Deep Mountain High
Deep Mountain High is quite simply one of the most exciting,
soulful and original pop songs ever.
The Supremes and the Temptations, Deep Purple, Neil Diamond,
Harry Nilson and Erasure….have all had a fair oul stab
at River Deep Mountain High but all, in my opinion, coming
nowhere near the depth or indeed the height of the original.
To understand the obsessional quality of the man behind the
song producer supreme Phil Spector it’s important to
understand his history.
He was born Harvey Philip Spector on Boxing day 1940 in the
Bronx, New York. His grandfather was a Russian Jew named Spekter,
who’d emigrated to the United States and changed his
name to Spector at Ellis Island.
His father Benjamin was a troubled depressive character who
committed suicide in 1949 and in 1953, Bertha Specter, with
Phil and his older sister Shirley, moved to Los Angeles where
she worked as a seamstress.
a teenager Phil had a hard time fitting in. He was short,
he was skinny and perhaps unsurprisingly he stood out from
his fellow teenagers like a sore thumb.
Yet even while the kids in the neighbourhood would be playing
ball Phil was already finding his place in the crowd as the
man himself said in a rare interview from 1973.
a young man Phil found expression in music. He learnt the
guitar, piano, drums, bass and even French horn. He began
hanging around the recording studios of LA looking for work
where he formed his first band the Teddybears.
On the trip back to the Bronx he visited his fathers grave
and the inscription on it inspired him to pen his first song.
To Know Him Is To Love Him, lifted directly from the tombstone,
became his first hit single in 1959.
From there his career was settled but Phil never wanted to
be in a band, he wanted to control bands and dictate the music.
He wanted to be a producer, which in the early sixties wasn’t
really a recognised job.
working with many of the fledgling R&B groups of the time
Phil set out to mould their sound and shape their style. So
much so in fact that his seminal work with girl groups like
The Ronettes, The Crystals and Darlene Love on singles like
“Then He Kissed Me” and “Be My Baby”
earned Spector the title of the Tycoon of Teen.
He pioneered a style known as the wall of sound, throwing
everything from orchestras, multi tracking and a barrage of
instruments into the mix.
the mid sixties the hits just kept on coming. He produced
perhaps the greatest seasonal album ever with a Christmas
gift to you, and he shaped one of the greatest singles ever
when he created 'You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling' in
After that hit with the Righteous Brothers however things
dried up a bit. 18 months later and purely by chance Phil
caught a live set by The Ike and Tina Turner revue in a sunset
strip night club. He was blown away by young Tina’s
tonsil ripping vocal ability and vowed on the spot to use
her on his next project. Trouble was he didn’t see the
need for Ike or the band so he came to an arrangement with
the difficult band leader. Basically he paid Ike 20 thousand
dollars to stay well away.
In return Phil could use Tina for one single and both their
names would be used on the release. For that single Phil had
something special in mind.
Barry was an established writer of some standing and together
with his usual writing partner Ellie Geenwich he’d written
numerous Brill building hits in the mid sixties. Unlike many
of the teams writing projects this was one specifically orchestrated
for Tina Turner.So with the song written, Tina on board and
Ike off counting his money rehearsals began.
For two whole weeks Phil ran over and over the song with Tina
at his hillside mansion and finally they retired to Gold Star
Studios in LA on March 7th 1966 to record it.
It was undoubtedly the producer’s most ambitious project
to date….string arranger Jack Nitzsche described it
as “A battle plan for all out war”…..and
the line up of session men was top notch with the likes of
keyboardist Leon Russell, drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Barney
Kessel and Glen Campbell (yes that Glen Campbell) all adding
their magic to proceedings.
In this atmosphere Tina had a few problems getting her vocal
right. In fact she claims she must have sang the opening line
“When I was a little girl” a million times….finally
drenched in sweat and at her tethers end she stripped down
to her bra and pants to record the finished version. Strange
but true. All in the single had cost an unprecedented 22 thousand
dollars to make….which made it all the harder for Spector
to take when the single bombed in the states, it was a huge
hit in Britain but that failed to cheer the moody producer
shocked was Spector at the reaction to the song in his homeland
he ffectively retired from the business for three years, he
never again captured his position as tycoon of teen and despite
working with the Beatles and indeed both Harrison and Lennon
solo he will always be remembered for the outrageously inventive
and overblown pop epics he created in the 60’s.
by Ralph McLean