! Is it a monthly party? xo-Sheila

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