The Amazing True Story of The Raindrops
A SPECTROPOP Essay by Don Charles
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, Sorry Sixteen" 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, magic 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. 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 let me present to you Exhibit A, a vintage 45 RPM platter featuring the songs . . .
"What A Guy" and "It's So Wonderful"
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 hand clapping rhythm that's absolutely wringing wet with tape echo.
"The Kind Of Boy You Can't Forget"
What to do for a follow-up single? Especially when you had no idea there'd even be a debut 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. I kinda think 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 early '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' 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 debut 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 debut. 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. I'm talking about 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"
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich)
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. There's another version by Baby Jane and The Rockabyes floating around out there, but I have yet to hear it.
"Doo Wah Diddy"
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 it up, 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 languish for three decades. When it was finally issued on a British CD in 1994, I scrambled to get a copy. You'd best believe that once I heard it, I didn't want to know from the Manfred Mann version any more. This cut kicks ass and takes names (including mine)! Listen up for the original lyrics:
There he was/Just a-walkin' down the street
Before I knew it He was walkin' next to ME
A fierce garage rock arrangement and Ellie Greenwich's sassy vocalizing make this one of my all-time favorite records. Can't get enough of it!
"Book Of Love" (Warren Davis, George Malone, Charles Patrick)
Ellie Greenwich was an ardent R & B fan, so it was probably at her suggestion that The Raindrops cut the 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 it's my least favorite Raindrops 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 chalypso 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-cha in no time flat. (What do you mean you don't know how to cha-cha-cha? It's easy, just follow me! Start with the left foot, now, ONE-two-cha-cha-cha, THREE-four-cha-cha-cha . . . )
"Let's Go Together" (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich)
On the soundtrack 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
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 bubble gum rocker, but should there be impressionable youngsters around while you're listening to it, clamp your hands over their virginal ears to guard against moral decay!
"One More Tear" and "Another Boy Like Mine"
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 the plucking by any handsome high school Romeo who happened along, 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. 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 gets my nod every time I compare the two. In fact, this is my favorite Raindrops single.
"Don't Let Go" (Jesse Stone)
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 hand clapping 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 (Miss Ellie had cut a vocal version of "My Mama Don't Like Him" a couple of years earlier under the name Kellie Douglas), but that hardly matters when you have a topside good enough to rock the house for hours on end. My copy of "Don't Let Go" is a white label DJ pressing, and I doubt it ever got past that stage. All the other Raindrops singles registered on the charts, and this one surely would have, too, if only it had been made available in sufficient quantities. But The Raindrops had already called it quits. Most likely, Jeff and Ellie decided to concentrate on their songwriting and limit their recording activities to singing demos. 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 October of 1967, they'd even give the group thing one last try with a lone Atco Records 45 issued under the name The Meantime (Ellie Greenwich = Greenwich Meantime, get it?).
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 begin to gel until he began working with Neil Diamond in 1966. 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 (Ron Dante) and additional members, but on early Archies waxings like "You Little Angel, You", "Everything's Archie (Archie's Theme)" and "Circle Of Blue", Ellie Greenwich's flawless harmony vocals 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. By the way, it bears mentioning that, in her Raindrops days, Ellie Greenwich was a dead ringer for Riverdale's favorite blonde, Betty Cooper!
And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case! There can be absolutely no doubt that The Raindrops did indeed lay the foundation for Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich' success. Of course, if The Raindrops had never existed, they 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 to some of their most popular and enduring songs . . . the kind of songs you can't forget.
Article researched and written by Don Charles
"Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote some of the best girl group material during that magical era, yet they were not only writers, producers, and arrangers, but also musicians themselves. Greenwich and Barry formed the popular dummy group the Raindrops which had quite a chart presence between 1963 - 64..." >>>presented by Girl Group Chronicles
More on The Raindrops
"...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 Kirschner, and numerous other luminaries of American pop-rock..." >>>presented by All Music Guide
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