I became aware of “River Deep, Mountain High” when I was back in high school. I’m not sure how or where I heard it, as the song was not a hit, (it peaked at number 88 on the Billboard singles chart in 1966), but it immediately got my attention. And to this day, when that Ike and Tina record comes on, (Ike’s asshole-ness notwithstanding), I drop what I’m doing, crank it up loud, and feel my arm hairs stand at attention. Tina’s vocal covers so much ground. Its innocence draws you in, but that phrasing, ahead of the beat, teasing at the urgency of what is coming. Then she hits you with “And it gets stronger…”, and tears your heart out. That chord change into the chorus spins you for a loop, her scream at the end of the bridge is so crazy sensual. No wonder pop radio was afraid to play that record. It was simply too good. What could they play after it? Everything else would have sounded weak by comparison. I don’t know of another record (Phil Spector’s asshole-ness notwithstanding) which was so far ahead of its time. No female vocalist had ever laid her pain, as well as her sexuality so bare. I listened to the record again just now, three times in a row, and I am on the floor…again!
Tina Turner transcended all stereotypes. She was a powerful African American woman who could out-rock the Stones. (Face it, Mick was the white male version of Tina!) “What’s Love” blew out the boundaries of what kind of music black artists “should” make. Her duet with Bryan Adams on “It’s Only Love” showed her to be a true rock singer. When I watched Tina’s recent documentary, and learned that she was living a quiet life in Switzerland, I put two and two together. I am proud of her for leaving us with only memories of her strength, fearlessness, relentless courage and drive, and selflessness. It takes a lot to go out on top, and that is what Tina did.
We are losing so many of our heroes. When David Crosby passed it broke my heart. I know Tina is gone. But the picture of her shimmying across the stage, fringe flying, every muscle in her body feeling the rhythm, and the sound of that voice, expressing emotion with every ounce of power in her being, are so ingrained in me that I can’t feel sadness. She is not gone; she will never be gone. Her river is simply too deep, her mountain too high. She is simply the best. … kc