BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Music
Sold on Song. Classic songs, covers, songwriting and more. Listen Live.

 Full Schedule

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

"River Deep Mountain High"
Ike & Tina Turner
Ike and Tina Turner

Ike and Tina Turner's most successful single and producer Phil Spector's most enduring gift to the pop world.

"River Deep, Mountain High" was written by husband and wife song-writing team Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, along with legendary 'Wall of Sound' producer, Phil Spector.

Ike Turner
"'River Deep, Mountain High' was actually a pot pourri of 3 ideas that came from Jeff , who came in and had started a song, I had started a song and Phil had started a song."

The team had previously collaborated on songs like The Crystals "Da Doo Ron Ron" and the Ronettes "Be My Baby". "River Deep Mountain High" was specifically written with Tina Turner in mind.

Jeff Barry
"She means it ... she just means what she sings ... and you believe it."

It could not have been an easy ride for the team. Barry and Greenwich were divorced around the time that the song was recorded and tensions between them had been running high. There was also the artistically-temperamental Spector to contend with. Spector had not had a hit for 18 months and was feeling the pressure. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1969 he said of "River Deep…", "I think when it came out, it was just like my farewell, I was just sayin' goodbye, and I just wanted to go crazy for four minutes on wax."

Jeff Barry
"I'll never know why it wasn't a hit."

There was a key fourth member to the team - Jack Nitzsche. Arranger and long-term colleague of Spector's he was also a competent and versatile musician – listen out for Nitzsche playing tambourine on The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". Nitzsche helped Spector to create the "wall of sound" technique which became his trademark.

Phil Spector had a reputation for being a perfectionist and he certainly put Tina through her paces on this recording. Legend has it that she built up such a sweat that she finished recording in her underwear!

"River Deep, Mountain High" got to #3 in the UK charts with The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon", The Beatles' "Paperback Writer" and Gene Pitney's "Nobody Needs Your Love" keeping it off the top spot. In the US however, "River Deep…" unaccountably failed to chart.

Tina Turner
"Jack Nitzsche … felt that possibly Phil Spector had been too successful and his many enemies in the music business had decided it was time to teach him a lesson in humility."

Spector's Wall of Sound
Spector's debt to epic opera composer Richard Wagner is evident in the full and lavish orchestration he uses in his songs. Overdubbing scores of musicians that included Leon Russell, Barney Kessel, Glen Campbell and arranger Jack Nitzsche, Spector created what he termed "little symphonies for the kids." He then built up the sound by using recording techniques like echo, tape loops and compression.

Spector did not take this failure well and it was five long years before he produced a record again (John Lennon's "Happy Xmas" (War is Over)). A frustrated Ike Turner took his band to another label shortly after.

Recommended reading:
Out Of His Head – A Biography of Phil Spector by Richard Williams

... I think it's one of Spector's finest ...

Johnnie Walker

 Johnnie Walker talks about the song's power and brilliance

Make a comment

Songwriting tips

Get tips on how to write that hit song in the Songwriting Guides
Test your knowledge

Take the "River Deep Mountain High" quiz!

More songs.

Like this song? Try these...

Walk On By
Dionne Warwick

Doves Doves
Special guests on Dermot's show this week

What's on

Radio 2 Documentaries
Find out more about current and forthcoming documentaries on Radio 2.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy