Monday, October 13, 2003

Sugar, Sugar:



Yesterday was an important day in my life, for yesterday was the day I discovered the early architects of my musical dream life, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. I never knew two people were responsible for so many different things I have loved so dearly.



The story of this musical marriage is so long and complicated i don't even wanna begin to go into the details of it, most of which I don't yet know, but these are the basics:



Jeff was Jewish and Ellie was Jewish and Irish.



They were both singers and songwriters in New York.



They fell in love while singing and talking about music on dates in the early-early Sixties.



After college Ellie worked as a high school teacher, and quit after three weeks. Fortunately she got a job as a contract songwriter at the Brill Building, and then Nevins and Kirshner went ahead and hired her BF, too. After they got married, Ellie and Jeff decided to only write with each other. Together they became two of the most successful and influential visionaries of pop music. In fact, in my book, they surpass King/Goffin. To me, they're sort of on a par with Lennon-McCartney, not in terms of innovation or diversity but in terms of how they have shaped my heart.



Barry-Greenwich popularized nonsense pop lyrics with songs like "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Iko Iko," "Hanky Panky" and "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy."



They wrote tons of defining hits of Phil Spector: "Be My Baby," "And Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "I Can Hear Music," "Chapel of Love" and "Baby I Love You." (I don't need to point out the influence their songwriting would have on Brian Wilson, right.)



(My new thing is to replace question marks with periods.)



They are also considered the founders of the girl-group sound and wrote songs for the Shangrila's like "The Leader of the Pack."



Pretty good, right. But wait, there's a whole lot more.



They discovered Neil Diamond and produced a shitload of his best stuff (his first nine hit singles), including "Cherry Cherry," "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon," "Kentucky Woman," "Shilo," "Thank the Lord for the Night Time" etc. (Krayzee!)



Supposedly Neil nicked his singing style from Jeff.



You thought I was done. Not hardly!



You know how the Monkees sound like Neil Diamond, and you always thought it was because he wrote a couple of their songs? That's not the only reason. In fact, Jeff produced a bunch of Monkees shit including "I'm A Believer" and "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," and wrote "She Hangs Out" (I told you they were the masters of nonsense lyrics, dude: "doo-de-ron-ron-ron, doo-de-ron ron/she hangs out!"). Jeff was good enough friends with Micky that after the Monkees split with Don Kirshner, he went ahead and produced some more shit for them.



But wait, there's EVEN MORE, and I've saved the sweetest for last.



After writing some of the best songs of the Brill Building/Phil Spector/girl group era; after sonically birthing Neil Diamond and helping to create the Monkees (and after getting divorced), Jeff Barry went on to become the musical architect of the Archies, writing and producing all my favorite Archies songs: "Sugar Sugar," "Feeling So Good (Skooby Doo)," "Bang Shanga Lang," etc.



Lazy people think the Archies suck. I wonder what they would say if they knew the guy who created that music also wrote "Be My Baby," which Brian Wilson continually mentions as his favorite song of all time, and which he listens to every fucking day when he wakes up?



It's not that songwriters don't change and usually start to suck; the thing is, Barry wasn't sucking at all. He was kicking ass. And was almost 40. (He's like 70 now. Isn't that amazing?)



The discovery of Barry-Greenwich has opened my eyes to the secret legacy of Tin Pan Alley. You can draw a line from Cole Porter to Neil Sedaka to Jeff Barry to Phil Spector to the Monkees to the Archies to Max Martin (with some stops along the way to hang out with the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Ramones). What unites these songwriters is also what leads snobs to dismiss them: They were working on contract with a mandate to write hits. And starting in the Fifties, they were building a musical language for an American teenage fantasy life.



It was a fantasy. I like fantasy. Here's what Jeff Barry said in 1995 about snobs:



"There's a record by The Staple Singers that I wrote called 'Heavy Makes You Happy.' If it don't make you happy, it ain't heavy! The heaviest thing in the world for me is to make people happy, something that's not done enough of! So for people to say 'Sugar, Sugar' isn't cool, my answer is, well, I feel sorry for you."



Yeah, what he said.





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