The History of The Albums – n°317
Despite the extra-musical contexts I think it is essential to talk to you about a page of history that Ike & Tina Turner offered us, specifically with the single and album called River Deep - Mountain High, released in 1966. In the purely artistic framework on which I will judge my review, separating the artist from the human, Ike & Tina Turner are known to have been key elements of the Soul in the 60s. So yes, I think you probably know Tina Turner, a very famous Pop Soul singer especially in the mid 80's with Private Dancer or What's Love Got to Do With It which almost made us forget that her career already spanned 20 years before that. A powerful voice, absolutely clear-sighted and penetrating that can be described as unusual. Indeed, the marriage of Ike & Tina Turner turned badly, because of the inadmissible behavior of Ike Turner, deeply affected by the consumption of hard drugs among others and by his violent temperament of which Tina Turner will accuse him thereafter (inadmissible acts of Ike that I firmly condemn). To make a long story short, Ike Turner was a talented author, composer and guitarist, who from the beginning of the 50's greatly participated in the development of Rhythm and Blues and then of Soul music as a whole. 1966 marks the high point for the duo on the purely artistic aspect as they ironically had many more awards and better commercial performances on their debut. However, in my opinion, River Deep - Mountain High is still a relatively underrated album that should rank among the best R&B/Soul albums of 1966, as an essential classic to own from the 60s. This is what I will try to prove to you today.
Initially, the story began in the early 1950's in Clarksdale, Mississippi, when Ike Turner (born 1931) was the leader of his own band called "Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm". The rhythm and blues group was already performing locally, even managing to release its first single in 1951 on Chess, "Heartbroken And Worried", written by Ike Turner himself. Following his sister's advice, the band moved to St. Louis in the mid-1950s to get more exposure, which worked out well when they teamed up with Billy Gayles, releasing a series of singles in 1956. At the same time, Ike Turner had a double career, working as a talent scout for major labels. An important point since he always had this asset throughout his career as "unofficial producer". Anna Bullock (born 1939, a.k.a Tina Turner) finally met the band in 1957 during a live performance. She first fell in love with Raymond Hill, the group's saxophonist, with whom she had a child. Unlike Ike, Tina had no real musical experience except for singing in church in her youth. However, she loved singing so much that she managed to convince the band to give her a chance at a show, which she did brilliantly, since it was enough for Ike Turner to be impressed and to integrate her into the band officially. Over the years of collaboration, the friendship turns into love until she becomes pregnant with Ike. In the early 60s, Ike understood better than anyone the incredible potential of Tina Turner, and he did everything to make her an accomplished artist, including with the stage name "Tina Turner" (because they were married in 1962) or by promoting her to producer. The first single of the duo A Fool In Love, released in 1960, became a very significant commercial success. During 2 years, Ike & Tina Turner will know a handful of very consequent successes, accompanied by distinctions and in particular of a nomination to the Grammy Award. What was most remarkable about the duo was not the content itself, nor the live performances, but the fact that at that particular time, the duo was one of the first to break the "racial" codes established, with the immense success they had with a white audience. While their success from 1963 to 1965 began to fade, the duo began to develop in parallel a role of producer with the creation of labels and signed artists which also quite impressive and "innovative" for the time.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the musical peak of the duo Ike & Tina Turner took place in 1966 with their 6th album. Personally, the first years of the duo are not dreaming in terms of content, because apart from the single A Fool In Love, whether singles or albums, their fame is mostly summed up in the fantastic interpretation offered by the voice of Tina Turner. That is to say that the public was mostly bluffed by that and that despite Ike's talents as a songwriter and musician, the whole was not highlighted enough to compete with the best. However, the exception is this famous album River Deep - Mountain High and that for several reasons. The first one is of course the eponymous single which sounds like the main point, a Pop Soul song beautifully orchestrated, excellently produced and written, where we notice that Tina Turner is in the best disposition to deliver her best voice. Just as noticeable, this masterpiece is distinguished in 2 parts with an absolutely breathtaking finale. It must be said that the album River Deep - Mountain High was produced in great majority by Phil Spector, one of the great producer of all times. By using the famous Wall Of Sound, articulated around an ambitious orchestration, Phil Spector succeeded in giving all its sense to the performance of the duo, as it had never been before. We go from a Pop Soul produced with the means of the edge, although remarkable since they were rather independent, to something grand and more refined. If on the 12 tracks that compose the album, the 5 songs directed by Phil Spector seem to be the main part of the album, this is not necessarily true, since Ike Turner also proposed a really remarkable work, and on a daring bet on top of that, since the duo re-recorded and reworked 3 singles of their debut: Fool In Love, I Idolize You and It's Gonna Work Out Fine. On top of that, the duo offers 2 original songs and 2 covers. The important contrast between the songs produced by Phil Spector and Ike Turner could have more easily sounded like a mistake, to the attack to the homogeneity, however the construction of the album, in the choice of the tracklisting proposes precisely very interesting variations that allows the listener to never get bored. The whole production work of Ike Turner is a success, allowing unconvincing basic singles to bring them a new life much more exciting. Obviously Tina Turner's performances are still the main engine of the album, fulgurance after fulgurance, like a never ending happiness. To conclude, River Deep Mountain High is a very atypical album for the time and daring, although I'm not sure that it was voluntary from the beginning, but finally it allows the duo to shine at its true value, in spite of some limits that will explain later why it will not happen again