RETRO: Ellie Greenwich, ‘Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung’

Type the name Ellie Greenwich into any search engine of your choice. The list of songs with her name in the credits could fill a Florida sinkhole. She is rightfully remembered as one of the premier songwriters of the rock era. What is so wrongfully forgotten is her recording career.

She released a handful of singles over the years, but aside from her time as part of the Raindrops in the early- to mid-1960s, Greenwich didn’t see much chart action. An album was released in 1968, but it was basically a rush job to push a single — meaning half of the tracks were covers. The album was a fun listen, but sank without a trace. Her songwriting skills were well-established, but she never got a solid chance to interpret her own material.

It’s not really clear how interested she was in recording another album, but somehow she was persuaded to try it again. She signed to Verve Records and went to work on Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung; this time around, the whole album consisted of songs that Greenwich had a hand in creating. Some of them had been hits years earlier, while others weren’t as well-known. The album was released in 1973, sold poorly, and found its way to the cutout bins.

It’s a crying shame, because it’s a lovely album that had a lot going for it despite the obstacles it faced. In hindsight, one might see it as Greenwich’s attempt to make an album like Carole King did with Tapestry. It served as the bridge between songwriter and successful recording artist for King (and sold a good gazillion copies as well). Given the success of King’s album, it was an impossible task on Greenwich’s part to even come close to matching it.

As if that weren’t enough of an uphill battle, Greenwich picked songs like “Be My Baby” and “Chapel of Love” to cover. These tunes had been played countless times on the radio and drilled into the public’s aural psyche for years. Covering songs that already exist in their definitive forms is just asking for trouble.

So what was the end result? Thirteen songs (two of them as a medley) co-written by Greenwich over the previous 10 years or so, polished and updated for the 1970s crowd. No real signs of any girl groups were to be found. Instead, dropping the needle down got you a somewhat mellower sound (which should not be seen as a bad thing in this case) with arrangements that focus on harmonies, some strings here and there when needed, and attempts to offer various styles while trying to create a solid and consistent album.

Overall, the album is a success if one is willing and able to let go of the previous versions he or she has heard. That’s not to say that Greenwich reclaimed any of these songs. “Be My Baby” will always be the Ronettes’ masterpiece, and nobody (not even its co-writer) could or will ever be able to top it. But when she finally got a hold of the song again, it was transformed into a waltz, and it actually works.

Other songs she chose for the album were tunes that had been recorded by artists like Dusty Springfield, the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, and Ike & Tina Turner, but aren’t very well-known or played on radio nowadays. This can be a good thing, because one isn’t prejudiced by the previous releases. Somehow, I was never exposed to Lesley Gore’s hit version of “Maybe I Know” until after I heard the one that kicks off Let It Be Written…, and while Gore’s version is fantastic, I still prefer Greenwich’s take on it.

On the other hand, she also covers “Good Night Baby,” a minor 1964 hit for the Butterflys [sic] on the Red Bird label, which ranks as one of my top 10 favorite singles ever, and nobody will ever top it in my mind. It’s the perfect girl group record. Greenwich’s treatment nine years later (performed as a medley with “Baby, I Love You”), however, is a sweet, gentle version that gives it a whole different feeling. It’s lovely.

For whatever reason, the album has been ignored by everybody for the past 40 years. Even Greenwich’s official website makes no mention of it in her biography. Aside from the video posted above for “Be My Baby,” nobody’s bothered to upload any other tracks from the album. It’s a good performance, but to this guy, there are many other songs on the album that are much better, and it doesn’t really do the album justice.

Luckily, it’s not very hard to find. With a little searching, the original album can be found for just a few dollars. It was released on CD by the Raven label in Australia. Their edition also includes her first album and a couple of singles. If you stumble across that disc, it’s worth picking up and listening to with an open mind. My sincere hope is you’ll end up liking it at least half as much as I do, and that’s saying a lot. Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung… and let it be heard. Finally.

About George Brandon 23 Articles
George Brandon is the office manager of a large bookstore in Tennessee. In his spare time, he lives, breathes, reads about, writes about, and listens to rock, pop, and soul music from the 1950s through the 1970s. He has more records and CDs than he probably needs, but he’s always looking for more musical treasures.
  • mr bradley

    Thanks for this nice feature on Ellie’s last significant solo recording project. The album is a beautiful adult-contemporary take on her classic songs & a worthy addition to any collection.
    Ellie Greenwich holds a special place of honor in the Bradley household. While October 23rd marks her 75th birthday this week, it’s also the day my wife & I met in 1986 at the first ever West Coast gathering of the Ellie Greenwich Fan Club in San Francisco. Mrs. Bradley had actually moved to NY,NY the year before to be closer to Fan Club activity (the musical “Leader Of The Pack” was gearing up for its Broadway run) and, upon her return to SF, was told to get in touch with a local guy (me) who had joined the Club that summer. This is how things were done pre-internet—if you wanted to know more about your cult heroes you joined a Fan Club.
    Well, friendship turned to dating, dating turned to courting, and after I proposed over cheeseburgers at Mel’s Drive-In on my 40th birthday (with “Then He Kissed Me” playing on the mini-jukebox at our booth, no less), we were married in 1989 in Mendocino. We walked down the aisle to “Chapel Of Love”, with a telegram in tow from Ellie herself celebrating our union. Storybook stuff.
    In 1991 we flew back to NYC and had ringside seats as she & Jeff Barry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame at a gala ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria. What a night that was.
    She truly became our Top 40 Godmother. Every year until her death in 2010 she faithfully sent us wonderful cards for our anniversary, Christmas and individual birthdays. It was magic.
    Just like her songs are magic. They ring as true today as the day they were written. They’ve certainly been the soundtrack to our life.
    Ellie Greenwich was one in a million. Happy Birthday Ellie—-we love you!