Monday, December 17, 2007

Ike Turner (1931-2007)

Legendary rock-&-roll / rhythm-&-blues icon, notorious wife-beater, and famously all-around-difficult-person Ike Turner has just died. His name will be forever linked to that of his greatest protegé and one-time-wife Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock), who is still going strong on her own.

As Gene at Harry's Place correctly observes:
He may have been a world-class son-of-a-bitch [to put it mildly--JW], but damn, he and Tina could be good together, even in front of screaming American girls.
To illustrate, Gene provides YouTube video of a 1965 show by the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in Los Angeles HERE.

It's great--and also a weirdly fascinating ethnographic snapshot from American popular culture in the mid-1960s, just before the great wave of the late 1960s broke. (That totally bizarre but entirely typical stage act, for example.)

There's more from Stuart Elliott HERE.

=> Having said all that, I must confess that probably neither Ike nor Tina Turner would ever have been of more than slight interest to me except for the impact of one remarkable song, "River Deep - Mountain High"--with which Ike Turner wasn't directly involved, at least initially. This was a 1966 single recorded by the (also legendary and notorious) Phil Spector, backed up by his trademark "Wall of Sound". It was sung by Tina Turner, but Spector insisted in the contract that Ike--known for being controlling and generally difficult, as I mentioned earlier--had to stay away from the studio completely. At first the 1966 single had a so-so reception in the US, but it was re-released in 1969 and hit it big. I first heard this song in 1970, and it burned itself permanently into my consciousness.

Since then there have been many other versions of the song, by Ike & Tina Turner together & separately and by a lot of other people, but while some of them are good, none of them is overwhelming in the same way (at least, for me).

Right now I can't find a free link to the classic Phil Spector version of this song on the internet, but something of its distinctive quality is captured in a live performance by an older (though still remarkably hot) Tina Turner in Amsterdam in 1996, which anyone who's interested can see and listen to HERE.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. And by the way, as is true of a lot of songs, some people may find the message conveyed by the lyrics ideologically incorrect or even pernicious in certain respects--but that doesn't keep the song from being powerful.

P.P.S. It's interesting to note that this post drew more e-mail responses than a lot of political items. As I was explaining to a friend, the kind of music from the late 1960s & early 1970s that moved me most deeply and has stayed with me most inescapably came above all from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. But I connected with a lot of other stuff as well. One other pop song from that era which I think of as being in the same general category as "River High, Mountain Deep," which also grabbed me right away and has never let go is the Motown mega-hit "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" by the Four Tops. In general, I was never more than a mild fan of Motown music, but that one song is genuinely haunting. You can listen to it HERE.