Last week songwriter Ellie Greenwich died after a heart attack at age 68. Rolling Stone spoke with her frequent collaborator Neil Diamond, who shared his memories of working with the woman he credits with keeping his career on track:
“If I hadn’t met Ellie Greenwich I wouldn’t have had a career. I met her at a demo session. I had enough in my budget to hire a few background singers and even though Ellie was one of the hottest writers in the country, she still did background dates just because she liked to hang out with her girlfriends. She liked my voice or she liked the song or something and she took me back to meet her husband, Jeff Barry, and they got me signed to Leiber and Stoller and that lasted a year. I got canned from that job but Jeff and Ellie said, ‘Hey, how ’bout we produce you?’ We got a record deal with Bang records and the rest is history.
Ellie was the best background singer ever. She did all the background parts on my early Bang records, ‘Cherry Cherry,’ ‘She Got the Way to Move Me,’ ‘Kentucky Woman’ — all of those records were Jeff and Ellie. They just had this great knack of singing all kinds of background parts and they were great at it. She invented the background parts to ‘Cherry Cherry.’
The background parts of ‘She Got the Way to Move Me’ were not part of the song. Not part of the song I wrote. She and Jeff came up with it and there it was, it became a very important part of the record. We were lucky to capture it on tape and I think on what, maybe on three tracks that time.
Between Jeff and Ellie and Artie Butler who did the arrangements for those things I was a lucky guy. I was playing guitar and singing and just having the time of my life. I was working with the best people in the world. It was a big change for me. I came from knocking around on the streets to working with the best people in music at the time.
With Ellie I learned that you could have a lot of fun making records. Up to then it was very serious business for me but they had so much fun doing their background parts and producing the records that it was contagious.
Ellie and Jeff were like one. They thought alike, they just fell into line with each other so quickly partly because they were married, partly because they were together every day and partly because they were so talented. It was just a very natural collaboration between the two of them. I’d say between the two of them they were the greatest background singers ever. I never sang those songs better than when I did them with Jeff and Ellie singing behind me.
In recent years I saw her whenever I went into New York. She didn’t get to see my last shows at Madison Square Garden. I invited her and I don’t know if she wasn’t feeling well or what but that was the only thing. I was a little concerned about that, but I didn’t know she was ill. I had no idea until she was even ill.
She was too young. She will always be that 20 year old in the studio just overflowing with energy and enthusiasm, laughing, having fun, coming up on the spot with these fantastic background parts or these horn parts on ‘Kentucky Woman’ or ‘Solitary Man.’ It was a joyful time for all of us. They were hot. My career was just beginning, I could sense it. And those sessions were you know, captured like catching lightning in a bottle.”