By Harvey Kubernik
Former KFWB DJ and newspaper reporter Larry McCormick, in the July 5, 1965, issue of the “KFWB Hitline” once heralded Spector in the weekly Los Angeles music publication as “Success Of Phil Spector Shows Creative Genius.”
“Phil Spector is the man other record company executives wish they were,” McCormick explained. “Phil Spector is liked by few, disliked by many, misunderstood by most, and envied by practically everybody.His recent television appearances on panel shows have displayed to the world an honest, say it like it is, freak. I think he’s “out of sight” … “Fantastic” and remember…” the “Freak” will inherit the earth.”
Spector worked with Ike & Tina Turner, producing the scorching “River Deep, Mountain High” date, featuring the cosmic vocals of Tina. The record reached number 88 in the U.S. but a big Top Five hit in the U.K.
“Phil was the co-writer on the song,” Jack Nitzsche said in 1988. “Phil embellished the song and was the producer. I’ve talked to Gerry Goffin about that a lot; Phil co-writing songs that he would produce. Phil would always have the writers come over and write in the room with him, and I knew he directed it. They all say the same thing; that without Phil Spector in the room that song wouldn’t have been that way. He helped. He knew what he wanted it to be. I know Phil Spector helped write ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ When Phil played me ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ on the piano I knew it was a great song. We did the rhythm track in two different three-hour sessions. It was amazing to watch the session.”
As a teenager at the time of the legendary “River Deep, Mountain High” waxing, Rodney Bingenheimer, now a KROQ-FM DJ, was invited to the mammoth Gold Star session.
“I knew Phil from being at Gold Star with Sony and Cher,” said Bingenheimer. “Sony used to work for Phil and he and Cher were on his earlier sessions. Brian Wilson and I never left the studio booth during the production of ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ You don’t leave when you’re at something like this. We were transfixed. Jack (Nitzsche) and Phil (Spector) were very tight. They were like copilots on the Concorde from a flight from France…Brian didn’t say a word. He soaked it in and sat there stunned. Tina was loud and sexy. She was wearing a wig and Go-Go boots-very ‘60s. Tina’s vocals kept on soaring”
“Dennis Hopper was there,” continued Bingenheimer. “He took photos in the studio and was later involved in the artwork for the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ album. The first person I saw at Gold Star that day was Mick Jagger. He was wearing a mink fur coat. He kept leaving the booth to use the telephone and call a girl.”
In my October 11, 1975 interview with Tina Turner for “Melody Maker,” Tina commented on “River Deep, Mountain High” and how it helped Ike & Tina land on a Rolling Stones’ tour.
“We toured for years with all the English groups and I always liked what they were singing about. The biggest change started happening when we were working around L.A. in 1966 and ran into Phil Spector,” she remembered.
“He wanted to record me and when we cut ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ Mick Jagger who was visiting Phil at the time was in Gold Star studio. After hearing the song he wanted us to tour England in 1966 with the Rolling Stones. The English weren’t used to seeing girls with high-heeled shows and I think they were shocked a bit. Mick then came to the States in 1969 and asked us to tour America with him later in the year. That’s when it happened.”
On March 5, 2011, Universal Music Enterprises re-released Ike & Tina Turner “River Deep-Mountain High” album on CD.
Spector once said in 1969 that he only made “River Deep, Mountain High” to “do something experimental.” He also revealed at the time that “for two years he was hidden and not making records, because that’s where you really state your case.”
In an unearthed interview I found on cassette, Spector, then in a self-imposed hiatus from the recording studio, explained to John Gilliand, the late great radio broadcaster for “The Pop Chronicles” radio series: “I enjoyed all the records very much. I made them all from the heart. I made them all with art in mind, and all to reveal a picture of where I was when I made them. Never to deceive or really to make people think I was putting them on or just to be commercial. I wanted the people to say, ‘Gee…you’ve really gone for a screwed up time during that period weren’t you?’ ‘Or…Jesus…You were really Wagner-crazy then and you must have been loaded that time.’ I enjoyed that. It doesn’t bother me at all. That’s probably the only way I do reveal myself was on my records through my art.”
“I would guess ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ really captured something for me,” Spector continued. “It said the most to me as far as a production was concerned at the time. It was made as an honest shocker and was made as an experiment. It was really not made to necessarily become number 1. That was not its goal. You see, the main force that I have that drives me is probably the same force of why Wagner wrote music. To make a forceful message, to have a forceful approach, to present his dynamic feelings through his music. This is the way I see a record. It takes me a few months to make a record and when I build a record.”
In a 1977 interview with me for “Melody Maker,” conducted jointly with music critic Robert Hilburn of “The Los Angeles Times,” Spector in his home one afternoon told us about the world after he left the confines of Fairfax High School. “My graduating theme was ‘Daring To Be Different.’ The moment I dared to, they called me different. I always thought I knew what the kids wanted to hear. They were frustrated, uptight. I would day no different from me when I was in school. I had a rebellious attitude. I was for the underdog. I was concerned that they were as misunderstood as I was.”
That memorable day Phil also re-visited “Then He Kissed Me” with us. “That was an experimental record,” he explained over a meal of steak tartar dipped in jar of mayonnaise. “John (Lennon) told me the Beatles got the idea to use a 12-string guitar (like Barney Kessel played) from that record. But I thought it was too spaced out. I was against it coming out. I was gonna can it.”
The Beach Boys also did a rendition of “Then He Kissed Me.” (“Then I Kissed Her.”) And Brian Wilson performed “Be My Baby” on his 2000 concert tour.“The man is my hero,” Brian Wilson told me in a published interview in 1977. “He gave rock ‘n’ roll just what it needed at the time and obviously influenced us a lot”
“His productions…they’re so large and emotional…Powerful…the Christmas album is still one of my favorites,” said Wilson. “We’ve done a lot of Phil’s songs: ‘I Can Hear Music,’ ‘Just Once In My Life,’ ‘There’s No Other Like My Baby,’ ‘Chapel Of Love’… I used to go to his sessions and watch him record. I learned a lot…”
“I’ve always been flattered that Brian continues to say nice things about me and keeps recording my songs,” Phil underscored to me in our 1977 dialogue inside his Beverly Hills digs. “Brian is a very sweet guy and a nice human being. I’m glad he’s coming out of his shell. I think he got caught in a trap with ‘Good Vibrations.’ I think he got condemned more than condoned. He became a prisoner instead of a poet. He had the plaudits, the accolades, and touched the masses. I know music is a very important thing to him, besides a vocation. It became cluttered the last few years. Your attitude is in the grooves, and it’s a very personal thing. But Brian thrived on competition. I remember when ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ came out. He wasn’t interested in the money, but a top ten record. He wanted to know how the song would do against the Beatles and if (AM radio station) KFWB would play it. But I never saw Brian as a competitor.”
“When you see a (Stanley) Kubrick movie,” Spector mentioned in that chat with me for the now defunct “Melody Maker,” “you tell me how many names you immediately remember in the cast. One, two? It’s the same with Fellini, and that’s what I wanted to do when I directed a recording. Singers are instruments. They are tools to be worked with.”