Love songs, true love songs should only be written by the insane. To fall in love is to be party to your own self destruction, to pull the trigger to complete annihilation, the loss of self through the bizarre idolatry of another, an idle worship that can last momentarily, a fever dream of lust and escapism before the grimness of reality sets in that renders the object of your affection sadly ‘normal’.
Those first dangerous days and months of the bottomless ache of ‘falling in love’ are never quite captured in the realm of the pop song. Songwriters, managers and producers often shied away from the ferocity of female desire, sugaring the pill with trilling, passive tunes about ‘hoping to love’ or patiently waiting for ‘the one’ not wishing for anything truthful to fall out from those perfectly glossy lips.
The imperfection and darkness of female love was previously only seen through the spectrum of male loathing and possessiveness through Goffin and King’s 1962 Crystals song He Hit Me ( It Felt Like A Kiss) where the passive, assaulted female through the distorted lens of love and fear tries to persuade herself that her domineering, abusive boyfriend only hurts her out of love. This was the bleak and bloodied aftertaste of love gone wrong, this was the cautionary tale but no-one had given pop the dizzy heights that came before it, no-one had tried to distil the unique, uncontrollable madness of love.
It took three crazy people to attempt it. Spector, Barry and Greenwich created a Pandora’s Box that could only be delivered into the world by the doomed coupling of Ike and Tina.
River Deep-Mountain High in its shiny Spector-clothes is the best love song ever written. There is no schmaltz, there is no prettiness, and there is certainly no room for cutsey silliness. It is, like Sylvia Plath once wrote about Ted Hughes, ‘the voice of a booming God’ and that voice belongs to Tina, who spews out her sermon like she is literally aflame, a sacrifice to Venus. Her voice at once trembles and screeches as the Wall of Sound closes in on her and it sounds gloriously horrific. She is a woman who is so demented by love that she is willing to compare her faithfulness to a dog, a woman who is completely animalised and dehumanised by the enormity of her feelings.
To be in love, the love that Tina is fuelled by sounds likes the most terrifying thing in the world. This is not the restrained love of poetry and pop, this is powerful, this is the savage truth proclaimed boldly, bearing its teeth to the world, utterly fearless but shakily skating on the thin ice of self destruction.
She is every man’s desire and dread, the emotionally out of control woman brought teetering to the edge of insanity by their lust. Spector controls this galloping roller-coaster so that it peaks and peaks again, it is no ‘petite mort’ this is a hollering, thundering orgasm, a threatening howl into the darkness. As it shudders to a halt it leaves you utterly broken, powerless to its violence.
There is a reason the filmmaker/artist Adam Curtis used it for his exploration of the American Dream It Felt Like A Kiss because it and the Crystals song both possess an unyielding darkness that seeped through the saccharine, the mask slipped for three minutes and the unvarnished truth spilled out. Curtis’s use of the song over footage of desperate ‘Primal Scream’ therapy from the 1960s and endless cutaways of marching bands, LSD trips and porn recognises the mental anguish and the powerful escapist drive wrapped up in River Deep -Mountain High. An unconscious truth too frightening to be uttered before.
The song is almost like a woozy montage of our worst behaviour, love as our Id, a female, sexual aggressiveness that was never spoken about and never truly expressed in such a rawly, honest fashion since.
River Deep- Mountain High is the pinnacle of pop’s expression of love. Every limp wristed attempt at expressing female desire and fury pales in comparison to this towering inferno of frenzy, a hymn to the crushing, every-day insanity of a love that can only survive within those furious three minutes and 40 seconds.