Greatest Song At This Moment - Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High"



Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included Radiohead's "Optimistic," My Morning Jacket's "Evil Urges", and Led Zeppelin's "C'mon Everybody."

Like every music lover on the planet, I have a very complicated relationship with Ike & Tina. For that matter, Tina Turner herself had a very complicated relationship with Ike & Tina. Ike Turner was, in the best light, a world class dick head. A talented, rock 'n' roll volcano of a dick head, but dick head nonetheless. His mistreatment of Tina have become so well documented that they've become inseparable with the legend of "Ike & Tina." You can't listen to their music any more without reading into it. This was rich music to begin with, but with a story behind it, the music becomes that much more interesting. In a similar fashion, previously so-so movies like "Interview With A Vampire" and "Conspiracy Theory" have become fascinating since the stars of those movies have gone wacky.

The allure of Ike & Tina's music remains strong as ever, and when I began my music collection in earnest during college, they made my early list of grabs. But like a neglected Netflix queue, they lingered in collection limbo. I don't know if I'll ever stop bumping movies ahead of "Far From Heaven," but a few years ago I finally pulled the trigger by picking up a collection of Ike & Tina, mostly for "River Deep, Mountain High." The song digs so deep into what rock 'n' roll should sound like that you wonder if you'll ever bother listening to "Proud Mary" again. Obviously "Proud Mary" remains fantastic in all the ways Ike & Tina were, but it's nowhere near the atomic bomb of "River." I had my song and I was "happy."

Only "happy" though. Discussing the Turners without eventually mentioning how Ike abused his wife feels disrespectful. In fact, that's what kept me away from buying the album for so long. Even though my better judgement informed me that I wouldn't be directly supporting or endorsing spousal abuse, I didn't enjoy its proximity. It's uncomfortable. Enjoying this music sometimes felt like watching someone get mugged and not telling anyone about it or helping the victim. I just felt dirty after.

I'm not tactless enough to infer that the Turners' marital problems made their music better, but I am stupid enough to assume that the knowledge of such problems makes their music more interesting. So when you take that powerful story and put it behind something as monumentally rocking as "River Deep", then you've got the balls. When she starts out singing about that rag doll (the only doll she ever owned), I believe her. It feels authentic. I know Tina was born poor and struggled her young life to make ends meet, so it's only natural to assume that she pulled from these experiences to give such lines strength. This would lead me to believe she either really, truly, honestly loves someone in the chorus, or she's just the greatest actress/performer in the world. Or maybe both. Whatever the reason, I believe it because she believes it, and through her sincerity, my fears drop away and I sing along. Scream along. Dance along.

On the other hand, whenever any bit of historical context returns it makes the song weird again. It's essentially a love song, or at least an "I Love You" song, so when Tina blasted out how her love gets stronger "in ev-a-ry way," was she really thinking about Ike? Was she pretending to think about Ike, but deep down was thinking of escaping from his grip? Did this fool him, or did he see through it and just get angry? Or did she really actually love the guy and he still got pissed off at her? I only call it "fascinating" while qualifying that "fascinating" just means it's very, very interesting.

Since it's impossible to completely remove the complexities of the band from this song, perhaps a new tactic could prove more successful. This tactic comes in the form of one of my favorite hypothetical questions: which five songs would you play if aliens landed and they asked you about rock 'n' roll? "My Generation" usually gets kicked in, as does a healthy dose of Ramones and such. The thinking friend will consider the gravity of the situation more closely. These aliens are beings who have never heard a rock song in their whole existence (if they do, in fact, age as we do). They need to hear a song which not only exemplifies the standards of rock music, but elevates those standards beyond normal human capabilities.

These aliens would be presented Tina Turner's vocals, Ike's big-nuts backing instrumentation, and one of Phil Spector's best production jobs (which is saying something, but the aliens would never know the difference). Translated with an amazing pill, they would wonder aloud, "Are all flute solos as 'kick ass' as the one in this song?" Their disappointment in the fact that most flute rock is not as good would be quickly forgotten by the return to the pre-chorus, and they would pine for the ability to grow hair so that they might toss it around in an Earthling manner. Without any knowledge of the strange emotional baggage behind the song, the aliens would still understand what it is to rock hard, and they would choose this song to perk up any party, mix, or long space flight to the store. They wouldn't understand the concepts behind the words, but the truth behind the song would ring inside their mighty brains. They would most likely assume that the female Tina truly loved her mate Ike, and we Earthlings would quickly change the subject while avoiding eye contact.

Video & Song Note: To complicate matters, there are many versions of the song. I'm talking mostly about this rock-roots style of bad ass seen in the attached video. Search out the other version, but I think you'll find this version to be far superior not only to the other version of this song, but to most music in general.




Written By Phillip Mottaz

Ike Turner
Tina Turner

Greatest Song At This Moment - Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High"