Musical palate cleanser, baby, baby, baby edition

When it comes to music, I’m pretty broad-minded about different opinions than mine.  But one argument I can’t accept is that “River Deep, Mountain High” isn’t the greatest achievement of Phil Spector’s career.  It marries his production to an incredible performance by Tina Turner.

The song’s backstory is fascinating.

Written by Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich, “River Deep – Mountain High” was among the first recordings that Ike & Tina Turner did for Phil Spector’s Philles Records. Spector was well aware of Ike Turner‘s controlling attitude in the studio, and therefore he drafted an unusual contract: the River Deep – Mountain High album and single would be credited to “Ike & Tina Turner”, but Ike was paid $20,000[5] to stay away from the studio, and only Tina Turner‘s vocals would be used on the record.[6]

The track was recorded using Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production technique, cost a then-unheard-of $22,000, and required 21 session musicians and 21 background vocalists. Due to Spector’s perfectionism in the studio, he made Turner sing the song over and over for several hours until he felt he had the perfect vocal take for the song. Turner recalled, “I must have sung that 500,000 times. I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing.”

If you’ve never seen the official promo for the song, it’s awesome.  (And, yes, Ike is in it.)

Wow.  Just wow.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “Musical palate cleanser, baby, baby, baby edition

  1. Athens Dog

    Wall of sound was awesome.

  2. David K

    C’mon now, “Be My Baby”!

    Tina Turner’s powerhouse vocals sell this, but I personally prefer the charm of many of the early 60’s Crystals and Ronettes hits.

  3. Red Cup

    When will we get a Bloodrock tune?

  4. EmoryDawg

    Holeeeeee Craaappp!!! That was unbelievable! Amazing — now searching for the track / album for permanent addition….

  5. Spector production and mixing on The Beatles “Let It Be” was chopped meat either.

  6. The Bruce

    You oversold it. I was hoping for footage of shirtless, sweat-soaked Tina Turner…🙂

  7. rchris

    Leon Russell did the arrangement of that song for Spector. He was a major factor behind the scenes as a member of the Wrecking Crew before he became a top act in his on right.

  8. steve

    I was not aware of any significant quality difference between a controlled studio cut and a live performance until April 1970. A group of my closest acquaintances and I drove a filthy VW Fastback to Macon from Athens to hear Led Zeppelin in concert at the Coliseum. We stood near the stage and screamed like we were hearing-impaired hare-lips. I remember we waited and waited for “Whole Lotta Love’, but they performed for 1 1/2 hrs without the song. Finally, after the foot stomping and chanting the band started the opening riff. Within seconds it was apparent it wasn’t the same song…..same words, same performers and same melody…but different. Anyway, when we listened to the familiar record version after the concert it was apparent there were additional musical enhancements. That was the first time the cause became obvious…live versus the ‘Specter Effect’.
    Ray Charles (Athens Coliseum 1966) and Grand Funk Railroad (Columbia SC 1970) were the only bands I ever saw that had an equivalent sound…. live v studio (however, the number of rock concerts I have seen I can count on two hands). Tina Turner?….. how can you pay attention to the music while her back up singers are playing charades….first ‘bull fighter’ next ‘lawn jockey’ next SNL ‘Steve Martin skit of King Tut’ ?
    Maybe the musical issue is similar to the difference between practice/scrimmage and the real live game? Nonetheless, watching Herschel’s first Sanford TD against T A&M while sitting next to my young daughter on my left and my wonderful father-in-law on my right still beats any musical high I have ever experienced. Billy Cannon Jr is still trying to catch him 36 yrs later. And still grabbing thin air.

    • Joe

      Steve, I was at that Ray Charles concert….my first big-time show ever. It was my freshman year at UGA. Loved it!

  9. I love Tina Turner and this is arguably the best song ever produced by Phil Spector, but it was originally rehearsed by Darlene Love — the lead singer of The Blossoms, whose voice Spector also released as The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. Love had this to say about the song, “Phil taught “River” to me and The Blossoms. Then we looked up and there’s Tina [Turner]. I thought, ‘I guess she’s going to sing this song since she wasn’t here to learn the backgrounds with us’ But on our version, you can hear everything. It’s not crushed together like Phil did.”

    To say that Love and Spector had a rocky relationship is mild and you can read more about it here.
    http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2011/11/18/142498736/darlene-love-on-phil-spector-christmas-and-how-hate-gives-you-wrinkles

    Love has released her version of “River Deep, Mountain High” on her latest album, which was produced by Steven Van Zandt, and it’s a killer.

    • Walt

      I guess you’ve seen 20 Feet From Stardom which is about backup singers. If not, you might want to check it out. Phil Spector did so much to destroy some of these women’s careers that it’s hard to think of him in a positive light. At least a few of them get to unload on Spector in the movie. That movie and Muscle Shoals are two great movies recently made about music.

  10. Alcohalic Genius

    Should a had James Brown on that.

  11. illini84

    Bob Seger from the much overlooked Mongrel!