10 February 2006

Ellie Greenwich and The Raindrops

The Raindrops

The Kind of Songs You Can't Forget!
The Raindrops Story
featuring the incomparable sound of 
Miss Ellie Greenwich
by Donny Jacobs
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich had been employed at New York's Brill Building as professional songwriters since around 1960. By January of 1963, writing both separately and together, they'd amassed a sizable catalog of tunes between them, with titles like "I Wish It Would Rain All Summer," "I Think You Want My Girl," "Our Love, It Grows," "I Shouldn't Be Kissing You," "Unhappy Birthday" and "What Have You Been Doing?" Every now and again, an artist or group would record one of their songs and have a hit with it, but there was no consistency to these successes. Everything was "hit and miss" at this point, and the years 1961 and '62 were relatively lean ones for the couple.

They got discouraged sometimes, but not to the point of wanting to go their separate ways. They knew they had it goin' on, even if nobody else did yet! When Ellie lay her hands on a piano keyboard, incredible sounds never failed to come wafting up. Likewise, when Jeff got 'way down deep in his percussion bag, it was impossible to keep your toes from tappin.' But they had one asset that hadn't been properly utilized yet: Ellie's singing voice. When she sang, she had a teenage tomboy sound that, in 1963, was more commercial than ever now that Girl Groups were the current rage. As early as 1961, they'd tried to capitalize on her voice with a single called "Red Corvette," credited to Ellie Gee and The Jets. It didn't sell. They tried again the following year with "Big Honky Baby," a wickedly catchy Jeff Barry tune that Ellie cut under the name Kellie Douglas. Still no sales. What Ellie Greenwich needed was the right showcase for her voice, and she finally got it in the spring of '63.

A year earlier, Yvonne Baker and The Sensations had scored a Top Ten hit with a song called "Let Me In". Since then, Sensations' records hadn't sold very well, but Jeff and Ellie felt they could write another hit for them. They booked Associated Recording Studios in Manhattan, and got busy. Ellie sat down at the piano, Jeff ensconced himself behind a drum kit, and they played and played until they felt a musical idea coming together. Then Ellie stood at the singer's microphone and, pretending she was a boy-crazy fifteen-year-old, sang her heart out.

When the song demo was finished, they took it to their bosses, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Leiber and Stoller took one listen, and said, "This record is too good to give away. We're gonna put it out ourselves!" Confused, Jeff and Ellie asked, "What do you mean you're gonna put this record out? There is no record! Not yet, anyway." But Leiber and Stoller knew a record when they heard one, and they definitely knew what a hit record was. They arranged to have it released on Jubilee Records, and Jeff and Ellie's song, "What A Guy", ended up being a Top Thirty R & B smash. That's how Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became a singing group. They named themselves The Raindrops, after a 1961 hit song by Dee Clark.

The Raindrops would go on to land five more singles on the American charts, and record an album. These releases put some much-needed royalty income into their pockets. The Raindrops' hits exposed the public to Ellie's remarkable voice for the first time, and they also helped hone Jeff's budding skills as a record producer. The Raindrops was the womb from which two incredible Rock'n'Roll dynamos would spring: A pair of peerless producers, songwriters and session musicians whose work, both together and separately, would encompass a large portion of East Coast-generated popular music, and damn near dominate it. These early Barry/Greenwich efforts contain the building blocks of their phenomenal success. You want proof, you say? Then direct your attention to Exhibit A, a vintage 45 RPM platter featuring the songs . . .

"What A Guy" and "It's So Wonderful"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5444
released in April, 1963
There's a very brash, bombastic sound on The Raindrops debut single, due to Jeff Barry's booming snare drum, which overwhelms everything else on the record save Ellie's vocal. Or, more accurately, her vocals, because she's overdubbed her voice two or three times so that she can be her own backing chorus! The trademark of Raindrops singles would be Jeff and Ellie's wild scat-singing, which was used as a percussion instrument much like, say, a tambourine or a pair of maracas. Miss Ellie goes to town here, alternately cooing and shouting the lyric while shifting back and forth between a soprano and a contralto delivery. Meanwhile, Jeff riffs up a storm using the Pit and Pendulum bass voice that would become his signature sound. Flip the single over, and you'll find a more polished version of the same. "It's So Wonderful" is a great '50s-styled doo-wopper with immediate appeal. Jeff and Ellie's transistorized voices wail a mantra of shooby-dooby-dum-dums over a slap happy drum-and-handclapping rhythm that's absolutely wringing wet with tape echo.

"The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget"
and "Even Though You Can't Dance"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5455
released in September, 1963
What to do for a follow-up single? Especially when you had no idea there'd even be a début single? The obvious course of action would've been to produce a new record that sounded identical to "What A Guy" and hope the public hadn't gotten tired of the formula. But Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich never took such a cynical approach to record production. Each new song had to sound as fresh and unique as could be. While "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget" may be another uptempo side, it has a pronounced Country flavor which distinguishes it. That, along with lots of trade-off scatting of the diddle-diddle variety, layered over a loping, shuffle beat rhythm. A Rock'n'Roll hoe-down, that's what this record is, and upon hearing it, people all over the country were inspired to Cotton-Eyed Joe down to their local record stores and buy a copy.

"Kind Of Boy" would be The Raindrops' most successful single, rising to #17 Pop. The flipside may have contributed to its success, too. Over a stuttering Latin backbeat, Ellie soothes Jeff's bruised ego by assuring him I love you/Even though you can't dance. Then she proceeds to list all the cool dances he can't do, like The Twist, The Mashed Potatoes, The Fish and The Slop(lest we forget, boys and girls, there were popular dances with silly names in the '60s)! Around this time, a touring Raindrops group was formed to promote their singles. Jeff didn't like to appear in public, so Ellie was joined for personal appearances by an Italian-American hunk named Bobby Bosco, along with her kid sister Laura and a New York session singer named Beverly Warren. Incidentally, Ms. Warren recorded as a solo artist, and her first release was an early Ellie Greenwich song called "It Was Me Yesterday."

The Raindrops
Jubilee STEREO 5023
issued in December, 1963
With two hit singles on the charts, it was album time for Jeff and Ellie. Hey, no problem . . . it's not like they didn't have enough material on hand! Their album actually turned out being a "greatest hits" collection of sorts, because it included a number of Barry/Greenwich songs that had become best-sellers for other artists since the release of "What A Guy". For instance, The Chiffons had gone into the studio with two of Jeff and Ellie's compositions: "I Have A Boyfriend" and "When The Boy's Happy (The Girl's Happy, Too)", and both songs were released as singles(for some unknown reason, the latter tune was issued under the name The Four Pennies). The Chiffons' version of "When The Boy's Happy" was good enough to hit the charts, but for the definitive version, you gotta listen to Ellie sing it! Every day/I kiss my baby/Just because/It drives him crazy, she brags, complementing her own lead vocal with a wicked hey nonny nonny refrain. Meanwhile, Jeff cleverly imitates a stand-up bass in the background. The Chiffons were arguably the best femme vocal ensemble of the '60s, but their rendition was nowhere near as infectious as this one.

The Raindrops' versions of "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Not Too Young To Get Married" are every bit as wild and exciting as the hit single versions by The Crystals and Darlene Love, respectively. If Ellie's singing isn't quite as powerful as that of Darlene or Crystals lead singer La La Brooks, it's certainly just as energetic. One big advantage The Raindrops' "Da Doo Ron Ron" has over The Crystals' is Jeff Barry yelling ba-bow-dit in-between verses! Jeff and Ellie dusted off one of their first compositions, "Hanky Panky" and cut it for this album. Although it would soon be waxed by a group called The Summits, three years would pass before Tommy James and The Shondells topped the charts with it. It's fascinating to hear this original waxing and realize how radically different two versions of the same song can be. Jeff and Ellie's interpretation is much sexier. Why, you can almost imagine Ellie Greenwich dancing the Bump and Grind as she sings my baby does the Hanky Panky/Nice and slow . . . Gypsy Rose Lee would've just loved this as background music for her striptease act! It's got a great false ending, too.

"Every Little Beat" is a very obscure Jeff Barry song that was recorded by The Fleetwoods ("Come Softly To Me") for one of their albums. Had Ellie's recording of it been released, it might easily have become a hit. Those cute transistor radio vocals of hers are irresistible on top of a Rock'n'Roll waltz arrangement. The same can be said for her rendition of "That Boy Is Messin' Up My Mind." Put a shuffling Latin rhythm behind Miss Ellie's voice, and you can't lose! Unfortunately, the rendition most people heard at the time was an absolutely stank recording by The Orchids on Columbia Records.

Jeff and Ellie rounded out their début album with a pair of brand new tunes, "I Won't Cry" and "Isn't That A Love?"; the previously-issued flipsides "Even Though You Can't Dance" and "It's So Wonderful"; and the two big moneymakers, "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget" and "What A Guy". Sad to say, there'd be no more Raindrops albums, but they definitely made the most of their début. Jeff's production style was still fairly primitive at this stage, but already, he was working with musicians who'd become indispensable to him later on. Musicians like drummers Buddy Saltzman and Gary Chester, pianist Artie Butler, and guitarists Al Gorgoni and Trade Martin, all of whom would later distinguish themselves on records by Neil Diamond, Andy Kim, The Archies, and a host of others.

"That Boy John" and "Hanky Panky"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5466
released in December, 1963
All aboard! Everybody get on board a rockin' Raindrops vehicle called "That Boy John". To their now-trademark piano and drum sound, Jeff and Ellie add a honking saxophone played by Artie Kaplan, and the result is a rowdy romper-stomper of a dance track. He's good to me/That boy John/Is good to me testifies Sister Greenwich on the Gospel-styled song coda, calling heathen everywhere to come and be saved in the church of Rhythm and Blues! But just as this single began climbing the charts, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and suddenly nobody wanted to hear a happy song about "that boy John". With the Stripper's Delight "Hanky Panky" on its flipside, Jubilee 5466 deserved to become The Raindrops' second Top Forty pop platter, but it was shot down (yipe! Bad choice of words) by a tragic twist of fate. Beware of another John Boy record by Baby Jane and The Rockabyes that's floating around out there; it isn't the same song. Jeff and Ellie would write the next Rockabyes' next single, though, an adorable Bubblegum rocker called "Hickory Dickery Dock."

"Doo Wah Diddy"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
UK Sequel CD 713
released in 1994
Why did it take thirty years for Jeff and Ellie's recording of Manfred Mann's international smash to see the light of day? Well, therein lies a tale . . . in December of 1963, they went into the studio with Brenda Reid and The Exciters and produced the original version of "Doo Wah Diddy". United Artists Records put it out as a single, and then promptly dropped the ball; they didn't promote it worth a damn, and it died on both the Pop and R & B charts. Understandably, Jeff and Ellie felt robbed. They knew it should've been a hit.

In fact, they believed in the song so much they decided to cut it themselves and release it as a Raindrops single. Just as they were finishing up their recording, Ellie got a call from Jerry Leiber. "Take a chill pill, sweet thing," he told her(a bit of creative license here)! "This British group, Manfred Mann, has just recorded 'Doo Wah Diddy', and you bet your last money, it's gonna be a stone smash, honey!" And so it was! But in the aftermath, The Raindrops' version was thrown in a tape vault to gather dust for three decades. When it was finally issued on a British CD in 1994, many a Girl Group fan scrambled to get a copy.

Once you've heard it, you don't even want to know from the Manfred Mann version any more. This cut kicks ass and takes names! Listen up for the original lyrics: There he was/Just a-walkin' down the street/Singin' Doo Wah Diddy/Diddy DOWN/Diddy DOO/Poppin' his fingers/And shufflin' his feet/Singin' DOO Wah Diddy/Diddy DOWN Diddy DOO/He looked good/He looked fine/He looked good/He looked fine/And I nearly lost my mind/Before I knew it/He was walkin' next to ME/Singin' Doo Wah Diddy/Diddy DOWN/Diddy DOO/He took my hand/Just as natural as could be/Singin' Doo Wah Diddy/Diddy DOWN/Diddy DOO/We walked on/To my door/We walked on/To my door/And he STAYED a little more.* A fierce Garage Rock arrangement and Ellie Greenwich's sassy vocalizing make this one of The Raindrops all-time best records.

"Book Of Love"
Words and Music by Warren Davis, George Malone and Charles Patrick
and "I Won't Cry"
Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5469
released in March, 1964
Ellie Greenwich was an ardent R & B fan, so it was probably at her suggestion that The Raindrops cut The Monotones' 1958 doo-wop classic "Book Of Love" as their first single of 1964. This cover version has the same Country hoe-down flavor as "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget", but in some ways, it's The Raindrops least impressive platter. It certainly isn't a bad record, but it's not such a good showcase for Ellie's voice. In fact, it's Jeff Barry's spirited bass harmonies that leave the biggest impression. Even so, the energy level seems to lag. The real ticket is on the flipside: A tasty habanera rocker called "I Won't Cry" which captures the sound of early '60s Spanish Harlem. Ellie's lyrics tell the sorrowful tale of a girl who's just found out that her main squeeze is squeezin' somebody else! The rhythm track, with its hesitating drum beats and spicy piano accents is so damn infectious, it'll have you doing the cha-cha-chá in no time flat.

"Let's Go Together"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
and "You Got What I Like"
Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5475
released in June, 1964
On the cast album for Leader Of The Pack, the 1985 Broadway musical based on Ellie Greenwich's life, you hear a few snatches of the intro to "Let's Go Together", but the song is never identified. To hear it in its entirety, you'll have to track down this single, and it's well worth the effort. The song is tailor-made for hummin' and finger-poppin' . . . dig that stuttering piano, maple syrup harmony and honking Artie Kaplan saxophone! The big bad drums are still there, but Jeff and Ellie's production style has become a bit more polished. On the flipside is "You Got What I Like", a solo Greenwich composition. On top of a stumbling beat, Ellie coos I got you where I want you/I want you where I got you/I got you where I want you/Every night while Jeff Barry BOW-WOW-WOWs happily in the background. Tsk, tsk . . . where are those stickers labeled WARNING: SEXUAL CONTENT when we need 'em? Make no mistake, this is a great little Bubblegum rocker, but should there be impressionable youngsters around while you're listening to it, clamp your hands over their virginal ears!

"One More Tear" and "Another Boy Like Mine"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5487
released in September, 1964
Talk about a bitchin' two-sider . . . The Raindrops' final waxing of 1964 finds Miss Ellie taking a more aggressive stance with her men. Whereas on earlier songs, she played the role of a lovestruck chick ripe for plucking by any handsome high school Romeo, here we see a girl who's been around the block once or twice. Now she understands what buttheads menfolk can be, and she's not down with it any more, see? I've only got one more tear and then I'll be dry, she sniffs, wiping streaks of mascara from her face. I've only got one more tear/And baby, good-bye/Tell one more lie/Make me cry/By the time it hits the floor/I'll be gone/Won't be back no more/I'll just be gone, gone, gone, gone, yeah-yeah-YEAH.* You GO, honey!

"One More Tear" is equal parts Ray Charles' "Hit The Road, Jack" and The Ikettes "Gong Gong Song", crossed with a smidgen of Nancy Sinatra's "How Does That Grab You, Darlin?" It's a tasty mix! Flip it over, and you find a conventional boy-crazy number called "Another Boy Like Mine", but what the lyrics lack in assertiveness is made up for by the hook-laden production. This record has beats workin' everywhere! Hands clap, rhythm guitars jangle, the bass busts a move, the horns get righteous, and Jeff and Ellie provide crazy cool scat vocals throughout. "Another Boy Like Mine" was also cut by The Dixie Cups for their Chapel Of Love album. While their rendition jives along to a hip-swingin' New Orleans-flavored arrangement, The Raindrops' high energy version has the edge.

"Don't Let Go"
Words and Music by Jesse Stone
and "My Mama Don't Like Him"
Words and Music by Ellie Greenwich
Jubilee 5497
released in March, 1965
Jeff and Ellie kept it in the groove for their final Raindrops single, which, like lots of other records from 1965, shows a marked Motown influence. They really pulled out the stops for this production; they even got Artie Butler to write horn charts for a full brass section! When you hear that lethal drum intro slide into a crackerjack handclapping groove, you know it ain't nothin' but a party. The strong Gospel flavor of this 1957 Roy Hamilton number makes "That Boy John" sound like a funeral march in comparison, and the lively call-and-response vocal pattern is an excellent showcase for Ellie Greenwich's lead and background voices. So maybe the flipside is a forgettable instrumental(as "Kellie Douglas," Miss Ellie had cut a vocal version of "My Mama Don't Like Him" a couple of years earlier), but that hardly matters when you have a topside good enough to rock the house for hours on end. All known copies of "Don't Let Go" are white label DJ pressings, and the single probably never got past that stage. Every other Raindrops single registered on the charts, and this one surely would have, too, if only it had been made available in sufficient quantities.

However, The Raindrops had already called it quits. Jeff and Ellie decided to concentrate on their songwriting and limit their recording activities to singing demos and backing vocals . . . at least for a while. They'd placed an unprecedented number of songs with other acts in 1964, and over a dozen had landed on the charts. The royalties were rolling in steadily now, and they no longer had to "sing for their supper", so to speak! Even so, they'd both cut solo singles well into the early '70s, and in 1967, they'd even give the group thing one last try with a lone Atco Records 45 issued under the name The Meantime . . .

Leslie Miller and Friends


"Friday Kind Of Monday"
and "Right Back Where I Started From"
Words and Music by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Atco 6524
released in October, 1967
Jeff and Ellie are divorced now, and busy with mostly separate endeavors. However, they're still working in tandem to generate studio magic for their discovery Neil Diamond, whose career has taken off like a rocket. Ellie's voice is still a saleable commodity(she'll soon score her first hit solo single with the Bob Crewe-produced "I Want You To Be My Baby"), so the duo contrive to present it in an updated setting. The topside of this rare single reflects the Bubblegum Rock sensibility that Jeff Barry has recently embraced in his work with The Monkees. Its production mixes in a bit of psychedelia, too, but not so much that melody is sacrificed.

Miss Ellie begins the song in an uncharacteristically down mood; when she declares it's a Friday kind of Monday/everything is fine, we don't readily believe her. Urged along by surging strings, punchy horns, Jeff's insistent drumbeat, and her own overdubbed chant of umlaut umlaut(scat singing gone Germanic!), her voice gradually becomes more animated. By the fadeout, she's definitely belting the lyric with conviction, but this record takes a little too much time to warm up. Not so the flipside!

"Right Back Where I Started From" is the performance that proves Ellie Greenwich could sink her pearly whites into a Blues rocker and give Janis Joplin a run for her money. You've heard of bra-burning? Here Miss Ellie burns up the whole lingerie department! She kicks her early '60s cuteness to the curb and bares her soul with a ferocity that's startling. You can easily imagine her pounding the floor in vexation as she shouts I'm a fool, fool, fool for you, baby! Her brilliantly vampy background vocal arrangement veers straight into Ike & Tina Turner territory; it's just as effective as the one she wrote for Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools." For both Jeff and Ellie, "Right Back" pointed the way to a musical future fueled by the raw power of the Blues.

Jeff, Ellie, Studio

So there you have it . . . all the musical evidence. Songs like "What A Guy" and "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget" sound light years away from the musical sophistication of "Sugar, Sugar," "River-Deep, Mountain-High," "I Can Hear Music," "Keep It Confidential" and other Barry/Greenwich creations to come. Also, Jeff Barry's production style wouldn't really gel until after his work with Neil Diamond was finished. However, there are clear stylistic links that are easy to find if you look closely enough.

For example, "Doo Wah Diddy" is the direct forerunner of The Archies 1968 hit "Bang-Shang-A-Lang". The former was written from a female point of view, and the latter was written from a male one, but lyrically, the two songs are basically the same. The doo-wop flavor and jazzy scat singing that permeates Raindrops singles can also be found in abundance on records by The Shangri-Las, The Dixie Cups, The Jellybeans, The Butterflys, Sam Hawkins, Connie Francis, Neil Diamond, The Monkees, The Archies, Andy Kim, Robin McNamara and many other artists Jeff and Ellie worked with. It even can be argued that the million-selling Archies were a later version of The Raindrops! There was a different lead singer and additional members, but on early Archies waxings like "You Little Angel, You", "Everything's Archie (Archie's Theme)" and "Circle Of Blue", Toni Wine's singing mirrors Ellie Greenwich's flawless harmony vocals (or could that be Miss Ellie for real?) and Jeff Barry's unmistakable bass accents can clearly be heard behind Ron Dante's lead. And of course, Jeff served as producer for both groups.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury . . . there can be absolutely no doubt that The Raindrops did indeed lay the foundation for Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's success. If this studio group had never existed, Jeff and Ellie undoubtedly would have still been successful; but then, we wouldn't have had their wonderful Jubilee platters to enjoy, records which basically served as demos for some of their most popular and enduring songs . . . the kind of songs you can't forget!

Ellie in Color
October 23, 1940 - August 26, 2009

Special thanks to Michael V. Skeen and JD Doyle
*song lyrics Copyright 1963 Alley Music/Trio Music/
Universal Songs of Polygram(BMI)

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