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The Raindrops are, on one level, little more than a footnote in the much broader musical careers of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. On the other hand, as a studio singing group, they assembled one of the more impressive bodies of popular vocal music of the early '60s to come out of that edifice known as the Brill Building, the early-'60s successor to Tin Pan Alley of the 1920s, which also served as proving grounds for the likes of Phil Spector, Don Kirshner, and numerous other luminaries of American pop/rock.
Barry (born Jeffrey Adelberg, April 3, 1939, Brooklyn, NY) and Greenwich (born October 23, 1940, Brooklyn, NY) were from two families related by marriage, and first met when they were age five and four, respectively. Both showed a precocious interest in the creative side of music, and before he was eight years old, Barry (who was influence heavily by country & western music) had written his first song. Greenwich, who grew up in Levittown, Long Island, began writing songs in junior high school even as she studied music, and led a girl trio called the Jivettes while still in high school -- Greenwich's instrument at the time was the accordion. Barry graduated from high school in 1955, put in some army service, and afterward attended City College in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Greenwich released her very first commercial recording in 1958 (under the name Ellie Gaye), entitled "Cha-Cha-Charming," on RCA. Greenwich was studying at Queens College at the time, and one of her professors so disliked the song that he humiliated her in front of a class over it, and she subsequently changed colleges. Barry entered the music business in a more successful manner in 1959 as a songwriter working for E.B. Marks Publishers.
Barry and Greenwich later met once again at a Thanksgiving dinner in 1959 -- Barry was married at the time, but he introduced Greenwich to a friend, and they started dating. Barry's first big success came along the next year with the song "Tell Laura I Love Her," one of the most haunting and notorious of the teenage "death songs" that became popular in the early '60s -- Ray Peterson scored a huge hit with it that year, and soon after British pop singer Ricky Valance also recorded it for the English market. By the end of 1960, Barry was divorced, and he and Greenwich began dating, writing, and recording demos together at the Brill Building, where Barry's publisher employer was based.
Greenwich graduated Hofstra into a publishing career, and in collaboration with writers like Ben Raleigh (who also worked with Barry) and Tony Powers, got a half dozen of her songs recorded. Meanwhile, Barry recorded as a singer with several groups, including the Redwoods and the Spartans. Their marital partnership began on October 28, 1963, but their songwriting partnership had to wait, as each was signed to a different publishing company. They finally linked up in business a year later, and spent much of that time collaborating with Phil Spector on such songs as "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me," "Be My Baby," and "Baby I Love You."
They began recording together commercially with "What a Guy," a song originally intended for a vocal group called the Sensations. Their demo was considered so good that the record company, Jubilee, decided to release it, and chose the credit it to "the Raindrops." The demo got to number 41 on the charts, considered a respectable beginning in those days, especially for a non-existent group -- Barry would someday get considerably more experience writing for non-existent groups, but that's later in the story. The next Raindrops single, "The Kind of Boy You Can't Forget," got to number 17, an unabashed hit.
Now there was demand for the Raindrops, including publicity stills. The photos that were issued featured Barry and Greenwich, and Ellie's younger sister Laura, who otherwise had nothing to do with the group whatsoever. Personal appearances were rare, although they did occur, with Ellie replaced by Laura (or demo singer Beverly Warren), miming to a dead microphone, with Barry replaced by Bobby Bosco. In those days, none of the kids present seemed to mind or notice.
The Raindrops LP was issued by Jubilee in late 1963, which mostly consisted of the best Barry-Greenwich demos punched up with extra overdubbed vocals, including "Da Doo Ron Ron," "When the Boy's Happy (The Girl's Happy Too)," "Hanky Panky," and "I Won't Cry." The album's release was accompanied by a third single, "That Boy John," which might've been a hit but for the fact that it barely had a chance to get any airplay before President John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963 -- that same air of gloom that overwhelmed most American popular culture until the arrival of the Beatles early the following year also made it impossible to get a song with that title played.
None of the Raindrops' remaining recordings fared any better, partly owing to the fact that they were inevitably competing with other groups on their best material. The arrival of the Beatles in 1964 heralded a wave of British acts that not only had a more powerful sound (most of those groups were self-contained, and almost all had pretty extensive performing credentials) that teenagers wanted, but could do great covers of Barry-Greenwich songs themselves. Manfred Mann's version of "Doo Wah Diddy" is the most well known, a huge international hit, but other bands, including the original Moody Blues ("I Have a Dream") plundered their songbook. The Raindrops' sound turned out to be a little too rooted in the pre-Beatles past, a kiss of death in those days -- their version of "Da Doo Ron Ron," for example, was perfectly fine, and lively and bracing, but it also had Barry's "da-bow-dit" doo wop-style backing up very close to the microphone, labeling it as yesterday's sound.
The Raindrops simply ceased activity, although Barry and Greenwich continued to enjoy hits as songwriters, their real professions in any case. Their most visible work was in association with producer George "Shadow" Morton and the girl group the Shangri-Las ("Remember," "Leader of the Pack," "Out in the Streets"), especially, and Spector ("River Deep, Mountain High"), who was the only American producer who seemingly managed to bridge the gap between the two eras of pop music.
The couple's marriage ended in late 1965, although they continued to write songs together on a less frequent basis. By that time, the direction of the British bands had raised the ante much higher in popular music -- original songs, or at least original arrangements of traditional songs by the bands themselves, were where much of the energy and attention was shifting, a process that the American groups rising to the British challenge would replicate. Although Barry and Greenwich continued to see success as songwriters into the late '60s and beyond, they would never regain even a chance at the spotlight that they'd had a decade earlier. By the end of the decade, Barry was busy writing songs for the Archies, a cartoon (or is the correct term today "dimensionally challenged"?) rock band.
The emergence of Carole King, a younger Brill Building contemporary of theirs, as a superstar singer/songwriter in the early '70s only served to highlight the distance that the music business, for better or worse, had traveled since "What a Guy" and "Hanky Panky." In 1973, Verve Records attempted to record Greenwich in a sort of King mode with Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung, but the chemistry just wasn't there, and the album was never more than a cult favorite among serious pop listeners. Barry and Greenwich also re-emerged as quasi-public figures with the success of the off-Broadway musical Leader of the Pack, based on their songs and Greenwich's life, during the early '80s. The show later moved to Broadway and enjoyed a short run before closing.
In 1991, Greenwich and Barry were inducted in the same ceremony into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame, in recognition of a pair of careers that have spanned the 1950s to the 1990s. ~ Bruce Eder
- New York, NY
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