Meaning of River Deep Mountain High by Tina Turner

River Deep Mountain High

Tina Turner

What is the meaning of “River Deep Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner?

River Deep Mountain High” is a song that expresses an overwhelming devotion, with a love that is deeper than any river and higher than any mountain. The song was written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, and produced by Spector using his famous “Wall of Sound” technique. It was released as a single by Ike and Tina Turner in 1966, and later as the title track of their album in 1969. The song was a hit in Europe but flopped in the US, causing Spector to retire from the music industry for two years. The song has been covered by many artists, such as Eric Burdon, Deep Purple, Celine Dion and Glee.

It is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time, and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But what is the song really about? Is it a simple love song, or something more complex? In this blog post, I will explore the meaning behind “River Deep Mountain High” from different perspectives, including the artist’s, the listeners’, and the historical and societal context.

The artist’s perspective

Phil Spector reportedly wrote “River Deep Mountain High” specifically for Tina Turner after hearing her sing the song’s lead vocals and being impressed with her performance. Spector wanted to use her voice with his “Wall of Sound” production technique, which involved layering multiple instruments and vocals to create a dense and rich sound. Spector also wanted to have full creative control over the recording process and made sure that Ike Turner, Tina’s husband and musical partner, was not involved in the sessions. Spector paid Ike $20,000 to stay away from the studio and credited the song to Ike and Tina Turner, even though Ike had no part in it.

Tina Turner recalled that recording the song was a difficult and exhausting experience. She said that Spector made her sing the song over and over again until he was satisfied with the result. She also said that Spector was very demanding and intimidating and that she felt like she was “singing for my life”. She said that she did not understand the meaning of the lyrics at first, but that she sang them with passion and emotion anyway. She said that she later realized that the song was about a love that was so intense that it transcended physical boundaries.

The listeners’ perspective

Listeners in various parts of the world responded differently to “River Deep Mountain High.” In Europe, especially in the UK, where it reached number three on the charts, the song was praised by critics and fans alike for its originality and power. Many listeners interpreted the song as a celebration of love that was unconditional and eternal. They also admired Tina Turner’s vocal performance, which they considered to be soulful and expressive.

In the US, however, where it peaked at number 88 on the charts1, the song was largely ignored or rejected by listeners. Many listeners were confused by the song’s genre, which they felt was neither rock nor soul but something in between. They also did not appreciate Spector’s production style, which they felt was too loud and overwhelming. Some listeners also thought that the song was too exaggerated and melodramatic and that it did not reflect the reality of love.

The historical and societal context

“River Deep Mountain High” was written and recorded at a time when music and society were undergoing significant changes. The mid-1960s were marked by the emergence of new musical styles and genres, such as psychedelic rock, folk rock, soul, funk, and Motown. These styles reflected the influences of different cultures, regions, and movements, such as the British Invasion, the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, and the Vietnam War.

Phil Spector was one of the most influential producers of this era, who had created many hits for artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Righteous Brothers, and The Beatles. He had developed his own signature sound, which he called “a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll”. He wanted to create songs that were like mini-symphonies, with complex arrangements and orchestration. He also wanted to make songs that were timeless and universal.

Spector saw “River Deep Mountain High” as his masterpiece, his ultimate expression of his musical vision. He wanted to make a song that would appeal to both black and white audiences and that would bridge the gap between rock and soul music. He also wanted to make a song that would showcase Tina Turner’s voice as one of the best in the world.

However, Spector’s vision did not match the expectations and preferences of his target market. The US music industry was divided into two main segments: the pop market, which catered to white audiences, and the R&B market, which catered to black audiences. Spector wanted to break this division, but he ended up alienating both markets. The pop market did not accept the song as rock music, and the R&B market did not accept the song as soul music. Spector also faced competition from other producers, such as Berry Gordy of Motown, who had a more streamlined and commercial approach to making music.

Spector was devastated by the failure of “River Deep Mountain High” in the US, and felt that he had lost his touch and his credibility. He decided to withdraw from the music industry for two years, and became reclusive and depressed. He later said that “River Deep Mountain High” was “a great record, but a bad single”.

“River Deep Mountain High” by Ike and Tina Turner is a song that has many meanings and interpretations. It can be seen as a simple love song, or a complex musical statement. It can be understood from the artist’s perspective, the listeners’ perspective, or the historical and societal perspective. It can be appreciated for its musical innovation, its vocal expression, or its cultural significance. A song that has fascinated and inspired generations of fans and musicians alike. A song that deserves to be explored and celebrated.

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