Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye W/Tammi Terrell (1967)
This is just one of the many great songs you’d hear on The Beat Chicago. There’s enough stations playing rock n’ roll classics, Bon Jovi, Journey, John Cougar, Elton John all day long. That’s cool too but when you want something completely different? When you want everything from Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Spinners to Stevie B, C+C Music Factory and music that keeps you movin? We’re it and there ain’t no one doin’ it the way we do.
We’re all about the classics too…. Classic R&B and dance of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, freestyle and more. For us, it’s not about how old a song is, it’s about how good it is and this is as good as it gets. This stands the test of all time and it’s just one of the reasons you’ll hear it on The Beat Chicago. In fact, on Sunday Nights we feature nothing but classic R&B, soul and the funk on our Great Golden Grooves show immediately following our Sunday Night Fever programming.
This song has so much history, so many artists have covered it, ya know why? Because Ashford & Simpson wrote it. Anyone with an ear who is in our business can hear their style, it’s unmistakable. The duo wrote the song in ’66 and by 1967, 22 year old Tammi Terrell (who would pass away two years later) and Marvin Gaye had a hit that would last forever.
The song was written by Ashford and Simpson prior to joining Motown. British soul singer Dusty Springfield wanted to record the song but the duo declined, hoping it would give them access to the Detroit-based label. As Valerie Simpson later recalled, “We played that song for her (Springfield) but wouldn’t give it to her, because we wanted to hold that back. We felt like that could be our entry to Motown. Nick called it the ‘golden egg’.” Dusty recorded a similar verse melody in ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’ on Dusty.
The original 1967 version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was a top twenty hit. According to record producers, Terrell was a little nervous and intimidated during the recording sessions because she did not rehearse the lyrics. Terrell recorded her vocals alone with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, who added Gaye’s vocal at a later date. “Ain’t No Mountain” peaked at number nineteen on the Billboard pop charts, and went to number three on the R&B charts.
This original version of “Ain’t No Mountain”, produced by Fuqua and Bristol, was a care-free, danceable, and romantic love song that became the signature duet between Gaye and Terrell. Its success led to a string of more Ashford/Simpson penned duets (including “You’re All I Need to Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, and “Your Precious Love”).
The Gaye/Terrell version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and is regarded today as one of the most important records ever released by Motown.
Diana Ross & The Supremes recorded a version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which was more faithful to the Terrell-Gaye original version as a duet with The Temptations. That song was an album cut from a joint LP released by Motown Records in 1968 on the two superstar groups, titled Diana Ross & the Supremes Join The Temptations.
In spring 1970, after the Top 20 success of her first solo single, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”, Ashford and Simpson had Ross re-record “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. Initially, Ross was apprehensive, but was convinced to make the recording. The remake was similar to gospel with elements of classical music strings (provided by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), spoken word passages from Ross, with The Andantes, Jimmy Beavers, Jo Armstead, Ashford & Simpson and Brenda Evans and Billie Calvin of The Undisputed Truth as backing singers, giving the song a soul and gospel vocal element.
Motown chief Berry Gordy did not like the record upon first hearing it. He hated the spoken-word passages and wanted the song to begin with the climactic chorus/bridge. It was not until radio stations nationwide were editing their own versions and adding it to their playlists that Ashford and Simpson were able to convince Gordy to release an edited three-minute version as a single. Ross’s version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” rose up to number one on both the pop and R&B singles charts. Ross received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. This version is in the key of C minor for most of the song, then towards the end, the key changes to F sharp major.
The song, relying heavily on background vocals, is very reminiscent of Diana’s latter work with The Supremes; so much so that it is often mistakenly credited on radio and television as a Supremes song, versus a Diana solo. One prime example is the 1986 episode of Designing Women entitled “The Rowdy Girls”. In this episode the cast, lead by Annie Potts character Mary Jo, lip syncs to the song, after being introduced as “The Supremes”.
In 2017, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was remixed by Eric Kupper, StoneBridge and Chris Cox, among others, on Motown/UMe. The new remix went to number one on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
Because we love ya, we’ve provided a bunch of different cover versions of this classic song that keeps on giving below.