Why Jeff Barry Belongs
in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame
. . . and Why Ellie Greenwich Does, Too
by Donny Jacobs
First, a little guitar
And then some bass
Now, here come the drums
Add a little organ
©Copyright 1969 Kirshner/CBS Music Publishing (BMI)
That's the recipe for "Rock And Roll Music", taken from a 1969 Archies album. But wait, there's more! Add a pinch of Folk music, a dash of the Blues, and a smidgen of Country 'n' Western. Fold in some 1950s Doo-Wop harmonies, and some handclapping and tambourine shaking for an old-fashioned Gospel feeling. Flavor the mix with a bit of Latin America and the Caribbean. Most important of all, keep the arrangement simple, and make it easy to dance to. Serve this dish steaming hot to the best record promotion people you can find. This is the recipe for a Jeff Barry Pop production. It's a sound that you'll find in hits by The Monkees, The Archies and the early hits of Neil Diamond, a sound that was an essential ingredient of American Pop and Rock music during the 1960s.
Jeff Barry is best known as a songwriter, along with his former wife and collaborator, Ellie Greenwich. Who hasn't heard "Hanky Panky" by Tommy James and The Shondells? "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" by Manfred Mann? The Dixie Cups' "Chapel Of Love" (now the unofficial anthem of the marriage equality movement)? The Shangri-Las' "Leader Of The Pack" (inspiration for a Broadway and West End musical several years back)? And who can forget the string of hits written by Barry and Greenwich and produced by Phil Spector during the early 1960s? The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me"? The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You"? Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)", popularized on "The David Letterman Show" and now a yuletide staple? Fast-forward into the 1970s for more samples of Jeff Barry's hitmaking magic: The Staple Singers' "Heavy Makes You Happy." Bobby Bloom's "Montego Bay". Olivia Newton-John's first #1 smash, "I Honestly Love You". And let's not overlook the biggest hit of 1969, The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar".
But Jeff Barry is also a producer, a fact that isn't as well-known. Why this is so is puzzling. Record production isn't just something Barry did on the side in addition to writing songs; a good number of the hits he wrote were also produced by him. In fact, Barry was one of the recording industry's top producers, and was recognized as such by Billboard Magazine in its Year End issue of 1970. He ranks alongside men like Phil Spector, Bob Crewe, Felton Jarvis, Norman Whitfield and Quincy Jones. Try these statistics on for size: Jeff Barry produced four #1 Pop records, three of which he also wrote ("Chapel Of Love", "Leader Of The Pack" and "Sugar, Sugar"). Twelve of his productions were Top Ten best-sellers and 21 of them hit Billboard's Top Twenty. Barry has seen 33 of his productions reach the national Top Forty. Between the years 1963 and 1973, he produced over 60 chart singles. This is hardly the record of a songwriter who occasionally dabbles in production. Here's the story of "Jukebox" Jeff Barry and the hit sound he created.
It's Called Rock 'n' Roll
He was born Joel Adelberg on April 3, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York. The Adelberg family relocated to a New Jersey suburb a few years after baby Joe's birth. "I'd get out of school, run home, hide under the bed and wait for the future to get here," Barry told interviewer Joe Smith a few years back, recalling his teens in a typically wry manner. "But I wrote songs. Did so since I was a kid. My mother has a song I wrote when I was seven. It's about my favorite things . . . girls and horses!" Little Joe's songwriting was inspired by the Country 'n' Western tunes he grew up hearing on the radio during the 1940s and '50s. He also got a hefty dose of Rhythm 'n' Blues, an exciting new sound which emanated on a regular basis from the houses of neighboring Black families. At the same time Country music and R & B were fusing with Latin music to create Rock 'n Roll, they were separately firing the imagination of a boy who would become one of America's greatest Rock tunesmiths.
Upon graduating from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School in 1955 (whose other alumni include Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond), Joel Adelberg served a hitch with the United States Army; tantalizingly, he was stationed at Fort Knox for much of that time. Following his discharge, he enrolled in New York's City College with an engineering degree in mind. However, by now the young man was hooked on Doo-Wop groups like Dion and The Belmonts, and he was harboring Rock star ambitions. While still a college student, he made his initial forays into the East Coast record business. Somewhere along the way, he dropped his birth name in favor of something with a more cosmopolitan sound. With a new first name swiped from '50s matinee idol Jeff Chandler, and a new last name borrowed from a family friend, "Jeff Barry" was born.
In his seminal book Girl Groups: The Story Of A Sound, the late author Alan Betrock described an occasion when Barry auditioned for a record company in the hope of landing a contract. According to Betrock, he was turned down, but the label liked the song he was singing, one of his own compositions called "Tell Laura I Love Her" and bought it from him. There's a bit of truth to this account, but it omits more of the story than it tells. Late in 1958, Jeff Barry met Arnold Shaw, who would later become an important Rock and Pop historian. At the time, he was president of the EB Marks publishing firm and a seasoned record industry veteran with important contacts. Barry reasoned that if he sang for Arnold Shaw and Shaw liked what he heard, one of those contacts might lead to a recording deal.
Decades later, he recounted that fateful meeting to Joe Smith: "I sat down for Arnold Shaw and played a few songs. All in (the keys of) G and C. I only knew two chords! I couldn't play anybody else's songs, so I wrote my own. He said, 'you sing OK, but what are these songs you're playing me? Got any more in G and C?' I played him all kinds of songs, all in G and C. He said, 'you mean you don't know any other chords?' I said, 'No, I don't know what I'm doing!' Then he said, 'Do you want to be a songwriter?'" On the spot, Shaw offered him a staff writer's job at EB Marks with a $75-a-week salary. Having recently gotten married to a girl named Lenore Rosenblatt, Barry was thinking of having a baby; the thought of future financial obligations made the decision easy for him. The young newlywed leapt at the chance for steady income, quit CCNY just a few credits shy of his undergrad degree, and became a full-time music writer.
He also became a part-time demo singer, waxing publisher's demonstration discs of his own songs and others penned by the likes of Ben Raleigh, Beverly Ross and Larry Kusik. This experience led to fulfillment of his momentarily deferred dream: A recording contract. In early 1959, RCA Victor signed him and released the first of three singles, a catchy boogie woogie track called "It's Called Rock And Roll". It's now regarded as a minor Rockabilly classic, and was reissued some years back as the title track of a British roots Rock compilation. The follow-up was "The Face From Outer Space", a goofy Dickie Goodman-inspired disc that quickly became a favorite of novelty collectors. Then Barry tried his chops on a Broadway show tune: "All You Need Is A Quarter" from Jule Styne's current smash Do-Re-Mi. None of these singles clicked on the charts, but his always energetic, very teenage-sounding vocals generated sufficient interest to keep him bouncing from label to label for years. Usually, he recorded as Jeff Barry, but he also cut tracks under assumed names like Timothy Hay, Billy Mitchell and Stevie Temple, Jr. Meanwhile, his songwriting career was heating up.
While Jeff Barry's singles were up-tempo affairs, his first compositions to make an impact in the marketplace were mournful ballads. The earliest to appear was "Paper Crown", a collaboration with Beverly Ross that appeared on the flipside of The Crests' Top Fifty chart entry "A Year Ago Tonight" in December of 1959. Shortly after that record's release, Arnold Shaw heard Barry writing a soulful ballad called "Teenage Sonata". "That would be great for Sam Cooke," he cried, and hurried the flustered composer into a taxi bound for the offices of Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore.
Veteran A & R men Hugo and Luigi had just been assigned to produce Sam Cooke. They'd already met Barry, and in fact had been instrumental in his signing to RCA Victor. Shaw thought it was a good bet that they'd be receptive to his material, and he was right. They liked the ballad, and after hearing Barry demo it live on the piano, so did their artist. Sam Cooke chose it for his debut RCA single. Much to his delight, Jeff Barry found himself hanging out with Cooke's entourage, and he was overjoyed when "Teenage Sonata" broke for a hit, rising to #50 on the Pop charts and scoring at #22 on Billboard's R & B list.
Having his first songwriting success with a singer the calibre of Sam Cooke was heady stuff, but it was small potatoes compared to what happened next. Barry had been collaborating with Ben Raleigh, and by late 1959, they'd come up with "Tell Laura I Love Her", the soon-to-be classic death-and-heartbreak ballad. In the summer of 1960, Ray Peterson took the song to #7 Pop. The song was covered in England by Ricky Valance for Columbia/EMI Records, and by August it stood at #1 on the British charts. There was a fad at the time for "answer songs" to current best-sellers, so Barry and Raleigh penned alternate lyrics for "Tell Laura" that were suitable for a girl to sing. Their extra work paid off: near the end of the year, Marilyn Michaels registered at #110 Pop with "Tell Tommy I Miss Him". Three hits off the same song! Jeff Barry was on top of the world; after a false start, the 21-year-old had landed smack in the middle of the record business, and he'd hit the ground running.
By 1962, he had two more smashes to his credit. The Playmates' 1961 recording of "Tell Me What She Said" flopped in the United States, as did Helen Shapiro's cover version, "Tell Me What He Said". However, back in Shapiro's native England, the up-tempo torch song shot to #2 on the charts. Barry's second American Top Ten winner was another excellent rocker, "Chip, Chip", released as a single by Gene McDaniels in the Spring of '62. That Fall, "Jukebox" Jeff provided Linda Scott with one of her last chart records, a Country-styled weeper titled "I Left My Heart In The Balcony"; it was a solid regional hit, topping out at #74.
Jeff Barry songs were placed with other established singers of the day, including Janie Grant ("Unhappy Birthday"), Della Reese ("Blow Out The Sun"), Frank Gari ("You'd Better Keep Running"), Johnny Cymbal ("The Water Was Red", a minor hit) and R & B legend Ruth Brown, whose recording of his ballad "Anyone But You" was an early Phil Spector production. During this period, some of his best compositions were cut by Tony Passalacqua, former lead singer of the Doo-Wop group The Fascinators. Released under the names Tony Richards and Tony Mitchell, they include the undiscovered Rockabilly classic "Shout My Name"; "A Million Drums"; the early Reggae tracks "Write Me A Letter" and "Candle In The Wind"; and "Caravan Of Lonely Men" b/w "Wind-Up Toy". Jeff Barry believes that the latter record, issued on the Carlton label in 1962, was his first credited production.
He saved some choice rockers for himself, too; Barry cut the singles "Shake, Shake, Sherry" (later covered by The Edsels), "Never Take It Away" and the hilarious "Please, Mr. Scientist" for Epic Records between May 1961 and February 1962. In a tongue-in-cheek reference to his height (he's over six feet tall), they were issued under the fake group name The Redwoods! By now, he'd left EB Marks for a better-paying staff job at Ed Burton's Trinity (soon to be re-christened TM) Music, and Artie Resnick had become his regular writing partner.
The Phil Spector Era
In November of 1959, at a family Thanksgiving dinner, Jeff Barry had met Eleanor Louise "Ellie" Greenwich, a cousin by marriage. His own marriage had begun to falter, but he probably never suspected that Greenwich would become his second wife. She was also destined to be his most celebrated songwriting partner. Like him, she was a would-be recording artist who'd cut her first single ("Cha-Cha-Charming") for RCA Victor in the late '50s; and like him, she wrote songs. Barry was instantly attracted to this effervescent, opinionated blonde. He found that she shared many of his ideas about what elements went into a good Rock 'n' Roll record, and they spent hours on end discussing music. Greenwich was a more proficient piano player than Barry, and when he confessed to her that he only knew two chords, she began giving him lessons. Romance blossomed as they sat practicing the scales. Before long, Barry was using her regularly to sing demos of his songs, and urging her to become a professional songwriter like himself.
In 1961, Barry and Greenwich cut a novelty single together, "Red Corvette", under the name Ellie Gee and The Jets. The pair also sang background on "Palm Of Your Hand" b/w "Don't Play That Dance!", a 1962 single for Herald/Ember artist Chuck Wright that Barry produced. That same year, Greenwich waxed a Jeff Barry tune for RCA Victor ("Big Honky Baby") using the pseudonym Kellie Douglas. However, it would be some time yet before the couple joined forces to write songs. For her own satisfaction, Greenwich wanted to enter the music business independently. Barry continued to collaborate with Artie Resnick but also wrote tunes with Al Kasha, Derek Pretlow, Wayne Rooks and others. Ellie Greenwich was eventually recruited by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to pen songs their publishing firm, Trio Music. By the summer of '62, she was well on her way, teaming up with lyricist Tony Powers to pen material for various acts including Jay and The Americans ("This Is It"), Mike Clifford ("One Boy Too Late"), The Shirelles ("I Didn't Mean To Hurt You") and Marv Johnson ("Keep Tellin' Yourself").
But on October 28, 1962, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich became husband and wife. Subsequently, they decided to make their personal union a professional one as well. Barry and Greenwich were fated to be a consistently successful writing and production unit, on a par with teams like Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, and Lamont Dozier with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. The new combination was properly launched the week of April 27, 1963, when "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. This Top Five smash was the first of nine charting singles that Barry and Greenwich would write over the next 16 months for the artists on Phil Spector's Philles label. These songs, along with those they would pen the following year for Red-Bird Records, established them as the premier songwriting team working in the early '60s teenybopper Pop genre. Of course, this period is now widely referred to as the Girl Group era.
That same week in 1963, another single written by Barry and Greenwich hit the airwaves. Credited to The Raindrops, "What A Guy" broke the R & B Top Thirty and eventually peaked at #41 Pop. The Raindrops were, in fact, a revamped version of Ellie Gee and The Jets featuring Greenwich as lead singer and Barry accompanying her on overdubbed background vocals. But far more important than this group's composition were the credits that were emblazoned across the bottom of its debut single. They read: An Ellie and Jeff Barry Production. Barry's first hit as both writer and producer was followed by four more Raindrops chart records. These included a Top Twenty Pick, "The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget" (played decades later under risqué opening credits for the cult film Beefcake) and "That Boy John", which featured the original version of "Hanky Panky" on its flipside.
The sound of The Raindrops' recordings is brash, noisy and primitive. A booming drum beat (more often than not played by Jeff) is the dominant feature. Some of the tracks are so basic, they're little more than glorified demos. "What A Guy" actually is a demo. These early productions are a far cry from the more polished Neil Diamond, Monkees and Archies hits Barry would be responsible for later in the decade; yet already, some elements are in place that will become standard. For example, Jeff and Ellie's Doo-Wop-influenced vocal arrangements. Also, handclappings as an integral part of the rhythm section. Perhaps more than anything else, handclappings are the definitive trademark of a Jeff Barry production. It should be noted that his production work would never completely lose the primitive quality of these early efforts. There would always be a Rock 'n' Roll "edge" present. While there's usually some overdubbing, it's done subtly; most Jeff Barry records sound as if they were cut live in the studio, in a single take. The wind-tunnel orchestrations and dense sound mixes of Phil Spector's recordings never characterized Barry's style.
Turn over The Raindrops' album, issued in late 1963 on the Jubilee label, and in the back cover credits, you'll find the names of several men whose presence at a Jeff Barry-produced recording session in the '60s was almost a given. Artie Butler, keyboard player and arranger, worked with Barry and Greenwich both together and separately well into the 1970s. Gutiarist, arranger and producer Al Gorgoni, bass player Russ Saunders and drummer Gary Chester (the East Coast counterpart of West Coast skinsmeister Hal Blaine) all went on to play at sessions for Neil Diamond, The Monkees and The Archies. Sound engineer Brooks Arthur, working out of Mirasound Studios in Manhattan, quickly became as important to a Jeff Barry record date as Larry Levine was to one of Phil Spector's marathon sessions at Hollywood's Gold Star Studios. (A few years later, Barry and Arthur acquired joint ownership of another New York recording facility, Century Sound.) While not credited on The Raindrops album, it's known that a young man named Bobby Bloom was assisting Brooks Arthur in the sound booth around this time. Bloom would later step from behind the console to become an in-demand session musician and recording artist; he took part in a number of Archies recording dates and was one of Barry's main songwriting partners in the early 1970s.
Publishing credit on The Raindrops' singles was split between TM Music and Trio Music. With Barry and Greenwich now married and working exclusively with each other, this arrangement obviously couldn't continue indefinitely. Leiber and Stoller would certainly have known about Jeff Barry hits like "Chip Chip" and "Tell Laura I Love Her". They also knew him as a demo singer for their frequent collaborators Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman; they'd even produced a Pomus/Shuman penned single for him in early 1962 ("We Got Love Money Can't Buy"). They got busy luring him into their stable of writers, and by mid-1964, Barry had joined his wife at Trio. A few years ago, he elaborated on his reasons for switching publishers a second time: "Bobby Darin was in the process of buying (TM Music). Bobby brought me out to Los Angeles, wined me and dined me, gave me the corner office, the whole thing. I met Tony Curtis and Hugh Hefner. It was fabulous! (Trio Music owners) Leiber and Stoller gave me one room with one speaker, and half the money. The difference is, at TM (I was) the most knowledgeable guy. I could play you a napkin and make it sound like a hit! But I needed people around me that I couldn't knock out that easily. Which is why . . . I went with Leiber and Stoller."
Thus, "Jukebox" Jeff became a protégé of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose production successes included million-sellers by The Coasters, The Drifters and Elvis Presley. Many years later, Leiber would recall their work together in a BBC radio interview with journalist Charlotte Grieg. "God knows how many hours of studio time and tape Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich burned up before they learned how to make records," he said. "But we were teaching them. They were our students." In October of 1963, Leiber and Stoller chose a Barry/Greenwich tune, "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" (made famous a year later in a cover version by Manfred Mann) for one of their recording acts, The Exciters. Indications are that Barry and Greenwich produced as well as wrote this Exciters single, which peaked at #97 on the Pop chart. If Ellie Greenwich's lead vocals were substituted for those of Brenda Reid, "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" could easily be a Raindrops record. However, Leiber and Stoller were serious about maintaining the teacher-student relationship; they claimed label credit, just as they would when Barry and Greenwich began producing The Dixie Cups later on.
"Jeff Barry" continues with Part Two.