Song of the Day, February 1: River Deep Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner

TurnerRiverDeepToday’s song is a famous failure with a lasting legacy. Legendary producer Phil Spector signed Ike and Tina Turner to his Philles label in 1965. Familiar with Ike’s controlling ways, Spector paid the musician $20,000 to stay away from the studio during the recording of the couple’s first single for the label.

Spector wrote River Deep — Mountain High with superstar songwriting couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. He knew it was the perfect song to explore his Wall of Sound production to its fullest. Centered on Tina Turner’s stirring lead vocal, the sessions included 21 musicians and a score of backing vocalists. Credited under the terms of their contract to Ike and Tina Turner, it was in fact a Phil Spector production starring Tina Turner.

Spector felt that it was his masterpiece. The song was reasonably successful in Europe, going all the way to #3 in the UK, but flopped at home, scraping into the charts at #88. While he put a brave face on it, Spector’s disappointment led to his temporary withdrawal from the music world and hinted at his eventual breakdown.

Despite this early disappointment, the song has become a classic, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and coming in at #33 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs of all time. It’s been covered by dozens of artists ranging from the Animals to Deep Purple to Celine Dion. It found its one chart success in a flaccid 1971 version by the Supremes and the Four Tops [#7 R&B, #14 Pop].

The finest version will always be the first, however, with one of the great Tina Turner’s finest vocal performances. Enjoy this classic track today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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