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The Raindrops

The Raindrops (Ellie, Jeff, Laura)

An essay by Don "Stuffed Animal" 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 Shouldnt 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. They tried again the following year with "Big Honky Baby," a wickedly catchy Jeff Barry tune that Ellie cut under the name Kellie Douglas. Still no sales. 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"
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich)
Jubilee 5444
released in April, 1963

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" and "Even Though You Can't Dance"
(Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich)
Jubilee 5455
released in September, 1963

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
Jubilee STEREO 5023
issued in December, 1963

With two hit singles on the charts, it was album time for Jeff and Ellie. Hey, no problem . . . it's not like they didn't have enough material on hand! Their album actually turned out being a "greatest hits" collection of sorts, because it included a number of Barry/Greenwich songs that had become best-sellers for other artists since the release of "What A Guy". For instance, The Chiffons had gone into the studio with two of Jeff and Ellie's compositions: "I Have A Boyfriend" and "When The Boy's Happy (The Girl's Happy, Too)." Both songs were released as singles (for some unknown reason, the latter tune was issued under the name The Four Pennies). The Chiffons' version of "When The Boy's Happy" was good enough to hit the charts, but for the definitive version, you gotta listen to Ellie sing it! Every day/I kiss my baby/Just because/It drives him crazy, she brags, complementing her own lead vocal with a wicked hey nonny nonny refrain. Meanwhile, Jeff cleverly imitates a stand-up bass in the background. The Chiffons were arguably the best femme vocal ensemble of the '60s, but their rendition was nowhere near as infectious as this one.

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)
Jubilee 5466
released in December, 1963

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. Beware of another John Boy record by Baby Jane and The Rockabyes that's floating around out there; it isn't the same song.

 
 

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