Happy 54th Anniversary, “River Deep – Mountain High”!

Today marks 54 years since the release of Phil Spector’s “River Deep – Mountain High,” which Tina Turner described as her “musical revelation.”

“When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll…”

By the spring of 2011, during my senior year of high school, I thought highly of Tina Turner but was by no means an active listener. I knew a few of her songs and liked them all, particularly “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” but my knowledge of Tina was limited. When one of my teachers named her as one of her favorite musical artists, my curiosity was piqued, and I desired to learn more about Tina beyond the songs I knew. And when I stumbled upon this video on YouTube, my world was never the same again:

I was speechless. Hearing this woman sing the living hell out of that song, backed by a musical track with all the subtlety of a Lamborghini Aventador, was just about the most exciting thing I had ever heard. Most of my senior year was spent listening to music from the 50s and 60s, but none of those songs came close to the sheer intensity of Tina’s performance. For the rest of my senior year, this song was my “jam” – I have so many memories listening to it at school, on trips, and during walks along the Del Mar coast – and I became a huge fan of Tina as a result.

Today marks 54 years since “River Deep – Mountain High” was released to the American public, and to this day it is still one of the greatest songs of all time. There are several reasons why it is so significant – the song is so powerful it could blow a hole through your speakers, the production is so wonderfully over-the-top it makes Queen sound like Jack Johnson, and the vocal performance is so virile and aggressive it puts most male singers to shame. But the biggest reason why “River Deep – Mountain High” is so significant is that it was Tina Turner’s first step toward liberation from her abusive husband Ike.

Tina at Gold Star Studios in March of 1966, belting out “River Deep – Mountain High.”

“And it gets stronger, in every way…”

By the mid-Sixties, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was one of the best live acts around. But behind the scenes Tina was being abused by Ike, and the group hadn’t had a hit in years. In 1966, the legendary (but troubled) producer Phil Spector paid Ike twenty thousand dollars to use Tina for his next production, and Ike’s only involvement would be his name on the record. In her 2018 memoir My Love Story, Tina describes how the opportunity to record “River Deep – Mountain High” was a necessary intervention into her life; not only did she get to work with an artist outside of the “Ike & Tina bubble,” but she got to try an entirely new style of music and way of singing, as “River Deep – Mountain High” was the polar opposite of everything she had done with Ike. According to Tina:

“Before that, I was singing Ike’s way, because that’s how I started and that’s how I was produced. But I always knew I had another talent. I knew it was there and I wanted to explore it. This song opened my eyes to possibilities. I felt liberated, excited, ready to challenge myself vocally with other kinds of songs. To this day, I have never done a live show without singing it.”

After several rehearsals, which Tina described as “stripping away all traces of Ike,” Phil brought her into Gold Star Studios; backing her with a full orchestra and a choir of backup singers, he pushed her to give the performance of her life. As she would later recall, “I must have sung that 500,000 times. I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing.” According to the Tina Turner Blog, she belted out the final take in a pitch-dark room, her stomach throbbing in pain and the veins in her neck bulging. But Tina pushed through the pain and delivered the best performance of her entire career, and the resulting record is now ranked #33 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And without Ike in the picture, “River Deep – Mountain High” was the moment Tina found her voice as a solo artist.

In 1984, eighteen years after “River Deep – Mountain High” and eight years after leaving Ike, Tina made arguably the greatest comeback in music history.

“And it gets higher, day by day…”

Following its initial release in America, “River Deep – Mountain High” was surprisingly a commercial failure, peaking at No. 88 on Billboard Hot 100. But less than two months later everything had changed, as “River Deep – Mountain High” became a sensation all across Europe, peaking at No. 3 in the UK and marking the beginning of Tina’s superstar status. George Harrison described the song as “a perfect record from start to finish. You couldn’t improve on it.” The Rolling Stones were so enthralled by it that they invited the Ike and Tina Turner Revue to open for them on their UK tour. And three years later, it was re-released in the UK and peaked at No. 33, becoming a Top 40 hit twice. The success story of “River Deep – Mountain High” is one of empowerment, as it proved that Tina could stand on her own without Ike. Ten years later, she left her abusive husband by escaping a hotel room with a Mobil gas card and 36 cents in her pocket, and started an entirely new life.

After years of hard work and determination on her own, Tina made arguably the greatest comeback in music history with the 1984 album Private Dancer, which has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and features three of her most classic hits – “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me,” and the title track. Her success as a solo artist continued throughout the Eighties and Nineties, and after years of touring all over the world she holds the record for selling more concert tickets than any other solo performer in music history. In addition to being one of the most successful and bestselling artists of all time, Tina is recognized as a symbol of strength and empowerment, and her life story of survival and perseverance has inspired countless men and women to change their lives. And today marks 54 years since one of the most important parts of that story, “River Deep – Mountain High,” was released.

Tina is currently retired in Zurich, Switzerland, and celebrated her 80th birthday last November.

What are your favorite Tina Turner songs? Has any part of her life story personally inspired you? Comment below and share!

#WorshipWednesday: “Home” by Tedashii feat. Crowder

“Tell the world I had enough, I’m coming home”

Like every human being under the sun, I struggle with sin and the feeling of being separated from God. There have been several times during this quarantine where I have felt distant from Him, spiritually divorced, and low on purpose despite being full of faith. But every time I go to that place, I remember that He is always there – as Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV) says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” During my two years of following Christ, I have come to believe that no matter how many times we run away from Him – whether we’ve given into temptation or are just struggling to believe – He always takes us back. And that is the theme behind Tedashii and Crowder’s excellent collaboration “Home.”

I first heard “Home” during a struggle with unbelief, and it reminded me to stay faithful and drew me back to Him. The song is extremely relatable, as he raps about his own personal struggle with sin (“I’m skating on thin ice / And my hope is within Christ / I can’t take a step without struggle / Each time it’s like playing dice”) and his need for a personal Savior (“I try my best, God, I confess, I need your help”). These lyrics really spoke to how I was feeling in the moment, and spurred within me a sense of faith I was lacking. Now every time I hear the song on the radio, I remember that I am not the only one struggling – feeling distant from God is something that everyone goes through. But it’s often during these seasons or bouts of unbelief that God reminds us that He is always there, drawing us closer to him again. In other words, He leads us back “Home.”

What songs have helped bring you back to God? Comment below and share your story!

“Being Boring” and the Gift of Friendship

“Being Boring” wasn’t a hit upon its 1990 release, but is considered by many to be Pet Shop Boys’ greatest song.

“And we were never holding back, or worried that time would come to an end”

First of all, I must be transparent and say that there is going to be no sense of objectivity in this post – not only am I a big Pet Shop Boys fan, but “Being Boring” has been one of my favorite songs for the last five years now. By the time it was released in 1990, the British synth-pop duo had already released a plethora of classic hits – “West End Girls,” “It’s A Sin” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This? (feat. Dusty Springfield),” to name a few – but in my opinion they managed to top them all with “Being Boring.” I have always loved the song since I first heard it, and it is one of those songs I could listen to over and over again without getting tired of it. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that I began to connect with “Being Boring” personally, and over the last two months God has used it to keep me grateful for a gift that is this song’s central theme – the gift of friendship.

The song itself was written in the wake of a friend’s death, as lead singer Neil Tennant had lost his best friend from his teenage years to AIDS. He spends the first verse reminiscing on his teenage years in Newcastle (“I came across a cache of old photos and invitations to teenage parties”), and the desire he and his friends had to escape the very thought of boredom in their lives. By the second verse he recalls moving from Newcastle to London with his best friend, with the hopes of becoming successful; in 1985 his dreams came true, as Pet Shop Boys became an international sensation with “West End Girls.” But by the third verse, the song takes a tragic turn – despite living a successful life that most artists dream of, he is saddened that his best friend is no longer a part of it.

“We were always hoping that, looking back, you could always rely on a friend”

One of the most difficult parts of COVID-19 has been being apart from family and friends, and I began to think of them the more I listened to “Being Boring.” My church has not congregated in over two months, and therefore I have been separated from almost all of my brothers and sisters in Christ since the quarantine began. I felt at home in church, so the idea of not seeing them for awhile made me sad, and I still miss seeing them every Sunday. A much stronger degree of this sadness is what fueled the creation of “Being Boring,” which Tennant described when interviewed about the song:

“It’s just the sadness of having a close friend die, because I always thought he’d be somewhere there with me. When we were teenagers we would always discuss that we weren’t going to settle for boring lives, we were always going to do something different. And then when it came down to it, I did become a pop star and at exactly that time he became very ill.”

When it comes to friendship, I don’t have the greatest track record; I have either taken the gift for granted or put friends on pedestals that they were never intended to be on. But as I’ve experienced in my walk with God, He can take anything and turn it for good, including the sad feelings that I initially experienced in the wake of the shutdown. I had already become more appreciative for the gift of friendship since coming to Christ in 2018, but my sense of gratitude grew even stronger as I began listening to “Being Boring” nearly every day of the quarantine.

One of the central themes of the song is about how people’s foundations change as they move forward in life, and that is ultimately what separated Tennant from his friends after he left his carefree teen years behind. As I began to reflect on this, I became truly thankful for the fact that even though I am separated physically from my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are still connected to one another spiritually with Him as our mutual foundation. By the end of the the third verse, we face the difficult truth that our friends are not going to be with us forever (“But I thought in spite of dreams, you’d be sitting somewhere here with me”). But despite being centered around tragedy, “Being Boring” is not a song that will punch you in the stomach; instead it will keep you grateful for the friends you have, the gift of friendship, and the One who gave us that gift.

What songs made you grateful for the gift of friendship? Comment below and share your story!

Kygo Comes Through During COVID-19

One of the most talented EDM artists around, Kygo has released four great singles since the start of the quarantine.

Kygo is one of my favorite artists and, much like Alison Krauss, someone who I could listen to all day and never tire of. Since releasing his first remix “I See Fire” in 2013 and first original song “Firestone” the following year, Kygo has been a blessing to the EDM scene. He has created incredible remixes of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Seinabo Sey’s “Younger,” the latter of which is the definitive version of the song. The list of artists he has collaborated in just a few short years is something most EDM artists would probably sell their soul for, and includes the following:

And if that list wasn’t long enough, Kygo has recently released two more collaborations – one with Zara Larsson and Tyga, and another with OneRepublic. These are two of the four songs that Kygo has released during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made life easier for every EDM fan looking for a nice escape. These four songs, which will be featured on Kygo’s new album Golden Hour (scheduled for release on May 29), are as follows:

“Like It Is” feat. Zara Larsson & Tyga

“I’ll Wait” feat. Sasha Sloan

“Freedom” feat. Zak Abel

“Lose Somebody” feat. OneRepublic

What are your favorite Kygo songs? Comment below!

“Pata Pata” by Miriam Makeba [Afro-Pop]

Released in 1967, Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata” remains one of the most joyous, infectious songs of all time.

“Every Friday and Saturday night, it’s Pata Pata time!”

South African singer Miriam Makeba’s career began in the 1950s, during the country’s dark years of racial apartheid. Her anti-apartheid activism landed her in trouble with the racist South African government, who ultimately banned her from the country in 1960. She became a trailblazer as the first black musician to leave because of apartheid, which led to many others following suit as the years went by. After immigrating to America, Makeba became an overnight sensation – she performed for JFK, was admired by legends such as Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Nina Simone and Miles Davis, and ultimately had much greater success in America than in her home country. She won her first Grammy in 1966, and a year later became the first black woman to have a Top-Ten worldwide hit, with “Pata Pata.”

I will never forget the first time I heard “Pata Pata” – on a gloomy day, with gray skies and constant rain. As soon as the song started playing, it was as if a ray of light broke through the gloom! “Pata Pata,” whose roots can be traced back decades before Makeba’s 1967 recording, celebrates a flirtatious dance move that was popular in her home country – “Pata Pata is the name of the dance / We do down Johannesburg way” – and mixes English-language lyrics with those in the Xhosa language. This cross-cultural recording represents triumph over hardship and oppression, as it celebrates a joyous South African tradition in a country made miserable by racism. It particularly represents Makeba’s triumph over her own home country’s racist government, going from South African exile to worldwide superstar in just a few years. Much like my first experience listening to the song, “Pata Pata” is a ray of light that can break through any amount of gloom.

What are your favorite songs for brightening up a gloomy day? Comment below!

“You Were Right” by RÜFÜS DU SOL [Electronic/Dance]

The hypnotic “You Were Right” is one of the Australian alternative dance trio’s best songs.

True confession: almost every time I really like or date a girl, I end up listening to the kind of music she listens to. I’ve gone from knowing next to nothing about modern Country music to being an active listener of KSON. I’ve spent nearly an entire summer listening to Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, as the girl was a massive jazz fanatic. By the summer of 2018 I was already a fan of RÜFÜS DU SOL, but began listening to them a lot more when I found out my crush at the time loved them too. To this day RÜFÜS DU SOL still remains one of my favorite artists, and probably my most favorite in the EDM genre.

The Australian alternative dance trio started out in 2010 as RÜFÜS, but ultimately changed their name to RÜFÜS DU SOL since the US trademark for “Rufus” was already taken by Chaka Khan’s funk band (if you have not heard Khan’s “Sweet Thing,” stop what you’re doing right now and listen to it!). Since then the group has released some of the best EDM songs of the last decade, such as “Sundream,” “Take Me,” “Desert Night,” “Tonight,” “Like an Animal,” and my personal favorite “You Were Right.” This song manages to be simultaneously relaxing and euphoric, making it just as perfect for a lazy day as it is for a night out. At the ARIA Awards of 2015, the song won for Best Dance Release, and deservedly so.

Much like “Oceans Away” by A R I Z O N A (which I have written about here), I believe “You Were Right” is best listened to outdoors and with low levels of light. My favorite experience listening to the song was while walking alongside the ocean, just as it was close to getting too dark. I don’t fully understand why this is, but there’s just something about listening to mellow-sounding electronic songs like “You Were Right” and “Oceans Away” in this particular setting that breathes even more life into the song and listener alike. Apparently RÜFÜS DU SOL feels the same way based on their recent evening show Live from Joshua Tree, which is just incredible:

What are your favorite RÜFÜS DU SOL songs? Comment below!

“Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield [Pop/Soul]

Dusty in Memphis is one of the greatest albums of all time, and “Son of a Preacher Man” is its highlight.

“Being good isn’t always easy, no matter how hard I try”

It’s difficult for any singer to put his or herself on a level with Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, but British pop singer Dusty Springfield did just that with the sensational Dusty in Memphis. This album was recorded in 1968 at the legendary American Sound Studio in Memphis and co-produced by Jerry Wexler, who had recently produced Aretha’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (the greatest soul album of all time!) and Lady Soul. Despite being a flop on its initial release, Dusty in Memphis is widely revered as one of the greatest albums of all time, and deservedly so. Every song on it is spectacular, with “Son of a Preacher Man” being the album’s highlight.

The song was originally written for and recorded by Aretha, but Wexler felt it didn’t fit in with the other songs on her upcoming album, and thought it would be better suited for Dusty in Memphis. Singing a song originally intended for Aretha is no easy feat to accomplish, as it is expected to be delivered with a level of soulfulness that most singers simply don’t have. Fortunately Springfield had a history of delivering performances that were more soulful than most pop singers of her day, such as “I Only Want to Be With You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” and therefore was more than capable of taking on “Son of a Preacher Man.” The result is arguably Springfield’s finest moment as an artist.

As much as I love Aretha and her version of the song, which was released on her 1970 album This Girl’s in Love With You, Springfield’s smoky, soulful rendition is the definitive. “Son of a Preacher Man” became even more significant in 1994, when the song was featured in a scene from Pulp Fiction and re-released on the movie’s soundtrack album (if you have not seen Pulp Fiction, stop what you’re doing and watch it ASAP!). The song was apparently so significant to director Quentin Tarantino that if he wasn’t able to use it, he probably would not have even filmed the scene. If you watch the scene it is easy to see why, as the song fits it so perfectly. To this day “Son of a Preacher Man” is still considered to be one of the greatest songs of all time by many critics and publications (such as Rolling Stone and New Musical Express), and deservedly so.

What are your favorite R&B/Soul songs, artists, and/or albums? Comment below!

“Love Comes Quickly” by Pet Shop Boys [80s Synth-Pop]

“Love Comes Quickly” never matched the popularity of its predecessor “West End Girls,” but it’s almost as good.

“Sooner or later, this happens to everyone”

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this wonderful song. I was driving home from a long shift at work, listening to 1st Wave on SiriusXM (if you have SiriusXM, you must listen to this station!), and that mellow synth-pop sound just put my mind at ease. Although I love synth-pop (i.e. Depeche Mode, New Order, and Erasure), most of the songs in this genre are meant to excite the senses rather than relax them. “Love Comes Quickly” is the opposite; despite its use of the same “instruments” it is just so nice and easy to listen to.

“Love Comes Quickly” was released in 1986 as the follow-up single to Pet Shop Boys’ hypnotic 1985 debut “West End Girls,” which was a No. 1 hit in America, Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom (the synth-pop duo home country). In fact in America alone, “West End Girls” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Dance Club charts, as well as the Cash Box Top 100. Sadly “Loves Comes Quickly” flopped by comparison, peaking at No. 62 on the Hot 100 and No. 19 in its home country.

However chart positions are not always an indicator of musical quality, so I am happy to report that “Love Comes Quickly” is a perfect follow-up single to Pet Shop Boys’ sensational debut, and one that is almost as wonderful as its predecessor. “West End Girls” initially piqued my interest in the synth-pop duo, but it was “Love Comes Quickly” that turned me into a lifelong fan. To this day Pet Shop Boys remains one of my personal favorite artists, so expect to see more of them in future posts!

What was your first introduction to Pet Shop Boys? Comment below and share your story!

#WorshipWednesday: Five Songs for the “Baby Believer”

I came to Christ in 2018, after a lifetime without faith or a religion background. Never did I think I would become a believer, but following Him has been the best decision I have ever made. With that being said, I knew next to nothing about Christian/Gospel music when I said yes to Jesus, thus beginning a new listening journey for me. So for my very first #WorshipWednesday post, here are five songs to commemorate your new walk with Christ!

“A Living Prayer” by Alison Krauss & Union Station

Should anyone accuse me of being impartial toward Alison Krauss, I am guilty as charged. In addition to being one of my top five favorite artists, she and her band Union Station helped me find faith through the wonderful “There is a Reason.” Over the years she has released several wonderful songs about the Lord, but my personal favorite is the serene, lullaby-like “A Living Prayer.”

My favorite experience listening to this song was on a walk alongside a lagoon, just as it was getting too dark. Really made the lyrics “The way is dark, the road is steep / But he’s become my eyes to see” come to life!

“Rescue” by Lauren Daigle

Lauren Daigle is one of the most successful Christian artists in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. Her musical influences reach beyond Contemporary Christian and include Aretha Franklin, Al Green, James Brown, and Whitney Houston. Her songs are personal and relatable, created with a timeless and simplistic quality. She has brought the message of Christ to the masses better than any Christian artist today, with her second album Look Up Child reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200.

Her songs are especially perfect for the new believer. “Trust in You” is a call to trust in God, regardless of what circumstances we may be in. “How Can It Be” reaffirms that no matter what we have done, and no matter how far gone we feel like we are, nothing can separate us from His unconditional love and grace. “You Say,” which reached No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, is about finding worth and identity in no one else but Him. And my personal favorite, “Rescue,” reminds us that we often encounter Him in our most desperate circumstances, and He changes us for the better.

“Well Done” by The Afters

I discovered this song last year while in the midst of a struggle with anxiety that I can only describe as a “persistent background hum.” During this time, God used this song to bring me great comfort, reminding me to keep running the race that I was meant to win. I binge-listened to it all year long, making it my second most listened-to song of 2019 behind Rufus & Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.” It will always be one of my favorite Christian songs, and it is perfect for anyone new to the faith.

“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong UNITED

I have always loved songs that have an orchestral backing (especially “God Only Knows” and “River Deep – Mountain High”), so it’s no surprise I instantly fell in love with “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” the first time I listened to it. The orchestration on this one seems somewhat influenced by Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run,” making this song one of the most aesthetically impressive Contemporary Christian songs you can find.

“Touch of Heaven” (Live) by Hillsong Worship

All three Hillsong groups – Hillsong UNITED, Hillsong Worship, and Hillsong Young & Free – create songs that are perfect for the new believer, but my personal favorite is the miraculous “Touch of Heaven.” This was the song that I connected with the most during my first year of walking with Christ, and it still resonates with me to this day. The lyrics of this live track – “Lord I know my heart wants more of You / My heart wants something new / So I surrender all” – speak to the heart of the new believer who feels like they can’t keep doing life on their own, and wants to live within the unconditional love of God.

Have any worship songs played a significant part in your life? Comment below and share your story!

Hidden Treasure: “Daylight” by Alison Krauss & Union Station [Bluegrass/Country]

Never has such an amazing song had so few YouTube views as Alison Krauss & Union Station’s “Daylight.”

“Daylight falls, and I’m lost in the big parade”

I’ll never forget the first time I heard those words. Six years ago I was working at a restaurant for families and young children, one which was more likely to play Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock than the kind of music you will find on this blog. But one night as we were closing up the restaurant, that angelic voice – backed by some truly sensational instrumentation – came over the speakers and left me spellbound.

I had been a fan of Alison Krauss prior to that night, but this was the song that turned me into a fanatic. To this day she is still one of my most-played artists, so expect to see more of her songs on here in the future. “Daylight,” which comes from the 2001 release New Favorite, is the album’s best track and still one of my personal favorite Alison Krauss songs to this day. But upon rediscovering the song on YouTube, I made a startling discovery that I am not too thrilled about – “Daylight” has only been viewed 3,900 times. By comparison, “When You Say Nothing At All” – Krauss’ biggest hit and arguably her most definitive song – has been viewed nearly 69 million times.

“Safe in shadows, never stark as the daylight”

Although life is a gift from God, it is not perfect. There are still plenty of injustices in the world today, such as the fact that “Daylight” has practically remained in the shadows since its 2001 release. Listening to that angelic voice sing those beautiful lyrics, backed by a thrilling acoustic guitar rhythm and some mad dobro playing from Jerry Douglas, it’s easy to wonder – how the **** is this song not more popular? Just listen to the call-and-response vocals at the end of each chorus. Just listen to them. They’re amazing.

It is understandable that the song never became a hit, as it was never released as a single or promoted in its day. Instead, the singles from New Favorite were the more mainstream-sounding “Let Me Touch You For A While,” “The Lucky One,” and the haunting title track. All three are great songs (the second of which won two Grammy Awards), but they don’t display the extraordinary talents of Alison Krauss & Union Station as well as “Daylight.” Luckily the song is available on YouTube despite its low view count, as well as Apple Music and Spotify. It has been in the shadows for far too long and needs to be brought into the daylight (no pun intended), and recognized for the brilliant song it is.

Do you love any songs that you wish got more recognition for their greatness? If so, comment below and share!

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