Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ike and Tina Turner -- "River Deep, Mountain High" (1966)

When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll
The only doll I've ever owned

The third of the seven American cities that made the cut for this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days" is New York City, and the first of the four New York City songs to be featured is "River Deep, Mountain High."  

(There are a lot of numbers in the previous sentence.  The sum of those numbers is 72.  The product of those numbers is 68,208.)

Ike and Tina Turner each grew up near Memphis and later moved to St. Louis, where they met.  So why is "River Deep, Mountain High" a New York City song?

Entrance to the Brill Building
Because it was written by one of the many great songwriting teams that inhabited the famed Brill Building, which was located on Broadway just north of Times Square.  

By 1962, the Brill Building (which is eleven stories high) was home to 165 different music businesses, including many of the most important record companies and music publishers of the era.

Dozens of legendary songwriters worked in the Brill Building -- Burt Bacharach and Hal David (who wrote "Walk On By," "What the World Needs Now," and "The Look of Love," just to name a few), Neil Diamond ("I'm a Believer" and "Sweet Caroline"), John Kander and Fred Ebb ("New York, New York," Cabaret, and Chicago), Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller ("Hound Dog," "Poison Ivy," "Stand By Me"), and Laura Nyro ("Eli's Coming" and "Wedding Bell Blues").

The Brill Building was also home to three remarkable husband-wife songwriting teams: Gerry Goffin and Carole King ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Up on the Roof," and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("On Broadway," "Kicks," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"), and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.

Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry in 1964
Barry and Greenwich -- they married in 1962 and divorced in 1965, but continued to write music together after their divorce -- collaborated with Phil Spector, the brilliant record producer, on many of the classic "girl group" hits:  "Chapel of Love," "Leader of the Pack," "Be My Baby," "Da Doo Ron Ron," and many others.

But the trio's greatest accomplishment was "River Deep, Mountain High," which was recorded by Ike and Tina Turner in 1965 and released the next year.

"River Deep, Mountain High" was the quintessential example of Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique -- and his almost insane perfectionism.  He hired 21 session musicians and 21 backup singers for the record, and made Tina do take after take after take until he felt he had a perfect one.

Phil Spector with Ike and Tina Turner
"I must have sung it 500,000 times," Tina told an interviewer.  "I was drenched with sweat.  I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra."  

Spector also reportedly paid Ike Turner $20,000 to stay away from the recording session.  

"River Deep, Mountain High" made it to #3 on the UK singles chart -- George Harrison called it "a perfect record from start to finish" -- but it bombed in the U.S., stalling at #88 on the Billboard "Hot 100."

Tina Turner
That is inexplicable.  What in the hell was wrong with people in 1966?  

Spector was so embittered by the failure of what he considered his best record ever that he didn't set foot in a recording studio for a full two years, and produced only intermittently afterwards.  (He did produce Let It Be, George Harrison's The Concert for Bangladesh, and John Lennon's Imagine.)  After an almost-fatal car wreck in 1974, Spector became increasingly reclusive.  

Years later, Spector was arrested and charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson.  A 2007 trial ended in a hung jury.  (Ten of the 12 jurors voted to convict, but the other two held out.)

Phil Spector in the courtroom
Spector was retried in 2008 and convicted of second-degree murder.  He was sentenced to 19 years to life, and will not be eligible for parole until 2028 -- when he will be 88 years old.  

Here's "River Deep, Mountain High":

As a bonus, here's a 1971 black-and-white video of Ike and Tina performing live on television.  Just watch the first minute or so, which features some fabulous dancing by Tina and the Ikettes -- I didn't know it was possible to dance so fast.

Here's a link you can use to buy "River Deep, Mountain High" from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. My daughter once sent me a video tape of a Tina Turner performance, with a warning: "Keep an eye on your VCR--this may cause a meltdown."
    When the Phil Spector murder trials were in the news, I wondered if I might be called for jury duty at the LA Criminal Courts building. I imagined being on the panel and getting as far as "voir dire". "Juror #7 (me) have you ever heard of Phil Spector?" "I have the 'Back to Mono' box set, an unauthorized biography, the autobiography of his ex-wife, Veronica, (as the defense attorney's frown deepens) a bootleg 45 of 'Let's Dance the Screw'....shall I go on?" "The defense would like to thank and excuse #7." Most likely I'd be out of there faster than you can say "Da Doo Ron Ron". About 14 years ago I was in that courthouse for a trial, but since neither the victim nor defendant was famous, there was little or no press coverage.
    And...some time ago, while visiting New York, I made a "pilgrimage" to the Brill Building (which has nothing to do with the J. G. Brill Co. which was a major builder of electric railway cars.--the Red Car in my Facebook header is a Brill product.)