My Pop Life #160 : River Deep, Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner

River Deep, Mountain High   –   Ike & Tina Turner

Well I’m gonna be as faithful as that puppy, no I’ll never let you down

June 18th 1966 I was 9 years old.  Mum had walked out of Hellingly Hospital but on the advice of Dr Maggs had volunteered to go back for a short while.  When she finally returned home, she’d been away for nine months.  I was happy when she came home.  Her mum, my nan, had been helping Dad to run the house, and us.  Andrew had been in Portsmouth, still a baby, but by now he was walking and talking.  A little boy.  Paul and I shared a bedroom and we talked after the lights went out.  The staircase went up and then forked right and left, we were on the left and Mum and Dad were on the right.  The cat used to have its kittens on top of the wardrobe in Mum’s bedroom.   At the halfway point of the staircase I could sit and listen to my parents arguing.  Sometimes I was already downstairs when they started fighting, and Mum had a technique.  She went for Dad’s glasses.  That was that – pretty much – he’s blind without them.    Bt if I was upstairs when the fight started, Paul and I might walk down the four steps to the mini-landing.  Down the stairs we could see a french window onto the back garden. To the right was the door to the living room with the record player and the table where we ate.  The TV was in the front room. Rationed.  A dog, and a cat would be somewhere around.  Bookcases.  And, right now, my mum and my dad were having a high-decibel screaming match.  Or rather my mum was.  Dad’s parries were usually low-key, murmured dissents, accusing my mum of stupidity.  Since he had gone to Cambridge and she’d left school at 15, this was something of a blue-touchpaper-lighting moment on his part :  fireworks guaranteed : If she was stupid, what did that make him ?  An utter imbecile for using the taboo words, for climbing onto an intellectual ledge of education he had climbed alone and casting rocks and stones down into the newly-despised slough of ignorance from whence he had climbed !   His mother was proper working class, and his dad too.  John was the only one of his family (he had four older sisters) to go to Grammar School, and then the only one to stay on, then take Cambridge Entrance Exam and go up to Downing College in 1955.  Totally intrepid, there were two other working class boys in his year, one from Yorkshire, one from the midlands.  A fish out of water.  People talked down to him, for the first time in his life he wasn’t the best.  He was the lowest of the low amongst the Etonians, Winchester boys, Harrow snobs, privately-schooled little empire-builders.  At the end of that first year, he’d gone back to Portsmouth and married Heather, and together they’d embarked on his 2nd year at Downing.  I was born some 9 months later, in Cambridge.

But intellectual intelligence is probably less than 20% of the story.  Maybe a little more, but not much.  Emotional intelligence, which boys have less of, is a little more precious, certainly to me.  Then – no.  I had no idea.  Maybe younger lads have more emotional intelligence, but evidence points to the opposite.  They’re into riding bikes, collecting bird’s eggs, fishing for frogspawn and fighting with David Bristow.  Collecting comics and not washing properly.  Doing stupid things.  Anyway – I’m wandering.  This particular half-formed 9-year old was sitting listening to an offstage fight between mum and dad from the T-bone of the staircase.  Paul had joined me.  I don’t think we were that interested in what they were actually saying, but I think we needed to go downstairs.  So we stopped, slightly guiltily because it meant we were now eavesdropping.  I can’t remember a word of it, I never was much cop at lyrics, but the music I can recall, because both of them have spoken to me in a similar key, before and since.

But just then a jar of marmalade flew horizontally through the barely-visible doorway downstairs and smashed violently against the wall below me.  Orange jelly, glass and peel started to slide down the wall.  It was a stunning moment.  The pitch of the argument went up, then became teary and finally included moments of some silence.

Did Paul and I then walk down the stairs and out into the garden leaving them far far behind ?  Out to the village with it’s curious green paths that ran everywhere, along the roadside, into the fields, down to the sand-pit and far away.

Or did we tiptoe back upstairs and read comics ?

It was so intense that the rest is blank.  Either, both.  Perhaps we went downstairs and saw that Mum had Dad’s glasses in her hand, and he was demanding their return.  But now I feel that they were actually arguing about getting divorced, because Dad, as Paul once said many years later, “had a roving eye” and he’d been taking the piss for years, later confided to me in far too much detail by Mum.  They were divorced later that year and he moved out.  I used to remember it as the other way round.  That they had a fight, then divorced, then Mum went into hospital.  Linear.  Blame.  Made sense as a memory.  But maybe when I was in my thirties I suddenly realised that Dad looked after us with Nan for 9 months, and was still there when she came out.  But maybe that was when the eye roved.  Can’t say I even knew what that meant then.  But somewhere over that murky summer, I pedalled furiously along country lanes with Stephen Criddle even beyond the railway line, to Chalvington and Ripe.   And swung on a black bent tractor tire over a pond with Martin Coleman and his dog Boffin.  And on the radio, there it was, amongst the Paperback Writer, Sunny Afternoon, Sloop John B, Strangers In The Night and Sweet Talking Guy, this monster single which appeared to be made of something else entirely.

I think it was.  Truly.  In early 1966 when River Deep, Mountain High was recorded, it cost over $20,000 to make, unheard of at that time.  But let’s re-wind a little.  The second married couple in this story, Ike & Tina Turner were married in in Tijuana in 1962, but are now almost impossible to think about without Angela Bassett‘s glorious performance in What’s Love Got To Do With It?  immediately filling the frame as Lawrence Fishburne glowers behind her.  Domestic violence poster children all grown up.  But there’s more to Ike Turner than wife-beater.  Rocket 88, recorded in 1951 with  Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, is considered by many to be the first rock’n’roll single ever recorded.    Who cares right ?   Their tempestuous marriage lasted until 1976 when Ike cocaine habit was so out-of-control that he had burned a hole in his nose and would get regular nosebleeds.  She escaped and never looked back.  But amongst the violence and drugs, they had made some great music together.   Tina’s original name was Anna Mae Bullock, and she dated the saxophone player of Ike’s band The Kings of Rhythm in St Louis, Missouri before singing one song at one show.  The rest is herstory.  Tina Turner has one of the most soulful soul voices of any era.   The first single for Ike & Tina Turner was A Fool For You was on Sue Records, but by 1964 Ike Turner had sacked them and was prowling around the record business looking for a pop hit.  Ike & Tina Turner had been touring the southern soul circuit for hundreds of days per year, and had produced a series of great LPs, and great singles, all of which would be dwarfed by this cavernous, gothic piece of work.  Ike signed up with Warner Brothers where he met Bob Krasnow who would start to manage the husband and wife team and introduced them to Phil Spector.

Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry in 1964

Our third married couple, Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry were New York songwriters who married in late 1962 and then decided to exclusively write together from that moment, upsetting previous songwriting partnerships.  But three years later they’d composed Be My Baby & I Can Hear Music for The Ronettes, Da Doo Ron Ron for The Crystals (see My Pop Life #),  The Dixie Cups’ huge hit Chapel Of Love and The Shangri-Las’ mighty single Leader Of The Pack.   

Quite a cv.  All of the above (bar Leader Of The Pack produced in New York by George Morton) were produced by Phil Spector in Los Angeles, and he always had a cut on the publishing too.  Greenwich, Barry, Spector became a badge of a hit record.  But in late 1965 control-freak Spector hadn’t had a hit record for a whole year.  He paid Ike Turner $20,000 to stay away from the sessions, and recorded with the Wrecking Crew whose members Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco and many many others had already sat in on many of the big songs of the decade, often on Spector’s signature wall-of-sound productions.  You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. Mr Tambourine Man.  I Got You Babe.  As well as all those with The Ronettes and The Crystals.  This though was to be Spector’s biggest production to date.

Tina, Phil, Ike, Goldstar, 1965

Late ’65 they were all in Gold Star Studios at Santa Monica & Vine, running through the chord changes and orchestrations.  Days and days later they were still recording.  Tina was down to her bra, scorching hot and howling into the microphone one of the great vocal performances in all music.    The final peak at 3 minutes is unmatched in pop I would suggest.   A genuine tingle every time I hear it.  It certainly isn’t matched by the combined force of The Four Tops & The Supremes in a 1971 cover which only takes off on the bridge section.  Diana is game, Levi Stubbs is is too polite on his puppy verse, but that was Motown right there.  Aimed at the white audience, so more polite, less gutsy and raw, more pop, less black.    A bigger hit than Spector’s I’m guessing, in America, although Tina’s is now considered one of the pinnacles of pop history.  Les black ?  Weird to think of it like that, perhaps that’s a racist construction but in any event, the gospel element is often subsumed in Motown records, less so at Stax, Specialty, Sue, Atlantic or other soul labels.  But whatever is pop and whatever is soul, greatness is greatness, and all of the acts mentioned above are truly great.   Tina Turner didn’t sing Remember Me after all.   But Spector reckoned River Deep, Mountain High was his greatest moment.  So did George Harrison among others.

Tina Turner & Phil Spector at Goldstar, late 1965

Extraordinarily, River Deep, Mountain High was not a hit in the USA at all, either on the pop charts or the R’n’B charts, and opinions ranged from “too white for the black chart” to “too black for the pop chart“, and Spector retired in disgust, remarking later that he understood famous American traitor Benedict Arnold which told us a) how very hard he took the record’s failure, and b) how bonkers he was.   He didn’t work until 1970 when John Lennon and George Harrison gave him the Twickenham Sessions and he went away and made Let It Be, later producing many of the pair’s solo records in the 1970s.

However, River Deep, Mountain High was a chart hit in England in July 1966.  At some point that summer England won the World Cup.  I know because I was in the village shop and the shopkeeper smiled at me.  “England won The World Cup” he said.  I was so happy.  Even though we hadn’t watched it.  I didn’t really know what it meant to be honest.  Perhaps that means that my dad wasn’t at home then and had already left.   Funny things memories.  Intense though.

full song –

the original promo with Ike singing along, which he doesn’t :

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Brazil – Copa das Copas – 3

Day 3 – Sao Paulo

The eyes of the world are on Sao Paulo today. Sure enough a small demonstration is broken up by riot police with tear gas and sticks. Later the ITV studio in Rio will have rocks thrown at it, and other cities will also see tear gas and masked protestors.  This is a country ill at ease with itself, aware that the sport it so loves is being used to quell domestic unrest.  The tax-free profits of FIFA have melded with the corruption of the Brazilian government to produce an uneasy atmosphere manifest by graffiti springing up both celebrating the Selecao and lampooning the orgy of greed. Image

But come what may, the World Cup will begin today and like all bread and all circuses throughout history it will sweep across the  discontent, the anger, the cynicism and the fury and be another pacification force called football.

If Brazil win today that is.

We travel into central Sao Paulo, passing Croats in their red-and-white chequered shirts, and a tide of yellow and green.  The feeling is still tentative, and the old town is deserted but for gangs of armoured police squads lingering on street corners waiting to crush the revolution should it dare to appear.  The FanFest area is livelier – music pumps out and a small crowd gather to enter – making sure to finish their beer and coke, because FIFA rules are that no food or drink will be allowed into a FIFA area. All the locals dudes selling cans and bottles outside are disenfranchised at a stroke.  Somewhat against our instincts we shuffle into the crowd and enter the dragon.  ImageEveryone is in here. Mexicans, English, Germans, Colombians, Chileans, Ecuadorians, homeless men and women, and thousands of locals.  Beer is the local Brahma (no Budweiser !)  This is a compromise since in Brazil beer is banned from football stadiums and events. FIFA forced them to change the law. So I guess the Brazilians insisted on their local beer) People are already drunk and it’s two hours before the opening match kicks off.  The opening ceremony doesn’t appear on the big screen : instead we get a local version of Justin Beiber who causes an outbreak of fist pumping and singalong frenzy. Image

It’s gonna get messy here. We slide out the side and walk up the steps to a previously ear-marked bar and restaurant, securing a table next to some noisy folk from Seattle and underneath a screen, order some beer and pizza and wait for the kick-off.

I guess if you’re reading this you’ve seen the match by now. The first Brazilian goal, symbolically, was in their own net. 1-0 Croatia. The Europeans looked sharp and played direct, marshalled by world-class recently shorn midfielder Luka Modric. Neymar equalised with a beautiful shot, and it was game on.  The atmosphere in the bar was fantastic. Image


Then the referee awarded one of the dodgiest penalties in the history of World Football and even some of the locals looked embarrassed. Neymar put it away, a Croatian goal was disallowed for a “foul on the keeper” and Oscar finished the story 3-1. The script was exposed and laid bare for all to see – Brazil HAD to win this game, for themselves, for the World Cup and for the survival of FIFA. A fix ? A referee who didn’t speak English ? We’ve seen it all before in previous trounaments where Brazil – FIFA’s bitch – have been ushered through games by the officials. Nothing new here, sponsor’s rules, advert breaks featuring Brazilian superstars have another five weeks to run. But the feeling of shame embarrassment and anger will not be shaken.

Our beautiful game has been stolen by thieves, crooks and pigs. FIFA have taken everything beautiful and turned it into a corporate whore dance of death.  FIFA must be destroyed.  We want our ball back.

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Brazil – Copa das Copas 2014

Day One – Cantagalo, Copacabana, Ipanema

Jenny and I meet Sidney from the Museum of the Favela at the foot of the Miranda lift with Daniel and his wife Vela helping to translate.  We ascend the lift to a viewing room.  Now level with the hillside, overlooking Ipanema beach, the lift and walkway was completed 4 years ago to link the hillside favela of Cantagalo with the beach community of Ipanema. Previously, favela inhabitants had to walk up the steep steps. The lift and walkway are very blue, very modern, and very much in use as people are walk past us while Daniel does the translation and Sidney greets his friends. The artwork starts to appear – painted onto the sides of buildings by local artists and depicting in vivid colour the history of the favela – started by freed slaves over 100 years ago and usually the first port of call for those seeking work in Rio from other parts of Brasil, particularly Minas Gerais to the north.  Cantagalo cock The mood darkens as a possee of armed police walk past in combat mode, pointing their weapons like a SWAT team into people’s houses.  Sidney waits for them to pass then shows his contempt for this “pacification force”.  We walk up, we walk down, past tight little dwellings cramped onto the slopes, through dark alleyways where dogs are stretched out asleep, tiny hair salons, cafes, stores and kids playing. IMG_7734The views over Rio are breathtaking. Makes we wonder out loud whether the gentrifiers will be along shortly. Slightly farther south past Leblon this is already happening to a hillside favela which looks from a distance like Positano on the Amalfi coast. As the facilities improve here – sanitation, running water, electricity and now the modern, free access, these areas become more desirable to the middle class.  MUF HQWe reach the Museum HQ, buy a T-shirt and pose for photos on the roof.  Moving into Pavao-Parvinhno, a twin favela above Copacabana the mood changes again. Pavao-ParvinhnoA funicular railway here serves the steep hillside and marks the place where a water tower fell down one Christmas day ten years ago killing whole families.  We walk through the entertainment corridor where men unload crates of drink and other men scarcely conceal their weapons. Sidney advises me not to take pictures. But in the next breath he insists that we are safer up here in the slums than we are on the beach down below us, where pickpockets roam and armed muggers look for opportunities. Sidney and Pavao dancerHe poses next to a picture of a dancer from the favela and big on TV : Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, killed by the police two month ago. There were riots here when his body was found. Jenny recognises a graffiti from a US World Cup commercial. We walk down the steps and out, shaking hands.

Sidney CantagaloIt’s been an entertaining and enlightening 3 hours and a great way to start our Brazilian adventure.

Two minutes later we are strolling along the promenade of famous Copacabana beach being gently hassled by trinket sellers, spotting fans from Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, England, Spain and Mexico all deciding not to eat the various fried food offerings. A giant temporary structure at one end of the beach turns out to be the media centre where Gary Lineker, Adrian Chiles et al will broadcast from for the next month. At the far end of the great curved beach is the FIFA Fanpark, where we expect to watch England v Italy on Saturday night. fix the fucking picture

We walk around the headland to Ipanema beach where the tone softens, surfers fight the breaking waves and mini-vultures hop along the shoreline. Hat and scarf sellers have to pack up and vanish at a moment’s notice whenever a police car drives slowly and malevolently along the service road. We sip on vodka & tonic and watch the world walking by.  Later that night we eat with the beautiful people in Caffe Felice amidst a tropical downpour and a dumb waiter who brings me milk in a teapot. One mosquito bite and bed.