With Sweet Things, Ace Records has picked a most apt title for its third volume of music from the Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry songbook (Ace CDCHD 1434). Though Greenwich and Barry were united as husband and wife for just the short period of 1962-1965, and only worked together for a short time after that, a year hasn’t gone by since when their enduring songs haven’t been recorded and re-recorded. The collection’s 24 titles span 1963-1978 and blend hits and rarities from the duo with tracks penned by Greenwich and Barry individually and with other collaborators.
Brooklyn natives Greenwich (1940-2009) and Barry (1938- ) met at a family get-together. Actually distant relatives by marriage, both youngsters played piano and wrote songs. Unlike many of their Brill Building contemporaries, both Greenwich and Barry were equally adept at composing and lyric-writing, so they would frequently share those duties on their compositions. They consummated their partnership personally and professionally in 1962 although both initially continued to work with other songwriting partners. Greenwich wrote two of producer Phil Spector’s Top 40 hits with Spector and Tony Powers: Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?” and Darlene Love’s “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.” Both of those majestic Spector productions from 1963, with sublimely rousing orchestrations by Jack Nitzsche, are featured on Sweet Things. (Four more ’63 classics from the Spector/Greenwich/Barry team appeared on Ace’s last volume, Da Doo Ron Ron: The Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans’ “Not Too Young to Get Married,” Darlene Love’s “Wait ’til My Bobby Gets Home” and The Crystals’ title track.) The Greenwich/Powers partnership is also represented with The Exciters’ urgent “He’s Got the Power,” featuring a driving Teacho Wiltshire arrangement, and Jay and the Americans’ “Friday,” arranged by Garry Sherman in Latin-tinged uptown soul fashion as if to out-Drifter the Drifters!
Spector’s presence looms large here, but both “He’s Got the Power” and “Friday” were produced by two men who played similarly major roles in the Greenwich and Barry story: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Ellie and Jeff’s “Chapel of Love” – recorded by Spector with both Darlene Love and the Ronettes but shelved in both renditions – became the first hit at Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird Records as recorded by The Dixie Cups. It, too, featured on Da Doo Ron Ron. Following its success, the team of Greenwich and Barry went on to score 15 hits out of Red Bird’s first 20 releases! One of those chart hits is The Dixie Cups’ “Little Bell,” released just a few months after “Chapel of Love” in 1964.
All told, nearly one-third of Sweet Things is derived from the Red Bird catalogue. For those wondering how “Leader of the Pack” was left off Ace’s first two dips into the Greenwich and Barry songbook, they’ll be happy to know that the Shangri-Las’ epochal original version is here as well as the group’s later B-side “Heaven Only Knows.” The pulse-pounding Red Bird girl group sound continues with cuts from The Jelly Beans (“Whisper Sweet Things”), The Butterflys (“Gee, Baby, Gee”) and Ellie herself (the dramatic “You Don’t Know,” produced like the Shangri-Las’ tracks by George “Shadow” Morton).
The prolific Greenwich and Barry duo produced the final single on another Leiber-Stoller label, Tiger Records, for Vic Donna. “Dance, Marie” is a catchy, uptempo treat. (Tiger and its sister label Daisy only issued ten singles, but half of them were Greenwich/Barry tunes!) Another lesser-known find from a male pop crooner is Tony Pass’ perky “Spring Fever” on which he’s backed by Ellie herself. Jeff and Ellie are heard as The Raindrops on the infectious “Another Boy Like Mine,” which like “Why Do Lovers…” blended doo-wop vocalizations with pure upbeat pop. Ellie also can be heard singing the background vocals on Lesley Gore’s lush, mature “What’s a Girl Supposed to Do.” The late, great Miss Gore has appeared on all three of Ace’s Greenwich and Barry volumes, with “Maybe I Know” on 2008’s Do-Wah-Diddy and “Look of Love” on Da Doo Ron Ron. For Jeff’s part, he takes the lead on the moody, evocative plea “Our Love Can Still Be Saved,” a 1965 Red Bird single.
Much of Sweet Things brims with the excitement and promise of youth, a euphoric feeling that Greenwich and Barry were particularly adept at capturing in three-minute pop confections. Among the best of them is The Crystals’ thrilling “Then He Kissed Me,” another Spector/Nitzsche production masterwork in the Wall of Sound style. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the compilation also includes what might be the darkest song to bear the Greenwich/Barry credit: The Ronettes’ “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine.” Co-written and produced and orchestrated in thunderous style by Phil Spector and Harry Nilsson associate Perry Botkin, Jr., respectively, it was recorded in 1966 but unreleased until a decade later. The song’s anguish is heartbreakingly rendered by Ronnie Spector who seemingly tapped into her own well of private despair in her lead vocal. Spector’s influence is deeply felt on another galvanic track: Jeff Barry’s solo composition “I’m Nobody’s Baby Now,” performed by Reparata and the Delrons on RCA Victor in 1966.
While Sweet Things starts with numerous Greenwich songs without Barry’s involvement, it closes in the opposite manner. The compilation offers The Strangeloves’ stomping “Honey Do,” co-written with Marty Sanders and Freddie Scott’s tough R&B smoker “Am I Grooving You,” co-written with Bert Berns. Both tracks showed Barry’s incredible versatility and knack for bringing his accessible melodic and lyrical sensibilities to any genre. The “Wicked” Wilson Pickett brings grit to The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” with his hit 1970 recording. Perhaps the sweetest of all sweet things, Barry and Andy Kim’s song has hardly lost its flavor! Kim, of course, had one of his ten Barry-produced hits with a 1970 revival of “Be My Baby” which is also included. It followed his 1969 Top 10 reinvention of Greenwich and Barry’s “Baby I Love You.”
Dusty Springfield’s “What Good is I Love You” is another welcome selection here. The soul queen never recorded a Greenwich and Barry song, but she did record an entire album’s worth of material with Jeff Barry that finally saw release in its intended form in 2015 on the Real Gone Music label as Faithful. (Full disclosure: I provided the liner notes for that release, based on a new interview with Jeff Barry!) Just before recording an entire album with Jeff, Dusty recorded one Ellie Greenwich composition – this sweeping, lightly funky track which Ellie co-wrote with Mike Rashkow.
Real Gone Music also premiered the recording which closes out this anthology: The Paley Brothers’ upbeat remake of Dion’s “Baby Let’s Stick Together.” Jeff and Phil Spector wrote the song which Spector produced for the doo-wop and folk hero, but whereas the King of the New York Streets’ version was moody and enveloped in a thick Wall of Sound, The Paleys’ ebullient take (also produced by Spector) picked up the tempo. It was recorded in 1978 and sat on the shelf until Real Gone’s Complete Recordings in 2013, and makes a worthwhile, effervescent close to this collection.
Ace has expectedly lavished care upon this set which includes a deluxe 20-page full-color booklet with Mick Patrick’s track-by-track liner notes. Duncan Cowell has superbly remastered all of the tracks. The songs created by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry may beautifully reflect the time in which they were created – but these songs of young love and loss are truly timeless.
- Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart? – Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (Philles 110, 1963)
- He’s Got the Power – The Exciters (United Artists 572, 1963) (*)
- Friday – Jay and the Americans (United Artists 693, 1964)
- (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry – Darlene Love (Philles 111, 1963)
- Then He Kissed Me – The Crystals (Philles 115, 1963)
- Dance Marie – Vic Donna (Tiger 106, 1964)
- Another Boy Like Mine – The Raindrops (Jubilee 5487, 1964)
- Little Bell – The Dixie Cups (Red Bird 10-017, 1964)
- Whisper Sweet Things – The Jelly Beans (rec. 1964 – released Charly LP CDX 19, 1987)
- Leader of the Pack – The Shangri-Las (Red Bird 10-014, 1964) (*)
- Gee Baby Gee – The Butterflys (Red Bird 10-016, 1964)
- What’s a Girl Supposed to Do – Lesley Gore (Mercury LP SR 61042, 1965) (*)
- Heaven Only Knows – The Shangri-Las (Red Bird 10-030, 1965) (*)
- You Don’t Know – Ellie Greenwich (Red Bird 10-034, 1965)
- Our Love Can Still Be Saved – Jeff Barry (Red Bird 10-026, 1965)
- I’m Nobody’s Baby Now – Reparata and the Delrons (RCA 8820, 1966)
- I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine – The Ronettes (rec. 1966 – released Phil Spector International LP SUPER 2307 009, 1976)
- Spring Fever – Tony Pass (Atco 6421, 1966)
- Honey Do – The Strangeloves (Sire 4102, 1968) (*)
- Am I Grooving You – Freddie Scott (Shout 212, 1967)
- Sugar, Sugar – Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 2722, 1970) (*)
- What Good is I Love You – Dusty Springfield (Atlantic 2771, 1971) (*)
- Be My Baby – Andy Kim (Steed 729, 1970)
- Baby Let’s Stick Together – The Paley Brothers (rec. 1978 – released Real Gone Music CD RGM-0182, 2013)
All tracks mono except those indicated with (*) in stereo