Spectropop remembers


I first met Helen Miller when Neil Sedaka brought me up to Screen Gems in 1967 here on Fifth Avenue in New York City. He pointed her out and when she passed by, I asked if she was Helen Miller. She replied in her gruff tone, "Who wants to know?" I told her I was a fan and she kind of smiled and said thanks. I got off easy, as foul language was not an uncommon occurrence with Helen. I never signed with Screen Gems, but I was with Metromedia Music in the early '70s and got to meet her again. There was now mutual respect. Helen wasn't an egomaniac . . . far from it. She really didn't believe she had a fan (or fans). I told her how much I loved her songs.

Helen actually started out in the late '40s writing with a fellow female songwriter named Fay Manus. They had a few songs recorded and were doing pretty well until Helen left the business to raise her kids. It wasn't until the early 60s that she tried again as a woman in her 40s. She met with Don Kirshner and became the oldest of the group of Aldon songwriters.

The surprise was she had hits . . . one after another! She wrote mostly with Howard Greenfield and achieved gold with songs like "Charms" (Bobby Vee) and "Foolish Little Girl" (the Shirelles). She and Howie also wrote and produced "It Hurts To Be In Love", which was actually intended for and first recorded by Neil Sedaka. RCA, however, insisted he re-record the song in their own studios. Unfortunately, it didn't have the magic that the original track had, which was given to Gene Pitney and hit #7. She also had hits with lyricist Roger Atkins on songs such as "Make Me Your Baby" (Barbara Lewis) and "Princess In Rags" (Gene Pitney).

Helen had a passion for R&B and worked a lot with artists like Freddie Scott. At Metromedia she collaborated with Estelle Levitt on the passionate "Don't Say You Don't Remember" (Beverly Bremers), which she also produced. She made it to Broadway in 1971 with "Inner City" written with the poet Eve Merriam.

By the '80s Helen had retired and moved to Florida with her husband Irving. I last spoke with her a few years back when I was doing a salute to Sedaka that included some songs Helen wrote with Neil and Howie. She almost made it to the show. I wish she had.

(Brian Gari, March 2006, New York City)

Helen Miller, songwriter and producer: died February 2nd, 2006