Album: Simply The Best
. . .
“River Deep-Mountain High” found Tina Turner for the first time escaping the musical clutches of the evil genius Ike Turner and heading for the safety of — checks notes — the evil genius Phil Spector. Oh.
Apparently, Spector had caught the Ike & Tina Turner Revue — who BTW, were already enough of a success to have had a million selling #14 Grammy nominated song called “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” in 1961 — and had them close his 1966 The Big T.N.T. Show concert film. Some of the other folks in that film: The Byrds, Bo Diddley, Joan Baez, Roger Miller and Ray Charles, not exactly a collection of scrubs.
So Spector then signed Tina to his Philles Records — Ike’s stipulation was that the recordings be credited to “Ike & Tina Turner” regardless of whether or not he contributed — and along with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, wrote “River Deep-Mountain High” for her. Unless, of course, Spector’s writing credit was as bullshit as Ike’s recording credit. And in fact, apparently while Spector invited Ike to play guitar on the recording, Ike didn’t even show up.
Which makes, sense, his guitar would have been lost in the middle of the Wall of Sound as built by the Wrecking Crew and decorated by Jack Niztsche’s soaring string arrangement. Over which Tina Turner absolutely killed, while declaring her love for all the world to hear.
When I was a little girl
I had a rag doll
Only doll I’ve ever owned
Now I love you just the way I loved that rag doll
But only now my love has grown
And it gets stronger, in every way
And it gets deeper, let me say
And it gets higher, day by day
That verse actually starts relatively quietly, but starts building in the second half, with Turner ramping it up as the music does, so by the time they get to the chorus, it’a all-hands-on deck. (Except, of course, Ike, who was nowhere to be found, except for on the label of the 45.)
And do I love you my oh my
Yeah, river deep, mountain high
If I lost you would I cry
Oh how I love you baby, baby, baby, baby
It’s a glorious chorus, Tina now having clambered on top of the wall — really at this point, a mountain — and not even for a second overwhelmed. Apparently Spector, ever the abuser, made her do take after take after take after take after take after take, and who knows which one he actually used. But it was fantastic, especially on the bridge, where it breaks down to basically Tina and finger snaps — which count as handclaps in this situation — as well as one last declaration of love.
I love you, baby, like a flower loves the spring
And I love you, baby, like a robin loves to sing
And I love you, baby, like a schoolboy loves his pet
And I love you, baby, river deep, mountain high
At this point, the music swells back to total overkill and Tina is just screaming “baby” over and over again with one last guttural “yowwwwww!” before the final chorus and the end of the song, having outlasted and triumphed over the wall of sound, Phil Spector and the entire world.
Well, kinda. While “River Deep-Mountain High” was a massive smash in the U.K., topping out at #3, here in the U.S. it was a total stiff, crapping out at #88, apparently causing Phil Spector to lose even more of his mind that he had already lost. He went away for a few years, only reappearing just in time to start fucking with the Beatles as they broke up and started doing solo albums.
And as for Tina Turner, it would be half a decade before she saw any kind of major chart success.
That said, “River Deep-Mountain High” might not have been a success with the fans, but it most certainly was with other musicians and the critics: it’s been covered by artists as diverse as the Supremes & the Four Tops, Eric Burdon & The Animals (with Andy Summers on guitar), Celine Dion and, erm, Deep Purple, who during their proto-prog days put out a ten-minute version. Ike & Tina recut it in more of a soul-rock idiom in the early 1970s. Apparently, after Tina Turner died earlier this year, Beyonce has added it to her sets during her current tour. It also regularly makes lists of the greatest songs of all time, on both sides of the pond.
“River Deep, Mountain High”
“River Deep-Mountain High” Live in 1971
“River Deep-Mountain High” Live 1996
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