#22: Ike And Tina Turner – River Deep – Mountain High (1966)
A song with a story. Great wedges of story, as if there’s an obligation to out-do the slab-like approach to the sound, the double-tracked, triple-tracked, quadruple-tracked banks of strings and backing vocals so immense, they’re comparable to the curtain walls and defensive earthworks of medieval castles. A song not so much defined by its composition, or arrangement, or even performance, but from the vantage of the mixing desk – there’s not too many records that, from the very first note, you know exactly the identity of producer.
Phil Spector’s legacy is of course heavily flavoured by batshit craziness (and not necessarily the good form of batshit craziness); that grim cocktail of fright wigs, firearms and a B-Movie actress in the wrong place at the wrong time. This personal journey took time and several weird kinks to accomplish, but even by the mid-sixties Spector was renowned for being difficult, unpredictable, somewhat fragile. Once recorded, he considered ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ to be the acme of the Wall Of Sound aesthetic; that it originally flopped upon release sent him into a mental tailspin he arguably never recovered from (even though its re-release two years later, around the same time that it was covered by the likes of Deep Purple and The Animals, saw it generate far wider levels of recognition).
This is also a song that’s a great big fib. Ike Turner genuinely was batshit crazy (and not in a good way); Spector wanted Tina but not her husband, which the controlling Ike wasn’t too pleased about. The solution was clever if a little unorthodox; Ike was paid a considerably large amount of money for his name to appear next to Tina’s on the record label, and his presence to be nowhere near the studio during the recording of both single and its parent album. Thus Ike Turner has the somewhat strange accolade of having an iconic single to his name of which he had nothing to do with.
And it is an iconic, sultry record (one of the first I became conscious of as a young child). An evocative, passionate vocal perfectly in keeping with the luxurious textures behind the production (when either, when taken on their own merits, would hedge towards the overblown). Subsequently covered every couple of years by a diminishing return of musical non-entities (including versions by both Ike And Tina Turner, and Tina solo that never troubled the grandeur of the original), it remains powerful statement; a track that shouldn’t necessary work considering the richness and the personalities of all of the ingredients, but also a record that shines nonetheless, even after all this time.
Ike And Tina Turner / River Deep – Mountain High